Stephen’s got ADHD. He’s such a lovable child, but impulse control is not his strong point. His family have taught him that he must take revenge – physically of course – if crossed. This isn’t the most school-friendly of combinations. Paul is in the same class. His dad is in prison for unspeakable things and his mum deals drugs for a local criminal overload. Once, a rumour got out that she had grassed on someone and reprisals were about to take place before the rumour was quashed. Paul is understandably hyper-vigilant, always scanning the horizon for potential threats. He too has been told to hit back should his honour be in anyway besmirched. Paul and Stephen don’t get on. Stacy comes from a chaotic family. The school is working on her conflict resolution skills, but there is some way to go. Things can escalate very quickly. Terry’s oldest brother is in prison for gang-related violence. Another brother was stabbed in a reprisal attack, and subsequently stabbed someone else in return. So Terry is now earmarked by the rival gang as their next victim. He too, is hyper-vigilant and understandably prone to over-reaction. Abdul has had to move house due to his brother’s drug related gang activity. The police have warned his family that the other gang see them all as potential targets. Theo is presently living in a refuge since his mum fled domestic violence. He is mostly quiet and withdrawn, but can lash out when feeling threatened. These children are all in the same class.
The school works hard to meet the needs of these children. There is a learning mentor, work on conflict resolution, liaison with agencies, visits to CAMHS for some, all the usual stuff. In the classroom, a careful seating plan, the warm but firm boundaries, the support from a TA and a skilled teacher all work to ensure that most of the time, the children feel safe enough and calm enough to learn. In the playground there is lots of space and lot of staff and lots of things the children like doing. The more competitive games need careful supervision. The presence of little children helps – they bring out the protective instinct and staff get to see a more nurturing side sometimes.
Transitions between class and play, or PE, or music or assembly – these are hard. It’s one things scanning a classroom or even a playground, it’s quite another keeping your eyes on an entire line of children in a twisty turny narrow corridor with multiple sets of fire doors, even with a teacher at one end and a TA at another. The teacher has a lining up order, of course, to make sure the more volatile children are separated from each other. But the class like to chat in the corridor, and that means the line bunches up as friends congregate. There is overtaking, and faster people mistakenly bumping into slower ones. If you’ve got high levels of cortisol in your blood and someone bumps into you, you might over-react and attack. Retaliation might then follow. Friends might get drawn in to the fray.
Everybody knows that the corridor is the once place you might get away with an insult or crafty push. You can always say it was an accident. If something did go wrong at playtime, the corridor is a good place to get your revenge. So the stressed ones are on their guard, uptight, coiled up and ready to react, or plotting to avenge their honour in the two minute walk back to class.
Daniel is autistic. He likes rules. If someone overtakes him, or anyone else for that matter, he will take the matter into his own hands and put them back – sometimes physically – in the ‘right’ place. Sometimes he remembers he mustn’t do that and just shouts at them instead. Often this results in an altercation.
These are unpleasant for everyone. It takes at least half an hour to calm everybody down until they are ready to talk about what happens, and another half an hour to establish what went wrong. Time during which those involved, including those on the periphery, aren’t learning and staff aren’t teaching.
Yet this was all so avoidable.
When the school introduced silent corridors, these stress-ridden, hyper-vigilant children could relax. They felt safe. Because they had to walk in single file, one behind the other, in a set order, there was no bunching, no bumping. No more having to scan your classmates in case someone is ‘cussing’ you. No more worrying if someone is going to get their own back from a problem in the playground. No more holding in your anger at a perceived sight only to vent it in the seconds when you enter the teacher’s blind spot as you round a corner.
The adults were in charge again.
In a different school where not quite as many children had such stressful lives, Susie might have enjoyed strolling in from play, chatting to her friends. She’s calm, well-behaved and doesn’t need the reassuring presence of an adult in order to resolve any problems. However, when the rules change and she isn’t allowed to talk to her friends for a couple of minutes during transitions, she gets it. It’s only two minutes after all, and it’s so much easier for the others. She’s a compassionate child. She willingly accepts this very minor restriction, even when she forgets one day and receives a minor sanction.
This is why we introduced silent corridors. Not in some power-crazed attempt to coerce children to bend to our will, but as a well thought out response, a reasonable adjustment to a high level of need. If your school doesn’t work day in, day out with those kinds of needs (and obviously the above has been fictionalised to a degree – the reality is actually even more challenging), then maybe it seems weird to you. I’m sure you have other challenges I know nothing of and do things I might feel not understand.