The student data coordinator, Jill, catches you in the staffroom. “Can I have a word with you about Laura McDowell?”, she asks.
Laura McDowell. You say the name. It sounded familiar but you’re not quite sure why.
“She’s in your year 8 class”
Ah yes. Laura. The name you’ve just started skipping when you take the register because she’s never present.
You remember asking Laura’s form tutor in passing earlier in the year about her. Apparently Laura’s mum fell out with the school and announced she was moving Laura to a different school. But that’s not enough for Laura to come off our registers: she needs to be enrolled at a new school before that happens. This seems to be taking an awfully long time to sort out.
No matter. Jill has an update. Laura attended her new school for a day and didn’t like it. She wants to come back to our school again. Apparently we can expect her as soon as tomorrow.
Tomorrow comes and goes with no sign of Laura. As does the following week. It becomes clear that Laura is not the biggest fan of any school.
You hear that the EWO – educational welfare officer, or “wag man” – is ramping up his involvement in Laura’s case. Something he’s done must’ve worked, because she’s in your lesson the very next day.
You’re not sure what to expect from Laura, but her first lesson with you goes fairly well. She is notable only for how quiet she is.
Over the next few weeks her attendance floats around the 60% mark. Internal truancy is becoming an issue now. You see her for one or two lessons a week.
You’ve noticed Laura would much rather use her exercise book for notes to friends and paper balls than any Maths. She also seems to have found more of a voice now. She’s particularly vocal when it comes to one boy – Abdi. She finds him annoying. She is right. Abdi is annoying. But still, you can’t condone the string of expletives – some racial – heading his way.
After weeks of “learning” in your lesson, Laura has a page and a half of work in her exercise book to show for it.
Laura’s presence is becoming really detrimental to the class at this point. She is silly, with no will to work whatsoever, and is dragging some of her friends down with her.
Laura’s mum does not allow her to stay after school for any reason, including detentions. Furthermore, she is a champion evader of lunchtime detentions. You resort to stationing yourself outside the classroom she’s in during period 4 on a Monday – the only day you have period 4 free – so that you can actually pick her up before she goes to lunch. When she runs away from you, you realise it’s time it gets referred up. You tell your head of department. She gets put in for a more serious SLT detention. She’s absent the day that goes ahead. There is no follow up.
The idea of phoning home is laughable. Mum only makes Laura go to school because she’ll go to court otherwise.
You have resorted to getting On Call to remove Laura whenever she starts throwing paper now. Which is exactly what she wants to happen. Then she can sit slyly looking at her phone in the back of another classroom.
You feel guilty for basically giving up on this girl. But when children are – almost literally – throwing their education away deliberately and forcefully, you feel certain that your energies could be better applied elsewhere.
You find yourself saying to your colleague “you can lead a horse to water…”. It’s a phrase many holier-than-thou teachers shun. You sit, staring at Laura’s attendance records, and wonder how many Lauras they really have in their schools.