Running out of options…

The end of year troubles have truly got underway.  In my blog about separation I talked about some of the issues that we have to manage around times of separation such as  the end of term.  These are now spilling out all over the place and are a real challenge for us to contain.

The vast majority of children in my school are extremely well behaved.  We have a significant minority of children who find it very difficult to manage school.  Most of these are well contained and taught for most of the year but they just can’t cope with the end of term and this is manifesting itself in extremely disruptive behaviours.

Today I excluded two children.  It was a very hard decision to make but in the end I really had no other option.

We offer an incredibly wide range of support for the children in our school from ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants) through to CAMHS and everything in between.  Our Pupil and Family Support Worker offers a huge amount of support to parents (today she was in court with one of them who had been served an eviction notice…).  Sometimes parents and children don’t respond to anything we offer and simply won’t engage.  Some parents move school because they feel we are getting ‘too close’.  Some children, when challenged about their poor behaviour, shout back that they hate this school , that it’s rubbish and that they want to go to a different school.  When we say that no school will accept this sort of behaviour (throwing a chair across a room for example) they say that they won’t do it there.   There is this idea that somehow we are responsible for their poor behaviour choices.  All to often this has been fueled by the parents.  Accepting responsibility is hard for some people and it is easier to blame someone else.

Yesterday’s incident, though violent,  was actually much easier to resolve than today’s as the child was willing to let us help him.  The children today refused.

A group of boys has been playing up since yesterday and today they upped the anti.  They were rude and obnoxious.  They openly took the mickey out of the staff.  They tried to draw other children into their poor behaviour.  They were impacting on the learning of others.  When we tried to talk to them, to get them out of class to help them, we were sworn at  in no uncertain terms and told where to go and what to do with our rubbish school.  There was that estate bravado again and the ‘no’ and the ‘I don’t care’.  Trouble is, with at least one of these boys, they really don’t seem to care.

My feeling is that these are very defended children.  They feel that if they allow us in it will open up a whole torrent of uncomfortable feelings that they are frightened will overwhelm them and if they let them out they won’t be able to stop.  By refusing to cooperate, they retain some control.  They are innately distrustful of adults.  The class teacher told me of a time he had quietly praised one of them for excellent learning and the child had responded by leaping over the tables parroting what he had just said to him, really taking the mickey.  They don’t know what to do with positives.

When children refuse to work with us in this way they leave me with no option other than a short term exclusion.   If they won’t cooperate with us at all I can’t guarantee their safety.  Both of the children that I excluded have had a huge amount of support, as have their parents.  In the end I felt we had tried everything we could think of and they didn’t respond to any of it.  They wouldn’t leave the classroom to talk to us, they wouldn’t engage with the learning, they wouldn’t take a time out and they continued to be abusive.  We are aware that both of these children have attachment issues.

When I rang the parents to explain the situation to  them I was really pleased with the supportive responses that I got.    They were horrified at the behaviour I was describing.  There have been times when I have phoned parents to tell them that I am excluding their child when I have then had an earful about how rubbish we are.  I understand that that is because I have just made them feel rubbish by excluding their child.   I also know what this feels like as a parent myself.  My elder son was always in trouble at school.  The mums today weren’t like this and have made it clear that they are supporting the school.  I am meeting them both with the children on Friday.  I hope that for these two boys it will make them realise that they simply went too far today.

Another child, one of the support group boys that I have talked lots about,  also had another bad day today.  He is at the point where he just won’t do anything that he doesn’t want to do.  At lunchtime we are strict about where the boys in the group sit.  He had just wound up one of the others and nearly started a fight.  He then wanted to sit next to him to eat his lunch.  Unsurprisingly the class teacher and myself said ‘no’.  He didn’t like that.  Over went the table, across the room flew the chair.  He was being very dangerous so we removed him to my office and I stayed there with him.  I also got cross.   He was out of control and I needed to stop him and contain him.  I don’t raise my voice very often so when I do it really has an impact.  He stopped.  I explained why I had raised my voice (it wasn’t a shout).  He came and sat at the table with me and we started eating lunch and chatting.

I have a book in my office that I love.  Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelo, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat.  He looked at the book and asked what it was.  So I got it and we read it together.  By then he had calmed right down and asked if he could go back to his class.  We walked down the corridor together.

Later that afternoon I was called back as he had run off.  He had triggered an incident by repeatedly name calling to another child and when the other child had reacted (staff hadn’t had time to intervene) he had lost it and run into the playground and refused to come in.  He couldn’t see that he was entirely responsible for the situation and that had he not called the other child names, there would have been no incident.  What makes this harder for us to deal with in this child is that he is only in KS1.  Eventually my PFSW and I managed to talk him in and he came back to his class with us.  We both feel like we are running out of options with this child and we are meeting on Friday to have a good look at what we try next.  I didn’t exclude him, instead he will be working on his own with a TA away from the other children.

Something else became really apparent to me today.  Not only are the children and parents worrying about transition, but the staff are too.  They are seeing how well their colleagues are working with the tricky children in their classes and feeling unsure that they will be able to do the same.  They will and they do, but the anticipation for them is also hard.  Myself and my Deputy try hard to put them at ease, reminding them of how they felt this time last year and how well they have done!  There is also a lot of talk amongst the teachers about how much they love their current classes and how much they will miss them.  My deputy and I are managing a lot of separation anxiety and the transition work that we put in place is as much for them as for the children!

In between all of this I had been data crunching again.  Looking at the Average Points Scores for our KS1 results.  Really is the best ever, at least, compared to last year’s national APS scores….

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9 Responses to Running out of options…

  1. NorthernJim says:

    Just found your blog. Keep the faith (in a secular sense … as it were) !
    Jim (Deputy Head, Cumbria) : )

  2. Sharon says:

    Keep going and keep smiling – I have very similar days in school especially at the moment. Like you say it’s the end of term and fearful times for sone children who just struggle with each day and situation. We must just remember everything we try to do makes a difference. We have to believe this!

  3. Andrew says:

    As Mr Drew said on Educating Essex, if they don’t care then there is nothing yoU can do. As a fellow head my heart goes out to you today. I have excluded 8 kids in 8 years and I always feel I have failed in some way, always regret that there was something we could have done to prevent it from happening.

    • bergistra says:

      Is that permanent or short term exclusion? You are right. It always makes me feel I have failed them but this means we only exclude if we really have to. Thank you for your comments:-)

  4. Terry Smith says:

    Well stated Jonathan. These are the kinds of things that our new teachers need to understand are part of the world of teaching – a very complicated career dealing with every kind of child.

  5. Bigaitchc says:

    I was feeling like I had had a naff day today as the local media arrived at my new ‘second school’ – Governors all been sacked and are kicking off. Then I read your blog – goodness me, what an emotional day you had, but let me just tell you, you are rapidly turning into my hero …. GO YOU and your team 🙂

  6. Kate Maryon says:

    As a nation we’re really bad at being with ‘endings’ – that’s why the whole death thing is so brushed under the carpet. Good to spend lots of time talking about it – writing about it – painting it – making it – role playing it. There has to be a way of helping these ‘difficult’ children before they’re let loose on the world! The subject in my own blog post I wrote yesterday is definitely an option… http://katemaryon.co.uk/index.php?cID=403
    Anyway, sounds like they’re lucky to have you as a headteacher and I really hope you find some time to kick back, relax and take care of yourself over the summer.
    Lots of love xxx Kate xxx

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