Time and chance happeneth to them all

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

I teach children who are marginalised and removed from mainstream schooling. They have been out of education for some time. Their behaviour, their attitude, their circumstances have meant that they are not in a position to get the magical five GCSEs at A*-C which is demanded of children.

And yes, for some of them it is their own fault. They have chosen to behave the way they did. There are factors and circumstances which brought them to that point, but that does not excuse them. It explains how they came to be where they are now, but they chose to take that final step which saw their behaviour and attitude change, and which prevented them from remaining in mainstream education. To that extent, it is their fault.

But nonetheless they have been given a second chance, and they have taken it. And with the best will in the world, they can never be as good as they might have been. Imagine you were training a group of ten teenage athletes. All ten show promise when they come to you at the age of 12, and you hope in four years time they will do great things at the Great Race. And they begin to train together.

Then two of the ten start slacking off. They start failing to show to practice. They smoke, and drink, and eat unhealthily, until they can no longer be considered part of your training team. With one year left, they are removed from your team.

Another trainer offers them a chance. Stop the unhealthy behaviour, train with me, and we’ll let you run in the race. Will these two be as good as their eight fellow teen athletes? No, the damage has been done. But with what they’ve got, let them try. Let them achieve what they can.

That’s essentially what I do. I take the ones who slacked off, goofed off, fucked up and got kicked out. And we work with what we’ve got. The race is not to the swift, nor battle to the strong. Our victory is not coming first, but simply taking the opportunity and trying as best as we can.

A*-C in GCSE English would be great for these kids. But realistically, it is doubtful. The real achievement will be getting a GCSE, regardless of the grade, because otherwise they would have no qualification.

So what happens when a few months before our Great Race, you are told it is not sufficient for your second-chance athletes to be able to finish the race. They must be able to finish it in a set time, or the can’t even try?

That’s what I’ve been told. Without guarantees of A*-C, then a student isn’t allowed to try. They are robbed of the chance to achieve. What is the point of a second chance, if it amounts to “you shouldn’t have wasted your first chance”.

It is their fault that they need a second chance. But now that we’ve given it to them, it is not their fault if we take that chance away from them.

And now this weekend I need to figure out which of my students to tell “I have no faith in you” next week…

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