In the Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs of London, an unorthodox school offers extraordinary guidance for the most difficult students. All of their students, boys between 11 and 16 years old, have severe and complex social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and statements of special educational need. The boys’ stories feature poverty and bereavement, some have witnessed domestic violence or murder; their homes are unstable, crowded and often temporary. Many have been excluded from other schools and are regarded as unteachable. Ian Mikardo High School gives them a safe haven. Here there are
Students may behave rude towards teachers and other kids, there are fights an many incidents. Yet, if a student swears, he will be challenged to use proper langage, but there are no sanctions. If they walk out of a class, np one forces them back in. When students fight, a teacher will step in if someone is likely to get hurt, but no one gets suspended. Ian Mikardo Hogh School considers it the skill of a teacher to pick up on low level incidents that if ignored may escalate into a serious incident. It is not a business suit, but the quality of their teaching and the relationship that they have with their students, that makes teh difference. Aspiring teachers are required to build relationships with the students, to have good communication skills and a sense of humour, as these relationships provide students with opportunities to try out new ways of relating to others in a safe environment, and help them to grow into stable young people.
Come with a past, leave with a future
Headteacher Claire Lillis too over this school thirteen years ago, when it was in special measures by Inspection and practically all of the students who attended the school, ended up in prison. Lillie wanted to give a voice to those whp have been under attack and challenge what it is hat educations tries to do. She believes that many school have lost sight of what educations relally matters. So she came up with a new motto: come with a past, leave with a future. The school’s guiding principles are empathy, respect, being nonjudgmental and listening. Ian Mikardo High School provides minute-by-minute day-time support and a structured learning environment. There are only 40 boys, a maximum of eight in a class and there are in-house therapists, onde dedicated to the children, the other to the staff. The building is colorful and inviting. There is a rescue dog called McFlurry, the dining room has a jukebox and there is a flat where the boys not only can relax at lunchtime, but also learn to cook, wash and iron. There ia a salon for haircuts and manicures, where they also learn about personal hygiene. This creates an easy, intimate atmosphere where even the most agressive boys soften and calm down. Although the atmosphere is relaxed, the teachers are constantly on alert, watching for early signs of tension and intervening before anything erupts.
The school teaches over five areas:
– My Passport (the skills they need to move on to further learning and employment – literacy, numeracy and computer literacy)
– My Self (by working through fine art, graphic design, digital photography, film and music, the curriculum fosters expansive thinking, experimentation and a safe form of personal expression)
– My World (the skills and knowledge the students need to explore the world around them, which enable them to appreciate innovations, past triumphs and cultural differences. They consider the lives of people from different times and places, and make links between their own experiences and the world they live in)
– My Future (which prepares students for working life outside school, focuses on vocational courses and ensures that students develop the practical and personal skills they will need to gain employment, negotiate the working world and succeed within it, including skills to develop healthy and fulfilling relationships, becoming a safe, confident individual, learning to make appropriate choices and assess risk)
– My Body (this consists of Physical Education in which students participate in a variety of physical and sporting activities in competitive, creative and challenging situations, Healthy Active Lifestyles which focuses on personal health and fitness, and Food and Nutrition which develops students’ knowledge of a healthy balanced diet).
Despite their challenging personal circumstances, the students make tremendous progress. When they leave at 16, they are ready to engage with a positive future. In contrast to the earlier days, when many ended up in prison, in the past seven years not one student found his way into custody. In the last three years 97% of the students have gone on to further education, enployment or training. They make outstanding educational progress and leave with a range of vocational and academic qualifications. Ian Mikardo High School has received many awards for their unique education, including three outstanding Ofsted Reports.
Too tough to teach?
The school staff hesitated to allow cameras in the school to film Too Tough to Teach? They decided to do it anyway, because they wanted to show how they work with children who have Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. They also wanted to suggest that there is an alternative to sanctions and punishments. This film documentary has attracted attention from near and far, including countries outside the UK, and the comments have been overwhelming positive. There is immense support for the school and the community from a cross section of people throughout the country. Here you can see a trailer of the film.
We need to play!
Lillis is critical of the government policy towards punition, tests and the obsession with Pisa international league tables. Lillie: “The world has changed dramatically and yet we are trying to have an education system that is not progressing and moving with society. We need to stop comparing ourselves to global markets and Asia. We need to play again. We need to be creative. We need to get enjoyment again into our schools and our classrooms.”