If you haven’t been reading @redorgreenpen‘s penetrating “7 kids in 7 days” blog, then you’ve missed out. By describing in searching detail the behaviours of seven students, anonymous blogger redorgreenpen gives the most authentic descriptions of challenging students’ lives I have read in some time. Possibly ever.
The story of Arianne on the sixth day made me particularly nervous. With a penchant for incredibly aggressive behaviour, redorgreenpen laments Arianne being label as having ‘Behavioural, Social and Emotional’ difficulties (aka, BESD). Too often the BESD status becomes an excuse for not requiring her to behave better in classes, but this just makes things worse:
I believe that the vast, vast majority of the population is capable of exercising control over their behaviour. But if that basic standard really is not possible for Arianne, by god, she should have gone to specialist provision years ago. If we’re going to decide a child is incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions and behaving properly, someone else needs to step in and take that responsibility for them. That takes money, resources and time. There’s no denying that. But at the moment these uncontrollable children are operating in a responsibility vacuum, insulated by layers of obfuscation and excuses
Arianne does need help, and schools can very rarely access it. Having worked closely with BESD departments I know how the sort of complex inter-service help Arianne needs is often only available once a student has officially been tagged as ‘BESD’. And even then it is slow going. There is often no end to the difficulties of convening professionals, getting parents onside, legal implications, court appearances, continually writing and writing referral documents that get ignored, or lost, or need restarting. Then, on top of that, the complexities of the child’s mental state – the extent of runaway, drug, self-harm, sexual, suicidal behaviours – all of which needed to be factored into decisions taken by the school can make exclusions or managed moves an achingly long process. All the while teachers are being told “stick with her”.
But then came the seventh day – Fawsia. Another traumatised student, this time with an equally difficult backstory yet unwilling to misbehave. Her lack of aggression means her needs are constantly overlooked. Redorgreenpen explains:
The allocation of resources to students in schools is basically based on how loud you shout, how badly behaved you are, how many problems you cause. I’m sure Fawsia could do with some counselling: she’d probably actually turn up to the sessions unlike a lot of the kids who do get that privilege. But Fawsia stays in the background, hidden.
And then comes the nub:
Every time someone advocates including all the Ariannes in your classroom, think of Fawsia, sitting in the corner, having another hour of her education wasted.
The @redorgreenpen Problem
On what grounds do we value one student’s outcomes over another?
When you only have one teacher in a class whose job it is to deal with the Ariannes and Fawsias (as well as twenty-eight other students) how do you do it? In this case it’s about behaviour – should Arianne’s aggressive behaviour suck in more resource than Fawsia’s desperate silence? Or, in the case of intelligence, should a precociously smart Tyrone ever be in the same class as a plodding Caitlin?
The most obvious answer is that we don’t pick one over the other. We give schools more resources. Proper mental health professionals working full-time inside schools. Proper referral systems where Arianne and Fawsia both get the support they need, without endless rationing which means only the loudest and most extreme cases get it. Proper learning diagnostics, proper follow-up, proper evaluation. But proper resources are ever-unlikely.
And so it is that most day teachers simply must answer the ‘redorgreenpen problem’ over and over again. On what grounds do we value one student’s outcomes over another? How do we pick who to prioritise?