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Islington headteachers’ therapy call for struggling pupils

Town Hall is warned of ‘chaotic lives’ facing borough's children

20 September, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Damien Parrott, the executive headteacher at Drayton Park and Montem primary schools

HEADTEACHERS said many white boys and girls from poor families and black Caribbean children need “long-term therapy” to help them engage in school.

Childhood trauma and “young parents” were highlighted by a panel of Islington headteachers as primary factors for why the two groups appear to be under­achieving at school.

A group of six headteachers from early years, primary and secondary schools sat before a council scrutiny committee on Tuesday to explain what they are doing to tackle this issue.

Sarah Beagley, the headteacher at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson girls school, told the meeting: “You look at children and think what you need is really long-term therapeutic care. What we are trying to do is manage the situation sometimes and we are good at spinning plates. It is a frustration for all of us.”

She added: “The reality that is really hard for us is that it feels we are taking a bit of a holding position with students at times. Their lives are so chaotic, there is so much that needs to happen before a child can start to learn. All we are doing is sticking our finger in the dam really.”

Damien Parrott, the executive headteacher at Drayton Park and Montem primary schools, added that cramped housing and food poverty meant some children experienced violence and stress.

Council figures show that on average a white child on free school meals is likely to get a grade lower in every subject than his peers at GCSE level.

For black Caribbean children, it is about half a grade lower than their peers.

The panel of heads agreed that they all had experienced problems with young parents and parents with mental health issues who did not see the value in school when they attended and so did not try to motivate their children.

Martha Braithwaite, the head at St Marks CE Primary School, said: “I know some people avoid these parents and shy away from engaging with them because they can be so explosive sometimes. There is no reasonable conversation to have sometimes.”

The Sussex Way school holds “soft mornings” where parents are allowed to join their children for 15 minutes in class, as an attempt to draw parents in.

Mita Pandya, executive head at Archway and Willow children’s centres, added that forming “trusting relationships with parents early” was essential to helping pupils.

The council did not drill down to data on black Caribbean children who are on free school meals because there were not enough of them in the borough to establish any trends.

The impact of exclusions and poor attendance was also discussed.

The council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee will analyse the topic of pupil performance at public meetings in the Town Hall over coming months.

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