"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12
Monday, September 19, 2011
So, who exactly is in charge of the asylum?
My timetable is generally a very good one. I have some lovely classes full of nice kids. My Yr. 7s, for example, are a delight and a joy. They are sweet and funny and unselfconscious and a little bit needy. Given the choice I'd have them all day every day.
In contrast is one of my year 9 groups. It has 29 pupils and I can just about fit them in my room. In and amongst is Ronnie, who I taught in a small, low ability group last year. Ronnie is a big lad for his age and has a foul mouth: "It's fucking shite this." He wants to be a doorman ("Like my Dad.") In addition to being disaffected, as we say in education (also known as being a bloody nuisance,) he can barely read and write. I have made myself very unpopular in certain quarters by questioning whether he can access the curriculm and whether it wouldn't be a better use of his time to be coached in additional literacy and numeracy under the auspices of the Special Needs Department rather than studying R.S. I am also wondering whether, on balance, we might not have been too indulgent of his behaviour in the past because he has never been taught before in a mainstream class of more than twelve pupils.
A quick look at his timetable shows that, like last year, he is mainly in small "nurture" groups where the lesson content can be easily targetted and differentiated, which is exactly as it should be. With me he is in a class of 29 in a mixed ability setting where some of these youngsters will have a target grade of A. The same is true for Drama, Music and Art and in all these subjects he is expected to cope in such a large group and without additional support. Perhaps more to the point is my fear that his behaviour will negatively impact on the others in the group, and damage to some extent their chances of achieving as they should.
I have tried to minimise his impact on the rest of the class by seating him at the back with a spare seat beside him. As I am letting them in on their first lesson, and telling them where to sit, I am pleasantly surprised by the arrival of a lady I've not met before, so I make the assumption that she is a new support assistant and I direct her to the empty seat beside Ronnie.
She declines in a slightly flustered way and tells me that she is here to support Ben.
There is no Ben on my register.
Ben is waiting in the doorway. He is not yet on the school roll although he looks very smart in his brand new uniform, eating a packet of crisps.
I am perplexed and a bit flustered myself. My colleague is very apologetic. Ben, it seems, has been outside mainstream schooling for eighteen nonths at a Pupil Referral Unit and is now being reintegrated. He has behavioural issues and suffers from Attention Defecit Disorder.
"We were told to follow Ronnie's timetable because they have similar problems and are of a similar level of ability. I have to say they discovered each other very quickly and I don't think they should be taught together in the same classes."
Neither do I.
I persevere with the lesson and there is a constant undercurrent - ("It's shite this.") - from Ronnie and a lot of leaning over in an attempt to distract and engage Ben whose minder is involved in a losing battle to keep him on task. I find this quite difficult and feel constantly distracted by what is going on at the back. It's the first lesson and everyone else is pretty well behaved but I can already sense that the group dynamic is under threat: there is a lot of looking around at Ronnie and it is clear that many of the kids are pretty astounded by his antics, not having had many dealings with him before in mainstream lessons.
I fear that some on the fringes will become emboldened to begin to ape his behaviour and I really don't need this.
I send an e-mail to our Head of Special Needs. I explain that this is a large mixed ability class and I don't believe these two should be taught together. Fortunately one is not yet formally on role so my expectation is that he will be allocated elsewhere when his timetable is finalised. She is initially sympathetic and says she will try to look at the timetable.
Ben is allocated to my class.
I complain again that these two should not be taught together and question again whether they can access the curriculum. I am told that this is largely down to me and that my differentiation of the work will make all things possible.
Deafened by the sound of bucks being passed I have the temerity to disagree: In all the sets I teach there is a broad abilty range so I am quite used to differentiating work for students but this is differentiation within the standard ability range for each set. What I am being asked to do is to differntiate work for pupils who are a) disaffected and b) well below the achievement levels for their age group.
"You do know I'm only here for a few more weeks?" Ben's support assistant asks.
I did not.
"We can't put Ben into another group. The ones he might have gone into are bigger groups than yours." A senior colleague tells me.
It strikes me that this is hardly thinking outside the box. I stress again my fear for the learning of the group as a whole, that neither boy can access the curriculum and that they should not be taught together in large mainstream groups.
I approach my Local Authority Subject Advisor about the procedure for disapplying someone from the requirement to be taught R.S.
"Ronnie has a right to be taught R.S." I am told by my Special Needs Colleague. "It is neither fair nor appropriate to take Ronnie out of R.S. at this stage. Ronnie will undoubtedly live in a multicultural community and needs to be equipped to deal with the beliefs of those around him. He will also have to deal with a range of the issues that get dealt with almost exclusively in RE: it is only fair and appropriate that he is equipped to understand what some of these issues entail"
"Not if he can not access the curriculum and not if his behaviour compromises the learning of others." It occurs to me at this point that no one is listening. No one wants to comment on the fact that these two should not be taught together nor that they can not cope with the level of work.
I suggest that one of them be swapped with a child from one of the other groups. At this stage in the school year this is quite common as things settle down and we try to ensure that individuals get the best provision.
Instead I am told that Ronnie will have a support assistant with him in the lessons and that senior members of staff will take it in turns to sit in on the lesson.
So, there will be four adults in the class and twenty nine children.
I don't have enough seats.
I'll take my nervous breakdown now please.