I’ve sometimes used the expression, “They’re ones of ours”, when talking to staff about the admission of a child who is in difficulty or in a difficult situation. They are the ones who will need the greatest care and most attention if they are to successfully join the school and begin to thrive.
Our staff are simply wonderful in their acceptance of these children. They have big and open hearts, knowing it will not be easy, but is likely to be one of the most rewarding parts of being a teacher even if there are a few bumps along the way. There is nothing quite like walking with a damaged child through the dark times and see them bloom into young adults. Understanding the big picture sometimes requires us to see the human face of the issue through one child.
Which of these Children Would You Welcome?
If you’re not familiar with the school appeals process, once a school has reached its published admission number (PAN) a parent may appeal for a place at the school. The appeal is heard by an independent panel who will hear both the school and the parent’s case. The school usually argues that admitting more children would be detrimental to the education of the children already on roll or use the infant class size regulations for Key Stage 1.
Imagine a child from a large family. Numerous siblings have already been permanently excluded from schools. The child should have possibly gone to a special school who work with those who have moderate learning difficulties. Their terminally ill parent stood no chance of navigating the complex admissions system. The child has a place at another school but doesn’t attend and is now on appeal. It’s a mess.
Imagine a parent is one of a number of appeals. The Appeals Panel is trying to prioritise them. Being a faith school, it is trying to establish why the child has been moved out of a Catholic school in one town and into a community school, rather than a Catholic one, in another. As a head teacher your sixth sense is beginning to tingle and you think you know where this is going. The mother is a victim of domestic violence, it’s clear the family has been moved a number of times. The child’s education or any pattern of Church attendance has understandably been a lesser priority than their overall safety. The parent is getting upset and struggles to give all the details needed. It’s a mess.
Imagine a child who has developed significant mental health issues. One of her parents died when she was in infants and the other one is struggling. It didn’t happen on purpose but no application was made to a secondary school for the child. So, instead of moving up with their friends and peer group the child ended up isolated in another school. No longer attending they end up in a no man’s land between mainstream and out of school provision. It’s a mess.
Appeals normally follow a straightforward procedure but on one occasion having presented the schools case quite briefly I embarked on a speech, essentially the case the parent should have made, about why the child should be admitted based on the reasons for Catholic schools existing. It’s the only time a panel has actually stopped proceedings, sent us all out for five minutes, and then told us they were allowing the appeal before actually hearing it. It was a great decision by three independent people involved. The parent just looked bemused.
Would you welcome these children into your school?
What about your class room?
Actions always speak louder than words in these situations.
Statistically these children are less likely to add much value to your Key Stage 2 SATs, 5+ A*-CEM or Progress 8 but their inclusion screams about your values, sense of social justice and aspirations for our society.
Inspectors Don’t Always Get It
The problem is some schools admit a disproportionate number of children from disadvantaged and difficult backgrounds. Statistically they are currently less likely to be successfully in academic terms and so I guess we have fewer head teachers, who are familiar with the issues of challenging intakes, in the inspectorate than we need. If you’ve never led a school with twice the percentage of children eligible for free school meals than nationally or with more traveller children than the rest of the other schools in the town put together or with substantially more looked after children than other schools or where domestic violence reports cross your desk on a daily basis it’s just about impossible to understand the challenges. Having to explain to an inspector that attendance is below average because the traveller children seem to keep travelling and getting them into school each day from Kent or Australia is proving difficult is simply madness. At some point we’ve got to start recognising the great, and I mean great, work schools with the most challenging intakes are doing rather than using simplistic outcome measures to damn them.
Inclusive schools need inclusive teachers who know what tough love looks like and can deliver it. They also need a system which recognises and values their worth and the quality of the work they are doing.