‘My pupil was expelled for breaking a teacher’s fingers. I have to help him’ | Society


I spend the morning completing admin for the students I tutor, who have all been expelled from schools and referral units for behavioural problems. After completing weekly reports on them for last week, I plan the week’s lessons, mark some work and fill in my timesheets.

As a self-employed tutor working for a local authority, I am responsible for organising and claiming pay for the hours I work. I love having the freedom to take on and schedule tuition to suit me, but the insecurity is a shock after teaching in schools: if I can’t make the session or a student no longer needs one-to-one tuition, I lose the hours and the money. Unlike in standard teaching, there’s no holiday pay.


I arrive at a family support centre to meet a new student, who has been out of school for a year and previously involved in crime. She looks at least four years older than her age and arrives looking ready to go clubbing, but seems positive and completes a piece of work on a computer, which she admits is the first writing she has done in a long time. Her literacy levels are significantly below the expected level for her age; there are huge gaps and it is clear that she has a lot more on her mind than the novel that we start to read. For the last 10 minutes, we play chess. She beats me convincingly.


A year 9 student I have been teaching for a few months arrives at 9am, can of Red Bull and sweets in hand. He sits down and we chat over a game of Scrabble. He completes some grammar exercises, then asks me to read another chapter of the novel we started last week. Though he’s capable of reading it himself, he loves to be read to; as one of seven children living in a tiny flat, I suspect it’s a rare event.

He is 13 and has been out of school for over a year. He tells me he was expelled after he broke his teacher’s fingers. When I first met him he resented my attempts to help improve his literacy, which is at the level of a six-year-old, and said it was pointless; he only needed to count money and read signs.


I see the boy from yesterday and we start, as usual, with a board game and chat. Once settled, he completes a piece of extended writing. I’m pleased by his progress in both attitude and literacy – and even more so when he self-corrects a punctuation error.

In the afternoon, I arrive to teach the girl from earlier in the week. After half an hour, she hasn’t turned up. I call home. No one knows where she is. She is eventually found on the streets, with other out-of-school teenagers. Her mum brings her, an hour late. After 10 minutes she gets up and leaves. I cannot stop her, so call home as she walks out of the gate. Her parents are unsurprised and say she will be grounded. I feel disheartened after the positive start she made on Tuesday.


Today I attend a child-in-need meeting with a student’s social worker and carer. This is my first experience of such a meeting, despite having been a teacher for 15 years. As teachers in mainstream schools, we tend to refer a case to social services and don’t see the other side. The meeting is positive and it is likely the student will return home from foster care. As I walk out, I pass a woman screaming at a social worker to let her keep her sobbing child.

In the afternoon I help at my son’s primary school, then we go swimming – and I reflect on the very different lives led by children living just a few miles apart.

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com

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