Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Any fule kno

This is from the BBC:

Schools 'need not expel under-7s'

The vast majority of excluded pupils are boys - often with special needs

Schools can avoid excluding very young children through techniques to manage behaviour that includes running off, biting and swearing, inspectors say.

I actually know quite a lot about this, coming from a family of teachers and having been a Special Classroom Assistant and later tried - and failed - to join my ancestors’ chalky ranks.

There have always been troubled and troublesome children.

Britain has never been a paradise for kids, even back in the day when the Welfare State hadn’t produced its third generation of fatherless and marriageless ‘families.’

My mother was the deputy head of one of those marvellous special schools that deal with this kind of problem.

I often spent time in these classrooms as a schoolchild too young to be left alone and sometimes later in my school holidays that didn’t co-ordinate with Mum’s term calendar.

There were always those wild kids who had no ‘off’ button nor a ‘slow’ button, either, and who had to be gently talked into moving and acting and talking at subsonic speeds, and they went to the special school – staffed as it was with specialists who had learned (and in some cases actually developed) techniques for dealing with the hyper ones.

Mum taught those suddenly, insanely violent but otherwise quiet ones whose tiny, malnourished figures would suddenly blaze into Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwinds of swearing, biting, gouging aggression as some genetic or historical demon compelled them to fight.

Mum taught kids whose parents just had no idea about anything, and who hadn’t taught them the rudiments of self-control or self-preservation, and sometimes the English as a second language ‘Asian’ girls who’d be bright as the sun, thirsty for knowledge and who’d suddenly disappear to you-know-where, to my mother’s horror.

Then there were the literally lousy and the oxygen-starved at birth mental slow-coaches and the should-have-been-in-Borstals, and even the odd ‘gifted’ child who had grown bored at the local grammar school and cut up rough as there was nothing but mischief to absorb the blows of their quick, inquiring minds.

And last there were the quiet ones whose grief and silence my mother would never explain to me at the time. I’d venture a guess today.

So many different little hellions from different little hells, and Mum’s school and most of her colleagues deal with them; cajoled and herded and quieted and soothed and taught them, and some o them went on to mainstream schools and jobs and marriages and away from the fathers and stepfathers and bottles and needles and neighbourhoods that had made them ‘special.’ Some did not.

But it worked.

Apparently, these schools went from combination LEA dumping-grounds and hotbeds of 1960’s idealism to craft workshops (but never factories) of limited, human-scale success. Think of that; slow evolution, trial-and error, building on experience and cutting away what fails and strengthening and building upon what actually works! I ask you, is that any way to build a good society?

It was still working in the ‘Noughties when I visited a special school for what was then part of my lead up to teaching practice.

This special school had a wire-enclosed playground and security like a political conference, and the teachers were still, 30 years later, bringing damaged and difficult children to knowledge and, despite frequent and spectacular tantrums, teaching them some of it. Some lessons were pretty basic like ‘How not to hit someone back,’ but still the lessons seemed to be going in and there was much good work on display – way above the finger-painting and plasticine dolls you might expect.

And I spend twelve glorious hours per week, paid at another school in the lower juniors in a not-nice part of the city looking after one troubled child.

He went into fugues as if no-one was there, and it took concentration and trickery and humour to bring the mind back to the empty-faced boy. But when it came back, he was ready to learn.

Sometimes I was with him as he mixed in with the other children in routine classes, and occasionally it was alright. But sometimes our work – with me supervising him and encouraging his efforts to keep up – distracted the others. Sometimes I had to take him out to cool down.

And all that disrupted the main lessons and the twenty-something children and the teacher and other classroom assistant who had to put up with him.

And ordinary schools have handfuls of ‘students’ on schemes like this, and they take up so much of the non-specialist teachers’ time and energy that I wondered then how much of a chance the others had to learn as we talked my customer down.

So we get this.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "Exclusion of children aged under seven is still very rare.

"Ofsted inspectors found that almost all children in the schools they visited knew how to behave properly.

"Only a small number of children found this difficult but, with proper guidance and support, the need to exclude them can be avoided."

I worked with teachers of such dedication and skill in both special and mainstream schools that if any schools could have integrated these children with the rest, then these were the ones.

They’d’ have reduced the numbers playing the system and getting special treatment, too, if corporal punishment was still on the menu.

Some kids seek attention and want their own support assistants and play on their untouchable status. I’ve seen it happen – the envy of kids obliged to play outside when they see their special needs classmates kept in the warm and helped and befriended by special adults.

‘Inclusion’ is the buzzword – the New Labour and progressive LEA project that has done much to close or diminish special schools chasing the rainbow of keeping the special children’s needs and problems mixed in with the rest. I saw some of these intensively cared-for children blossom within main schools and get on – but all the while reducing the time and energy left to the rest of the staff to spend on everyone else.

Here’s a secret; sometimes specialist schools work and after a period of intense effort and then consolidation they send their charges back to conventional schools and off they go. Sometimes specialist schools do in fact work and keep their pupils in all the way and give them the best start that they can. Sometimes – often – keeping the hard cases and the walking wounded in with the rest just eats up money, time, and the other children’s lives.

I wasn’t good enough to become a teacher (I must lack my parents’ knack of lighting up enough minds often enough and well enough or something) but I think that after years of being ill-educated and then better educated and then very well educated I know how important some basic level of peace and quite is to everyone’s school day.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that the thinking behind Ofsted’s report is ideological here, and wrong.

Just like the bright sparks who came up with comprehensive education and the Initial Teaching Alphabet and abandoning academic subjects and standards and chasing corporal punishment out of British education it’s possible; just possible, that Ofsted’s jokers now want to finish what the educational Left has started and close the centres of excellence that the specialists like my mother and her colleagues worked so long and so hard to build up.

Because ‘special’ means different and different means unequal and unequal is wrong.

Throw another generation of the fire – it’s getting a bit too privileged in here.


James Higham said...

The damage done by this leftist, I know best for you, let's tolerate anything at all educational process has produced what we have today.

ivan said...

Being a qualified teacher that left to become an engineer because of leftist stupidity, I have to agree with all you say.

We need to bring back the special schools, with the very special teachers, for those children with special needs, just as we need to bring back the Technical High Schools.

JuliaM said...

My mother used to work in one for a while, and believe me, it was just as packed with no-nothing, do-gooding idiots as any other school!

It did do the vital job of seperating out the 'won't learn, can't learn' from the 'would like to learn' though..

North Northwester said...

James, funny how they can spell 'fascist' so easily, use it so readily, and understand it so little.

Ivan, welcome and thanks for your comment. Sorry you were wasted, - what can I say, there's bad ideology pushing out good people all over.

Julia Nothing with the word 'Education Authority' in its line of command is going to be perfect.

DJ said...

Well, that's libs for you: being a teacher is like being an Olympic gold medalist Jedi brain surgeron, except even harder, but SEN teaching? Any old teacher can pick that up. No need for any special skills at all.

It's a lot of damage for one chippy loser from Sheffield. How often have we heard Blunkett whining about the headmaster who told him he should consider a career as a piano tuner? So now no kids who need specialist help will get it, lest they have their dreams of becoming a national punchline crushed by insensitive comments.

North Northwester said...

How much harder we should have prayed for a nation of sweetly-tinkling pianos with dozing golden retrievers at their sides.

The Battle of Britain was similar, but HMG was on OUR side last time.


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