For many of us, the challenge of behaviour management is a daily grind that we battle with alongside lesson planning, writing reports and marking tests. Bottle flipping, fidget spinners, uniform infringements and low-level disruption may be the extent of the trouble in our classrooms in general, but every now and then we are greeted with a student for whom the usual sanctions and punishments of behaviour points, detentions and isolation are merely stepping-stones to a longer term solution, exclusion.
Upon my arrival I was greeted by the headteacher Sue who discussed the challenges of running such a centre but spoke warmly of the students in her care and the contribution that each of them makes to the school. Before lessons began I was served coffee by Tommy* one of the students who showed his potential as a barista producing a frothy coffee any Costa employee would be proud of. Students wandered around the communal area chatting, arguing, shouting and swearing and the atmosphere was good-natured but with the feeling that something serious could kick off at any moment.
Next up I had the opportunity to join a year 7&8 science class. A total of 8 students were in the group although 3 of these were sent straight to alternative rooms with staff meaning that 5 pupils were joined by 2 members of staff and myself to study animal and plant cells. I positioned myself with one boy Tim* who had sat by himself and immediately engaged in conversation. Whilst clearly being someone who struggled with large classes it was difficult to understand why he was at the school in particular. At one point one of the other 4 students flew into a rage and stormed out of the class, seemingly for no apparent reason. At the end of the lesson Tim* was commended for his effort and it was commented by the staff that this had been the most work he had produced since being at the school, the influence of an adult male perhaps?
Lunch was provided by the school, a brief but tasty curry and students were soon off to their final activity of the day, the enrichment classes. I joined 3 students and 1 member of staff making a trip to the local shop to purchase items for a cookery session. During the trip I was able to discuss with 2 of the year 11 students Leo* and Katie* about how they found the school, their aspirations and plans – an artist and a women’s football coach – and how they ended up being at such a centre. Both spoke highly of the provision they were being given and admitted that for them, mainstream schooling simply wasn’t working. Both had been at the school for a number of years and would be leaving in a few short weeks to move on to sixth form college.
And so, I came away from The Centre, with a feeling of admiration, optimism and hope that those students whom may reach the end of the line for us in mainstream education, have so much more potential still to offer and can still fulfill their dreams. Discipline and respect may still be hit and miss but the students at The Centre clearly loved the place and recognised the impact it was having on their lives. An enriching and fulfilling impact.
*Students names have been altered