Did you make a difference with everyone?

The short answer is nope. But you never give up trying because there just might be one thing that is remembered and changes a young person’s course.

B had the bluest eyes and blondest hair, a slight gruffle in his voice and a cheeky smile. This little year 7 came from the perfect family. Dad was a wealthy business owner, mum worked part-time for the local authority and the older brother was a grade A* student.

It was late September so the school field was still bright with eager football players and the odd detained straggler. My office over looked the field,  pupils and staff rarely looked up, I always found this amusing because from here I could see everything. I noticed B, he was looking for something and he was with another boy who had been flagged by his primary school for EBD (emotional behaviour difficulties) among other things. They made an odd pair. The two boys trotted off to two different parts of field looking for something- maybe  a lost ball? There was something that intrigued me about this unlikely duo. Something that kept me gazing out of the window, ignoring the telephone that was persistently ringing. As a Head of Year,  always trust your intuition (and if in doubt check with your Mrs W).

Another group of lads appeared from the other side of the school fence, they were older and more menacing wearing no school uniform. There was an exchange of glances and handshakes, all looked around to check no one was looking. It was obviously a drop. I caught up with B and told him my suspicions, and explained I was calling Dad (the other pupil did a runner). B sat in an office but had managed to speak with Dad before we were able to.

Within a matter of minutes, Dad had appeared at the school’s front desk,  threatening legal action shouting at the receptionist that we/I had kidnapped his son, demanding to see the Headteacher and berating me for not following procedure. I met with Dad with a member of SLT, he was over six feet in statue and his imposing physique made the small office feel even smaller. He shouted at us, we remained calm, stating facts and recounting the story. Explaining that as a school, if we suspected a student to be in possession of illegal substances then we can conduct a search. But Dad wouldn’t let us search B even with him there, he said it was ridiculous idea to think his 11 year old was smoking marijuana and I was making it up.

So B cried and swore on family member’s eyes, souls and BMWs that he hadn’t ‘done nuffin’ wrong’ but those tears were a deep rooted fear of his dad not of his illegal doings.

I referred B to a behaviour specialist, it transpired the root cause of all B’s anger was his father and the way he had treated the family. The answer for B’s father was to throw cash at B, buy a new pair of trainers or place a crisp fifty in B’s hand. There was no love there, no real affection and that is sadly what B craved, some attention, some one-to-one time with his father, fishing, exploring, shopping, anything that depicted a modicum of fatherly love.

One evening, I received a call from a distraught mother about B bullying her child, B had thrown M+Ms at the child throughout lunch and then continued the harassment in class. So I telephoned B’s parents, mum was very meek, she said Dad wasn’t in and he would call me back. And call me back he did. He lambasted me, calling me names such as obnoxious, vile, he said I had it in for B and all ‘he had done was throw some sweets- big deal’.

The one line I will never forget ‘What are you? Some kind of sicko who enjoys making B’s life a misery? Do you get your kicks from picking on him, you jumped up little___” I felt a fear creep up in me, I was so glad it was a telephone call, his voice low, every consonant hissed with dislike. I felt the tears well up and I said as calmly as I could, that he could deal with the Head of Lower School from now on but there would times when I would come into contact with B and our meeting around the school was inevitable. He contiuned his tirade at me and I said thank you very much for your call Mr… I am ending it now as I won’t tolerate verbal abuse. His laughter was loud enough for my four colleagues to hear and he called me a coward and other things. I put the phone down and burst into tears. I was genuinely afraid. Mr… was a bully and I could clearly see the family dynamic with his money and control at the core. It all made perfect sense why B acted and spoke the way he did,  particularly to female staff.

Buying, smoking and selling drugs was for B a way of grabbing Dad’s attention (he certainly didn’t need the money) as that plan faltered, his behaviour became about respect and acknowledgement from his peers. I saw B once following a man down the high street, he was like a puppy yapping at the man’s heels. B was smoking a cigarette in that initially awkward way teenagers do before they become addicted. The man paid no particular attention to B other than a nod but B was committed to finding and keeping the attention of this man, just as he tried with his father.

There was one beautiful breakthrough moment with B; in Year 8, he stood in my office and proudly exclaimed he wanted to be a social worker. I congratulated him and told him that he would be the best social worker, I enthusiastically put aside my work so we could research what qualifications he needed and the different types of social care work. All the while B smiled that golden-boy smile, I hoped I was sensing a change.

But unfortunately B’s behaviour became worse, he was given every opportunity, every intervention and it is true what they say about 90% of your time on 10% of  your year group. It’s sad to think as a Head of Year you have failed, but it wasn’t me or the agencies who failed B. It was his father.

Exclusions for a plethora of things followed, B displayed signs of drug abuse in school (but we never managed to find it on him) and there came a point when we couldn’t keep him as he posed a threat to the rest of the school community. B was permanently excluded at the end of Year 9 after every avenue had been exhausted.

There is no happy ending for this tale folks, no magical happy ever after. Who knows what happens next, only B can write the sequel to this tale.

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About milkwithtwo

A blog about my experience as a Head of Year, looking at some of the issues faced by young people and teachers in the UK. Offering straight-talking child-centred advice.
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