Yesterday my world titled on its axis! I went from normal to wtf! in 5 seconds flat. I knew as soon as the woman on the phone said it was the school calling, I knew by her voice something was wrong. She didn’t say “it’s nothing to be concerned about” and they always say that don’t they? Well not this time.
This time she told me there had been an ‘incident’ involving my son – a scuffle I’m thinking. In nano-seconds my mind is racing through kids names and scenarios that have been mentioned. But I hadn’t built connections or followed through on that thought before she announced my son had assaulted a teacher!
What?! Really? My son? My kid? Did she know who my child was? Mistaken identity?
Yep there had been an ‘altercation’ and my son had hit a teacher 3 times!
I think I might have stopped breathing then. My brain couldn’t assimilate the words with the images of my lanky, skinny son actually causing physical violence to someone else. A man! A teacher! Three times?!
Its amazing how quickly thoughts can pass through your brain, thousands it seems, in seconds.
My internal response did not match my outward response “I am on my way, I will be five minutes”.
My husband drove while I reeled and ranted. I just been into the school the day before to draw up a new Special Education Needs and Disability Plan and discuss a few concerns! I knew there were some issues but how did he get to this? To assault? To violence?
Another monster of a thought formed…. We simply weren’t one of those families. My son is not a thug, a vandal, a hooligan. He isn’t a ‘naughty’ kid or a ‘bad lad’.
That’s what we said yesterday in the meeting when I asked about him, I was told there was no concern. Behaviour points were negligible some had many, many more. He wasn’t a bad lad.
The school had no concerns. I had highlighted he was struggling but I was assured it was all ‘low level stuff’. Suddenly this was sure as hell not low level stuff!
When I entered I was greeted by the Head of Year (who had blown me off a few weeks earlier when I expressed concerns about my sons behaviour) and what looked like a PE teacher in tracksuit bottoms. I remember thinking what unsuitable attire for a teacher. Turns out he was the Deputy Head or some sort.
As soon as I saw him I could see his pain, how upset he was; hunched over, no eye contact, a red blotchy face and barely communicating. I just held him. He didn’t respond all awkward and confused.
I was informed Charlie had ‘admitted’ hitting the teacher, and when Charlie seemed unable to speak to me I asked staff for details. There had been an altercation and he had assaulted a teacher and punched him three times. That was really all I got. It was difficult to assimilate on such scant detail but Charlie was my priority and he was post crisis and despondent.
We were told to leave, we were not welcome back but would be contacted tomorrow to be updated.
The next few hours were a blur and an emotional rollercoaster not only for my son but for my husband and I. Before us sat this man-child, our boy, all broken and snotty. That he should be capable of punching a teacher was beyond me, so we sat and very carefully and calmly unravelled Charlies account.
I never for one minute thought that Charlie did not strike the teacher, not once did I question the validity of that statement but I was very concerned with the Why?. How did my child manage to get to such a crisis point without de-escalation, diffusion or good old fashioned support? What pushed him that far? How did he get to Fight or Flight and plumb for Fight?
My mind wandered to the male teacher involved in the incident. I couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling. Reeling like us? Angry? Embarrassed? I hoped he wasn’t badly injured. Had he received support, treatment? I don’t even know if he himself has a family and children but I did spare a thought for him. In fact, as Charlie recounted his story I thought about this teacher more and more, for it turned out not to be any old teacher but my sons own tutor no less.
Of all the staff in the school I simply couldn’t believe it was his tutor that Charlie had lashed out at. I had met with the man at the very start of the academic year and relayed in some detail my sons needs. I had fielded phone calls from his tutor when it seemed Charlie was being disruptive with other staff. But I had also disclosed to the very same man how my son had suicidal thoughts, had been known to self harm and was socially and emotionally vulnerable.
I felt betrayed. I felt frustrated and I felt angry. I had kept my side of the deal. I had sent my son to school as was demanded by law, I had informed, liaised, medicated. I had been understanding when he had gone without lunch, or his medication wasn’t issued or plans that were written up were inaccurate or inapplicable. I had supported the school and yet the school, their training and their staff and this tutor had let my son down.
Honestly as Charlies account unfolded I was dealt blow after invisible blow, mentally and emotionally. Trying to remain outwardly balanced and non-judgemental I listened and questioned until the story was spent and my son slept. Post trauma sleep – he was absolutely exhausted on all fronts.
I was utterly at sea. How on earth do you deal with something like this? Violence, assault, punching, grabbing, restraining. These are words I came across reading legal cases and at court, or in the media. Not in my home. Not within my family and not with my child.
Later when Charlie awoke I could see he was trying to understand and although I did my best to support him I was in fact failing to understand it all myself. We entered the next phase of the process: Remorse.
No-one and nothing could effectively punish Charlie more than he punished himself. He was mortified that he had injured his tutor, that he had acted the way he had, that he had been restrained, that I had had to collect him, that the school didn’t want him, that he had caused us stress….. he blamed himself for just about everything. He described himself as a monster referring to the violence and worried about his future as a stronger grown man. He worried about how he could be trusted, or trust himself, for as much as we talked about it, he did say that if he had his time over again, he knew he would not be able to change the outcome. In the instant he lashed out he had no control, no choice to stop or change what he was doing. The impact of that was enormous for us as parents and it was not lost on Charlie either.
