Today was a really hard day. Right from the start, and not just because I had forgotten my glasses.
At the door this morning parents said rapid goodbyes to their children as it was absolutely pouring with rain. The children were drenched as they came in. Our new girl, who is in foster care, looked particularly miserable and was deep inside her hood. I said ‘hello’ and got no response, which I thought didn’t bode well as usually she will at least look vaguely in my direction.
The calm lasted until the end of assembly. Two of the KS2 classes didn’t have their usual teachers as they were out on a course, both classes had supply teachers that they know well. One of these classes coped well. The other didn’t. This class has only 20 children, 5 of whom have been in the support group at some point in the year and which also has the new child mentioned above. During assembly I had noticed a group of these boys fidgeting and looking very mischievous and I had shot them a glance. This had the desired effect but on the way back to class one of them lost it. Big time.
Before we knew what had happened the new child (who had come into school deep in her hood) was laying into one of the other children in her class. She was kicking him viciously and smiling as she did so. When we managed to get her off she ran up to the hall where we managed to contain her. The other child was taken care of and the incident was investigated by a member of staff while we contained the perpetrator. I had worried about taking on this child. She is being reintegrated from the local PRU. I had pointed out that she would be going into one of my most challenging classes, one that we were managing well but where the balance was fragile. This child has tipped the balance and is exhibiting behaviours that are rare in the main school now.
In her state of high anxiety and fear, she didn’t know what we were going to do and she knew she had done something very wrong, she found a soft ball and started repeatedly throwing it against the wall. This repetition was important as I could see that it was helping her to contain herself. I also knew that she wasn’t going to be able to talk until she had calmed down, until her cortisol levels had reduced. You read about ‘fight or flight’ responses in all the textbooks and it really does describe what happens to these children at times. The repeated throwing of the ball was also helping her to deal with the adrenalin flowing through her veins.
It took two of us to contain her and talk her down. We didn’t have to use any restraint, which is always as relief as we only use that as an absolute last resort. This is where I made the decision not to exclude externally, which I would have been quite justified in doing and some might say I should have done. Instead, I called her foster carer and asked her to come in to talk to her, and I arranged for one of my casual Learning Support Assistants to come into school to work with her in a room on her own.
When her foster carer arrived she spent most of her time in tears. She couldn’t manage the consequences of her behaviour, having privileges removed. She couldn’t manage feeling that bad. She already feels bad. She already feels like she is rubbish. What was interesting was what had triggered the attack. She had called another child in the class names. She seems to go for the children who she sees as more vulnerable than she is. She had completely lost it when this child had retaliated by calling her names back. There was something in the name calling that had triggered this extreme response. I am also aware that she is in the middle of an unbearable situation in terms of contact with her mother.
This sort of situation creates huge tension for me. It is very easy to exclude, to say that what she did was so violent she shouldn’t be in school, which it was. But what would exclusion have achieved? I protected the other children and the class teacher as she was excluded from the classroom. She had her lunch with me and the support group so was excluded from her friends at lunchtime. She also got on with her learning, was able to calm down and the relationship with the other child was repaired. If we don’t give children like this a chance, what hope do they have? She didn’t ‘get away with it’. She knows that there are serious consequences for this sort of behaviour.
By 10.00am some of the boys in the same class had made it clear that they weren’t coping without their usual teacher either and were being dealt with by various members of the SLT. On top of this, three of the boys in the support group were being extremely difficult by refusing to cooperate and by behaving in threatening ways towards each other. Like I have said before, on the estate, you hurt first. Their class teacher did an amazing job calming them all down and getting them learning again.
Apart from the new child, these children are all boys. They are living in an incredibly macho culture where any sign of weakness is viciously attacked by both older children and adults alike. In a culture where everyone is on the emotional level of a teenager this can have devastating results. They seem to actively seek the ‘thrill and excitement’ of a confrontation. They jockey for position, to secure their place in the heirarchy. They will taunt and prod and poke each other until one of them cracks. Then there is an explosion, which they will join in and feed off.
My Deputy and I ended up with the boys working in our offices for most of the afternoon as they really couldn’t manage in class. The three in my office talked to me incessantly – seeking constant reassurance. They are just so needy. All have what are now referred to as ‘attachment’ issues. What is hard for us is that there are just so many needy children like this, who are well managed and well contained by the staff most of the time.
In and amongst all this, amazing things happen. At the end of the day, when I was debriefing with the support group teacher, he told me that one of these boys had asked to take his reading book home. This sounds very ordinary but for this child it is incredibly significant as not only has he started reading, in the past he has always point blank refused to take books home. My staff really do do an amazing job.