Finding the Balance

Tomorrow morning my pupil and family support worker will take the minibus and a Learning support assistant, and go and collect children for school. At the end of the day she will take them home again. At 9.00 I will drive a child and a learning support assistant to an alternative provision. At 3.00 I will go and pick them up. My Deputy has also been ferrying children to and from school all week. We spend quite some time providing this kind of support, usually because the families have no money for transport, are ill, or have an ill child that they are unable to leave. We also pay for certain families to have a bus pass so that they can get to school.

I worry about this. It seems to me that this is not really our role, but at the same time we do it because if we didn’t those children would not be at school. School is where they need to be and there is no question but that we just get on and do it.

Once I was back from my taxiing duties I spent the rest of the morning in the support group. It’s quite amazing how the absence of just one child can make a difference, depending on who that child is. The one who was away today is the alpha male of the group. He is constantly on edge. He is oppositional. Most difficult of all for the children and staff to manage is that he is also unpredictable. He is also a bully. The difference in the class when he is not there is palpable. Some of the tension goes and there is not such a heightened state of anxiety.

We, as a school, have to recognise when we have done all we can for a child and when it is time to seek an alternative. This child has actively resisted all but a limited reintegration into his class. He continues to be incredibly destructive and violent and although these episodes are fewer, they still happen to often. Now is the time for us to find him a better alternative. One of the things that I struggle with is worrying about how children become so damaged and how difficult is is for support agencies to work with these families if they won’t play ball.

What is also interesting is just how important our Nurture group is to the children who attend it. Nurture is different from the support group as it is only afternoons and the children are not extreme or violent on the whole. They are the quieter, more socially awkward children and nurture focuses on social skills and self esteem and providing the children with a sense of belonging. Today there was no Nurture Group as, due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, both members of staff who run it were absent. For the children this was unbearable and they were very hard to manage. It was more difficult for them as there was no notice. It was like a bereavement and the children for whom nurture is most meaningful expressed their feelings in violent and destructive ways. One child in particular got into fights all day, despite the presence of an extra adult to support him, and another was difficult and non-compliant.

Today was also a day where our Pupil and Family Support Worker and I had a ‘battle of wills’ with a particularly difficult child who can’t bear not being in control. She point blank refused to do her learning or go to her class unless we did this or that or the other. We did not. We reminded her of the expectations. Calmly and repeatedly. Eventually we rang her mum who had a word with her on the phone and we managed to get her to soften her stance a bit with a cup of tea, which seemed to work wonders. She drank up, had a chat with the PFSW and went back to class. She was thoroughly engaged in her learning for the rest of the day.

When we met mum after school we got the whole story. Her child has been in the middle of a messy separation. Tomorrow we are meeting with mum to offer her some more substantial support. She is in pieces. Her child has been telling us that for the last three weeks…

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