All of this I battled with internally and my son knew nothing of it. Externally the battle began with the school, it rapidly felt like a them and us scenario. I didn’t know if there is a clear cut procedure for this type of thing, I didn’t know who to ask. I had to put my faith in the school to steer ahead but to be honest my trust in the school had been fractured.
That evening we received a phone call from the Head of the school, who enquired after my son and introduced herself. She seemed genuinely sorry for the position we were in and that touch of kindness was appreciated. She said we would be contacted the next day.
Concern had been raised about the manner in which Charlie had been restrained, and in the exchange between him and his tutor which directly led to the assault. This was nothing to do with fault, for me, this was a learning and moving forward exercise but I later got the distinct impression that it was a blame and punishment issue for the school.
Had this tutor added fuel to the fire with Charlie then some training was desperately needed, if the restraint was around his neck then the dangers of that needed to be highlighted and again training needed to be looked at. I was dismayed at how the situation had been handled but hoped to help improve things.
As a member of CAMHS (Childrens and Adolescent Mental Health Service) Parent Participation Panel and having set up a Support Group for Parents with children in/under CAMHS I am a proactive person, an informed and aware parent and perhaps naively thought that a positive outcome could still be reached.
Once over the initial shock of what he had done and what had happened we discussed with Charlie the importance of taking responsibility for his part in the situation. We discussed apologising to the tutor and he thought that a face to face apology would be best. He said he wanted to apologise for shouting, for swearing and for hitting his tutor, to apologise for just ‘being naughty’. I was proud of him for suggesting that and thought it was a very adult approach.
The next day, the Thursday we received a phone call from the school, Charlie was officially excluded, a letter would follow and a meeting was suggested for the following Wednesday once the matter had been looked into. The Deputy enquired as to whether Charlie had completed a written statement of events and I asked after the tutor. It was a cold and somewhat clipped phone call.
That weekend seemed to never end. I have four other children to care for and work for myself and yet I just waded through treacle getting nowhere fast and everything going past me in slow motion. I considered, evaluated, predicted, overthought, researched but nothing brought peace. Nothing could change the way I felt, the embarrassment, the shame, the confusion, the frustration, the way my world and my outlook had forever changed.
By Tuesday we received a letter from the school to say Charlie had been excluded. Seeing it in words, written down was the end of me. I broke down and just sobbed. I don’t know how we had gotten in here and not a clue as to how to get out. For one of the few times in my life I didn’t know what to do or where to go but this was my son, his future, his mental health and well being and since no-one else was looking out for him it was down to us as parents, us as a family and I just had to find the strength from somewhere to carry on.
I can’t remember when it was, but I became aware that there was CCTV footage of the ‘event’ and that written statements had been taken, evidence had been collated so it seemed. All of this was to be shared with us at the meeting on the Wednesday. This worried me.
I was worried because I had been informed that the Head, the Deputy, the Head of House and the SENDCo would be present. That seemed a lot of staff to share their accounts, while I had to digest it all, remain composed and make sure Charlies needs were aired. The CCTV frightened me. I really didn’t want to watch my child striking a teacher. I didn’t want to watch this act of violence my child had been involved with. But I had to. I had to watch it and come to terms with who my child had the potential to be. I had to watch it and accept his part in this nightmare.
I asked for the information to be shared prior to the meeting. I asked to be able to watch it without an audience. I hoped not to cry but I knew if I had to watch it that I would crack – and it would not be pretty. I requested a viewing of the CCTV and any other documents they had pertaining to the event and policy and procedures for pupil behaviour and records of staff restraining and or de-escalation training for the staff involved.
We were invited to see the Head and met with possibly another Deputy (?) on the evening before the meeting to view the CCTV and ‘go through’ peoples statements. I appreciated the compassion shown by the Head in allowing this and she was very gracious in the way she handled it all. I was as open and honest with them both as I had been through Charlie’s time at the school and I appreciated their time and efforts.
I was amazed to find that there was no CCTV. Well not of the actual event, simply a few seconds of Charlie walking towards the tutor and after a lapse of 20 seconds a reaction from some students caught on another camera which indicated something had occurred outside. The Deputy was very helpful and drew some floorplans of the building and indicated where events had taken place but all I could think of was 20 seconds. 20 seconds. That’s all it was. That the course of events could go so awry in 20 seconds. What the hell happened in those 20 seconds?!
Staff accounts and a child’s account was read aloud to us but my background in law has taught me that witness accounts are sketchy and to be fair they were vague in places. They would have been torn apart by a court of law. BUT, that was not where we were and not what this was about. The Head had been as accommodating as I think she could have been and ultimately what I reeled from was that bloody 20 seconds.
The Wednesday dawned and we went to the Reintegration meeting or Return To School meeting as someone had referred to it. The Head, the original Deputy Head and the SENDCo were all present and it pretty soon became obvious that this meeting had nothing at all to do with my sons return to school. At least not that school…ever.