30 April 2014

Ann

Ann Maguire, aged sixty one, was an outstanding teacher - spending the entire forty years of her career in one secondary school - Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. She has been referred to as "the mother" of that school for she was much more than someone who just turned up every day and taught her timetabled lessons. She was a confidante, a counsellor, a prop for younger staff, a listening ear for troubled pupils, an enthusiastic participant in extra curricular events, a team player of the highest order. Such precious things are customarily ignored by OFSTED inspectors as they are invisible and immeasurable.

Ann  was due to retire this summer but sadly, tragically she will now never enjoy that golden time for on Monday, during a Year Eleven Spanish lesson, a troubled fifteen year old boy returned to her classroom with a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the back several times before moving to her neck. Many of the boy's classmates witnessed this nightmarish event and though efforts were made to save Ann's life, she died in front of them in a pool of blood.

The murderer is variously described as being "dark", "weird", "depressive", "a loner" who had chosen a picture of The Grim Reaper to head his Facebook page. His parents split up when he was young and he lived with his mother and older brother. I understand that his mother went off on a foreign holiday at the weekend.

As someone who began teaching at the age of eighteen and spent twenty two years in one Sheffield secondary school, I have contemplated Ann's killing more deeply than I might think about other awful murders you hear about. For example, though hindsight is certainly a marvellous thing, I wonder if this killing might have been avoided. Had the murderer's killing potential been signalled long before and what had been done to address his dark and embittered behaviour?

Emerging from a long career in teaching, memory selectively filters away the majority of happenings, the majority of days and you are left with a couple of handfuls of memories - the flotsam and jetsam of many years of chalkface work. Amongst those bits and pieces I find this...

It must have been around 1990 some time in October. I knew that a new student was going to join my Year 10 English class and that he had been "transferred" from nearby Hinde House School. That's pretty much all I knew - apart from his name - Dean. I came back to my classroom in the middle of morning breaktime and met Dean for the first time. He was sitting at the back of the room on his own with his back to me - under the window. He appeared to be focussing on something and when I got over there I saw what he was doing. He was chiselling away at the mortar between the concrete blocks that formed the rear wall. In his hand there was a knife - a table knife which looked suspiciously like the knives provided in the school canteen. He stopped what he was doing and I jollied Dean along, introducing myself as the little radar on top of my head emitted a clear "Danger!" signal.

In the days that followed, Dean revealed himself to be a very difficult pupil - intelligent but very lazy, possessing innate cunning. He was skilled at winding up other pupils and orchestrating resistance so that the previously pleasant learning atmosphere in that particular class became soured. Naturally, I wanted to know more about Dean - to learn about his background and why he had transferred from Hinde House. But nobody seemed to know anything and there was still no file for him in the school office. By the way, my school seemed to have a nasty habit of hiding key information in order to facilitate "clean slate" opportunities so that even frontline teachers were denied the truth about certain new pupils.

Back then I had a friend who worked at Hinde House. I only saw her occasionally but one evening - about a month after Dean had first appeared at our school - I bumped into her in a pub in Broomhill and took the opportunity to ask her about Dean. What Maggie revealed was stunning. Dean had been expelled from Hinde House for threatening a Science teacher with a knife. It was the culmination of three and a half years of challenging behaviour. And what had he been holding when I first met him? Yes, a knife.

Farewell to Ann Maguire. Pillar of Corpus Christi School. A real teacher - so different from the careerists who flit from post to post, leaping between the latest bandwagons. Someone who listened and laughed. Someone who genuinely cared. Someone who demonstrated the meaning of devotion each day of her working life.
'Dedicated': Another message to the teacher read: 'RIP Mrs Maguire you were such an inspirational woman'

27 comments:

  1. YP, I have been thinking of this tragedy ever since I heard of it. It could so easily been avoided. Special needs is a euphemism for little sods they should be in special schools.

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  2. YP, thank you for discussing this issue of troubled students and the tragic death of Ann. I can't compare our school system with the UK system. What I have seen on The School on TV makes me think I would not cope in the UK system. I count myself very fortunate to work in a school that on the whole is harmonious, respectful and safe.

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    1. Don't be mistaken Carol.Most schools in England are harmonious and happy and most of our children are hard-working, respectful and well-adjusted. Government interference in the last twenty years has meant that schools in disadvantaged areas have had to become exam factories with improbable targets and daily unrelenting pressure to achieve them.

