Last Easter I left the special school for children with behaviour problems, where I had been head for six years, for a job advising on behaviour at the Department for Education. Recently, I went back to my school and bumped into a boy called Jack in the corridor. He looked at me for a few seconds as if trying to remember who I was and then said, ‘You were a useless head teacher,’ and walked off. A few of the children ran up and hugged me, but many of them barely acknowledged my presence. Our pupils have often been brought up in families where men come and go and each new one is a potential threat, so it can take them years to learn to trust adults. I had become another transient man who had come into their lives and then abandoned them.
I went into the head’s office where my successor Colin was sitting nonchalantly at his desk while a ten-year-old boy threatened him with a stapler. ‘I’ll nail your hand to the desk,’ he shouted. ‘No you won’t, Liam,’ said Colin, gently removing the weapon from his hand. ‘I’ve got a lighter in my pocket and I’m probably going to burn the school down.’ ‘No you haven’t, Liam. Why don’t you show Mr Taylor the fishing magazine?’ ‘I hate him!’ ‘No you don’t, Liam.’ Liam’s mother was beaten up by his father while he was still in the womb. Stress hormones had crossed the placenta and he was born hyper-vigilant: he perceives threats everywhere and sometimes attacks children and adults without warning. His mother had recently had a baby son and Liam was often left caring for him when she went out drinking. We are in no doubt that both of them should be in care. He rummaged around Colin’s desk, ‘Where’s that ruler? I’m going to shank [stab] someone.’