The End Of Our Tether

Mrs Maryon-Davies
Chair of the Board of Governors
Streatham and Clapham High School
Senior Department
42 Abbotswood Road
London, SW16 1AW

21 June 2006

Dear Mrs Maryon-Davies

We wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the appalling way in which our daughters, Holly in particular, have been treated by the school this year. This unacceptable combination of coercive management methods, inappropriate modelling of rude and aggressive behaviour by staff, total disregard of Holly’s needs as a dependent twin, and refusal to adhere to strategies which we have made every effort to devise jointly with Little Trees Staff and Miss Burke have led to periods of aggressive behaviour from Holly which have ultimately led to your letter dated June 20th in which you exclude her from class for four days and state that further such behaviours would result in permanent exclusion. With this letter you enclosed your exclusion policy. We would like to point out that sharing this policy with us at this late stage is a little late in the day.

We ask that you consider the following:

1. We accept that Holly has been rude to staff and that she has been physically aggressive towards other children. However, at no point has a single staff member indicated to us a willingness to accept that context may play a role in this behaviour. Neither of our daughters behave this way outside of school. At home there is occasional bickering, and occasional hitting, which responds excellently to time out and return to the original situation. We do not see the behaviours observed at school anywhere else – including at parties with school peers, social events with other children, or in structured contexts such as gym club or swimming lesson. It only occurs in school and yet we have been accused by Mrs Short of failing to work with staff to address the problem. Staff attributions for Holly’s behaviour have included our own parenting, her own character, and psychiatric/developmental disturbance. At no point has the school looked to how it responds to incidents, or the context in which they occur. We have put much effort into talking to both girls about appropriate and inappropriate strategies for angry situations, we have stood alongside staff decisions and responses to naughtiness despite often feeling that it was inappropriate and bullying, and we have requested and attended meetings with staff at which we have jointly devised strategies for management – our own contributions being based upon a combined twenty years of experience in clinical psychology, child psychiatry and behavioural sciences. These strategies have been implemented by staff in a limp and desultory fashion. Despite this certain things have worked but, rather than carry them on, they have been stopped for reasons that are unclear. When these target behaviours have returned, nobody has thought to recommence these strategies. Despite it being clear that Little Trees has failed to integrate Holly successfully, and that she consequently hates being at school, removing her from the classroom has been the immediate knee-jerk response, often for hours at a time in a different building with one-to-one attention and taking part in interesting activities such as completing puzzles, reading stories, or looking at tigers on the internet. Obviously this rewards the target behaviours and increases their frequency. This is evident from this term, when the entire first half was incident-free (in terms of serious aggression as defined by meetings between staff and ourselves), while Holly’s first incident since the spring term was met with a happy afternoon with Mrs Jordan. Unsurprisingly there were more incidents shortly thereafter, each potently reinforced by the school.

  • This should have been predicted.
  • This behaviour was reinforced by a misguided management response.

This is a gross failure of simple behavioural management. We consider it to be not only negligent, but positively harmful to the immediate well-being and future behavioural repertoire of our daughter. In short, while Holly is responsible for the choices she makes, she is four years old, and your school has systematically trained her to be physically assaultative in order to be relieved of the stresses of being in a situation she hates, with adults who frighten her.

2. Holly was excluded for two days last term as a result of similar behaviour. Nobody discussed with us strategies for reintegrating her. Nothing seemed to be planned. No effort was made. The expectation was that she ought to have learned from the experience and rejoin her class humbled and muted. Of course in her eyes she was removed from class and presented with a long weekend – all the more valuable for not having to share half of it with her twin sister. It did not work. Now she has been excluded again, this time for four days, and we are dismayed that your rather threatening letter makes no indication of a reintegration strategy. When Holly’s Father met with Miss Burke on the day of the exclusion, reintegration was not raised for twenty minutes until he raised it himself. We meet with her tomorrow. Hopefully a plan will be in place. We are disappointed that your exclusion policy appears to make no provision for reintegration either.

  • We do not see that exclusion can achieve anything positive without measures being taken to facilitate the reintegration of a pupil.

3. Your exclusion policy states that

“In most cases, before excluding a child, strategies such as working with parents, school sanctions, modifications to the curriculum, pastoral support programme, should be tried.”

  • We are not aware of curriculum modifications having been made.
  • While we are aware that Holly finally met someone responsible for pastoral care last week, we are not aware of any significant programme being put into place. Indeed, the contact with the Head of Pastoral Care was demonstrably misguided and harmful.
  • We do not consider that we have been worked with, despite our efforts to work alongside the school:
    • After a staff/parent meeting regarding Holly’s behaviour, it was agreed that removal from the classroom would be counter-productive. Within less than a fortnight Holly was excluded for two days.
    • Despite being told shortly after the Christmas break that Mrs Short had comprehensive data on these incidents, and despite being assured we would be privy to that data in order to process it effectively and ensure that responses to incidents were not based upon hearsay or attitudinal changes within staff but upon hard fact, we are yet to see anything.
    • When we have jointly agreed to programmes of rewarding appropriate behaviour in order to reduce that which is inappropriate, we have personal experience of staff inconsistency, failures of staff to implement it according to the agreed plan, and staff insisting after the event that it is unworkable and suggesting strongly that it be stopped.
    • When we requested a meeting with Miss Burke at the start of the spring term we heard nothing for a number of weeks, and then received a letter giving us 24 hours notice to meet her urgently to discuss Holly’s “unacceptable” behaviour. This was precisely what we had been requesting. Evidently the failure to joint work is not ours but the school’s.

4. Your exclusion policy states that

“When exclusions exceed one day, work should be set to be undertaken at home and followed up on the pupil’s return to school”

  • We were not advised of the work that Holly would have been completing during this week.
  • We were not even given her reading book, which has come home every other day this term.

By points 3 and 4 above, we believe that you have not adhered to your own policy of exclusion.

We shall refrain from cataloguing here the myriad examples of dismissive attitude, neglect of care, and frank bullying of small children that we have witnessed ourselves and that we have heard reported from other concerned parents.

We request that this letter be considered extremely seriously. We have serious concerns not just for our own daughters but for the effect on all pupils of Little Trees that this appalling treatment can cause.

We are refraining at this stage from copying this letter to the Independent Schools Inspectorate. We believe our concerns do merit their being informed, but are willing to acknowledge that our concerns may be properly addressed before that becomes necessary.

We look forward to hearing form you.

Yours sincerely

Tamsin and Jim Cromwell

  • Miss Burke, Head of Junior Department, SCHS, Wavertree Road, London, SW2 3SR
  • Mrs S Mitchell, Head of School, Streatham and Clapham High School, 42 Abbotswood Road, London, SW16 1AW
  • Elizabeth Elias, Chairman of the council, The Girls’ Day School Trust, 100 Rochester Row, London, SW1P 1JP