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  3. Your experience with Dean at your own school is mirrored here in the US.
    I taught in an urban Massachusetts middle school and then high school and we would often receive transfers from other schools in the system. Several of these students were transferred for disciplinary reasons, about which we were never given information.
    I can also remember some chancy situations, such as the time I found one of my high school students in my empty classroom after school (who I had given failing marks to) when he had recently been released on bail.
    In some other job position, I wonder if the workers would recognize how their personal safety was being put at risk by bureaucratic blindness.

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    1. If I could reach across the North Atlantic I would shake your hand Marty. We have both known what it means to teach in challenging modern day schools and we have lived to tell the tale.

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  4. What a horrific story about Ann Maguire. Thank you for memorialising her in this post. Your own experience with Dean gave me cold chills.

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    1. Bob, they are the instigators of their own destruction. There is no discipline in schools. The teachers moan about parents and parents moan about schools. Teachers have young people for a few hours a day and precious few weeks a year.
      She was respected by all accounts but who knows. She may have acted and felt omnipotent. Thank heaven he didn't have a gun.
      All murdered people are described as bubbly, caring and never hurt a fly by the press.
      I just wonder if teachers are a bit naive. I didn't always get it right as a boat boss but considering the pond life I got we generally had an amicable understanding.

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    2. Adrian - to find out what teaching is really like and to check out your theory about naivete, may I suggest you give the job a go. Surely all teenagers will bend to the will of an old seadog. By the way are all seadogs the same? You seem to think that all teachers are.

      And Bob - the hundreds of verbal and written tributes to Ann Maguire prove that she really was special - not your typical teacher. She was genuinely loved and respected.

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  5. I feel so sorry that this poor lady didn't live to enjoy her retirement. As regards the boy, mental health facilities for youngsters these days seems woefully underfunded and inadequate. My third thought is that, although everyone deserves a second chance, denying you and other staff relevant information about your new pupil was disgraceful as it could have put you and your colleagues at risk. In many cases, I am inclined to agree with Adrian's definition of 'special needs.'

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    1. Hear hear Jenny. You and I both saw the closure of special schools and associated expert provision under the laughable guise of "integration". It was all about saving money.

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  6. Australia seems to be going down the same road with the closure of special schools YP. This is such a sad story. As a parent I would be very anxious if my children were to witness a horrible situation like this. I imagine it would be something you would never forget.
    Hope they lock him up and throw away the key!

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    1. I don't care that he is only fifteen and I don't care that he is probably the victim of hopeless parenting, I would also like to see him locked up for many years. A school is a place of learning, not a place of killing and he took advantage of that to bring his darkest fantasies into the light of day.

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  7. When I first started reading your post, YP, I thought that you'd end up telling us that Ann (whom I thought to be a former colleague of yours) died from some tragic accident or incurable disease before I came to the sentence about the stabbing. I couldn't believe it and literally cried out when I read it. What a terrible, terrible murder! Not even the worst teacher in the world - which she clearly was not - deserves being killed, and I am aching for her poor family and friends, as well as for the traumatized pupils who had to witness it all and couldn't help their teacher.

    It is very difficult to find a balance between giving out enough information about such a troubled student and making sure they get a fair chance at their new school. But safety should be put first. There are such silly "health & safety" rules about all sorts of stuff, but nothing to prevent this murder.

    No matter how the student grew up, it was not his teacher's fault, and he had no right to take anyone's life.

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    1. He resented her fair discipline. She had served so well for forty years - a credit to her family and to the teaching profession. What a stark contrast between the goodness of her life and the dark meaningless existence of her cruel assailant. No - it was not her fault - not ever, not by a million miles.

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  8. I am so sorry about this..... Sorry for ann, sorry for her family and friends and sorry for the murderer
    In some way I hope that this young boy is mentally ill rather than just evil
    ( he's at the right age to have his first psychotic episode)
    At least the reason for the murder be explained somewhat
    Dreadful dreadful dreadful

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    1. I think you are very right to feel sorry for the murderer - he didn't ask for a world in which violent films and video games are freely accessible and he didn't ask for his mum and dad to split - thereby often being "home alone" and perhaps damaged but in the end we are all responsible for the things we do.

