In a Parallel Universe…

The children in our support group are a bit like a barometer. The pressure inside the school and out on the estate seems to be reflected in their behaviour. This week everyone is tired. These children are particularly challenging at the moment. There is an impending separation which is sending them haywire and their tempers are even shorter than usual. Yet in spite of this, there are moments of calm, where they forget to be angry and anxious and are able to relax.

Cheeky Grin is becoming more and more violent, particularly towards one of the members of staff in the group. I excluded him for half a day today for assaulting the member of staff. Part of the difficulty we are having is that we are getting so little support from home. There are no consequences for his actions, so he doesn’t care. This makes it very, very difficult for us. We implement consequences in school but these are not supported by his parents.

The child whose behaviour was reflecting the break up of her parents is now back in class. It has taken us two weeks and a huge amount of our Pupil and Family Support Worker’s time but she has managed it. Today mum was supposed to come and see her at lunchtime to see how she was getting on. She didn’t come. She was devastated. However, somehow, she managed to return to class and have a good afternoon. Our PFSW has spent much time on building her resilience over the past few weeks and this seems to be having an impact.

In between dealing with the children from the support group I was meeting with staff to look at ways of sorting out some issues they were having. This was very successful and we managed to find resolutions to the majority of their concerns. Most stem from anxieties about wanting to be the best that they can be for the children and things that they felt were preventing them from doing this.

I had lunch with the support group. It was delightful. Although they are all quite volatile at the moment we managed to have a lovely time. Initially one child decided that he didn’t want his school dinner and started to kick the door. We all ignored him and got on with our lunches, chatting away quite happily. Eventually he came and sat down and ate. Holding that line is so important for these children, it’s what makes them feel safe, contained. Once everyone had finished eating they started playing with the lego.

This was fascinating. They build houses. With beds and baths and gardens. And fridges full of beer and vodka. They have BBQ parties where there is loud music and everyone can get drunk. The garden in which this party was happening was immaculate, with neat rows of lego flowers, very carefully arranged. One child caught my concerned expression and the beer and vodka morphed into lemonade.

They take it in turns to be the ‘dad’ or the ‘child’. The houses they build are huge and spacious and everyone has their own room. There are giant lego limos to transport them around.

And there was the police station. There is always a police station. And in the police station there were prisoners. Good prisoners were allowed a bath and some food. Bad prisoners weren’t. It wasn’t quite clear what the prisoners had done. And the police have a big gun. To make sure that the prisoners don’t escape. Perhaps they feel a bit like prisoners in the group…

The children were totally absorbed in this game. I joined in and played alongside them. They play out real bits of their lives in a constructed world that is as far away from reality as it can be, cramped housing conditions transformed into huge mansions and gardens full of rubbish and old furniture into idyls with neat rows of flowers.

What is so fascinating is that this is a repeated game, not a one off. They construct and inhabit these alternative realities on a daily basis…

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9 Responses to In a Parallel Universe…

  1. Penny says:

    Sometimes when I read your blog I feel like you’re describing my school, even though it’s EBD and secondary. Everyone is shattered at the moment, and we have to cut the students some slack, whilst trying not drop any of the boundaries we have so painstakingly put in place. They bring so much baggage with them. It’s exhausting. Don’t know if you follow @tombennett71 on twitter, he makes the very valid point that we aren’t doing our students any favours if we don’t establish and maintain those boundaries which enable them to learn. Its hard going when you dont get the support from home though. Just as an aside – it might be that the flowery gardens they’re creating are accurate reflections of their own – they won’t all be full of rubbish + old furniture! Thanks for sharing and your honesty, always good to read….

    • bergistra says:

      Thank you for your comment. Sadly, I happen to know what their gardens arev like… But you are right. There are plenty of other children who do have a nice garden! And you have a much tougher job than me…

  2. You wonder what they are thinking when they play these games. Are they replicating some of the realities because that is the norm for them… The beer and vodka … the police… alongside what they would love it to be… The beautiful garden… The reality they will probably never have. Some children have such miserable lives yet carry on regardless seeking out chances to be normal and nurtured. Bless them… S many are so vulnerable x

  3. jonathan says:

    Your support group sounds excellent. Is this a Nurture Group or something based along the same lines? would be interested to know the difference in what you’re doing

    • bergistra says:

      The support group is for children for whom a normal nurture group is not enough. They spend all their time in the group unless we are reintegrating them back into class. It is learning focused with an emphasis on social skills and that sort of thing…

  4. Nigel Braithwaite says:

    Your piece in yesterday’s “Guardian” led me to your blog – I am moved beyond tears. The combination of your column yesterday and John Harris’s “Omnishambles” piece the day before lead me to think that those in our society who are most vulnerable are increasiningly being marginalised by “them”. I despair that David Cameron feels that the empowerment of parents in the statementing process is a positive move when so many of those parents are vulnerable and hard to reach themselves.
    I try to do my bit – as a white middle middle class male – by getiing involved in community projects and by being a (middle school) governor but I wish I could do more. We NEED you and your thoughtful, thought provoking insight.
    The image of the angry and – as some would write him off – violent little boy with his teddy bear in his hand will never, ever, leave me.
    Thank you.

  5. Nic Thorpe says:

    First of all let me say how fantastic it is to see your writing in the Guardian. Many people are still largely unaware of how deeply entrenched the behaviours you mentioned are in deprived communities. Awareness to the issues is only half the battle I believe. I bet every professional working in deprived communities can identify with your writings, which is significant when we add together all such communities as a whole. I can’t help but feel what you offer your children is exactly what they need, but I wondered how you feel when they have moved on. I worry about so few of these children having a real chance to succeed long term, that they quickly get edited out of education because they are tough to manage. What are your feelings on where we go next with managing communities in crisis?

    • bergistra says:

      Thank you for your comments. We can’t and don’t work in isolation and I am aware of some innovative multi-agency work being developed across the country, including the area in which I work. Working to support Parents and Carers is key for us, as is their support for us too!

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