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    2. If he is severely mentally ill , he is Not responsible for his actions

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  9. YP, my heart goes out to the family, her colleagues, those who had treasured memories of her, those for whom the horror of witnessing the attack will always be with them and to the professionals of all capacities who have to deal with the consequences. It will take an unspeakable toll on all of their lives. I read Anthony McGowan's tribute to her this morning, and I wept.

    Something has gone very, very seriously wrong at the core of our society for a culpable, clear thinking individual to methodically walk to the front of his classroom, in front of his peers, and to be so calculated as to time a deliberate stabbing whilst her back was turned away for the minutes it took to write on a whiteboard. It also takes intelligence. I've worked only a handful of times with individuals who were so beyond any sense of conscience that they could not see the damage in murdering another; from all the evidence I've read this young man appears to fit that category and the sooner he is removed from wider society the better. I only hope that several years down the line, he does not emerge with a new government paid for identity, residence and employment record, given the license to kill again. Because the inevitability is that he will. When evil goes so deep into the Psyche it is a canker that cannot be rooted out.

    Sadly, as always happens at times of high emotion, the screws will be tightened on the innocent again and teachers, already stretched to breaking point in resilience, emotion, work load and bureaucracy, will now face being placed in the unthinkable, frightening and potentially dangerous situation of checking youngsters for weapons and always being fearful of the actions of the unpredictable ones. Who is ever going to see teaching as a viable profession to enter now and of those who are still hanging in there who will ever dare turn their back on a pupil or go confidently into work again?

    As you know, I home-educated my boys, but the youngest one, by his choice, has a place at Trinity House for September. On a day when I have watched a surge of over 200 enquiries hit the Education Otherwise forums, worried parents are already looking at alternatives to putting their child in a classroom and I confess that even I can't help surreptitiously checking with N as to whether he still wants to go ahead with his plans. Common sense and statistics go flying out the window and, as with Dunblane or the Wolverhampton massacres, we have a world that is left reeling with shock, worry and grief. So, so unbearably sad.

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    1. Co-incidentally, this evening I watched a documentary about the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. The two perpetrators were like Ann Maguire's killer - misfits who were hooked on violent films and computer games.

      Your response raises points I hadn't considered so I thank you for that Elizabeth. Your question - "Who is ever going to see teaching as a viable profession to enter now and of those who are still hanging in there who will ever dare turn their back on a pupil or go confidently into work again?" is rather chilling and I fear that Ann Maguire's death is perhaps a precursor of things to come. The lid of Pandora's box is open.

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  10. Such a tragedy. I gasped when I heard about it on the news. So sad...so wrong.

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    1. Murders happen every day - we become immune to the news - but some murders - like this one - really knock you back on your heels.

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  11. How sad. Sympathy to you. I had one kid who came after a closed sentence which means he was not allowed to leave the facility he was in. From His sentence I knew that he had probably killed. Again I got no information on him. There was certainly risk and teachers and students should not have been exposed to it.

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    1. Truth is a valuable commodity but that does not mean that those in charge should hide it for safe keeping.

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  12. Years ago as a CAB volunteer, we were able to sit in a magistrates court and afterwards speak to the magistrate about the morning's proceedings.

    The case that has stayed with me all these years is the lad who having jumped the 'dinner-time' queue, was asked by the teacher to go to the back and wait his turn. Without a word he punched him on the nose, knocking him out.

    He got away with just a warning.

    When I asked the magistrate why he hadn't been more harshly dealt with, he shrugged and said as it was a first offence he was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. My reply was 'Surely he will feel he has got away with it!'
    There is no easy solution I know. What I do know is there will always be those who look to find something to explain away such appalling behaviour. And I for one don't wear it.

    LLX

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    1. Lettice - I think that there are always reasons why horrible acts are committed. We can look at them forensically and get to the bottom of them but understanding the reasons why does not negate the fact that something awful has happened. Only I keep in mind John Gray's point - What if the perpetrator has a recognisable mental illness?

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  13. Name please, killer name.

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  14. I have read every single word of this post and the comments at least once and some many times. The enormity of the crime; the enormity of the potential for blame in many quarters; the culture of responsibility avoidance are just a few of the many reasons why I feel overwhelmed by the many issues that this senseless loss of life causes me to feel.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.