The headteacher asked me to sit down, have a cup of tea and she then passed me the file for Zak, the child I will be teaching in a few days time. It seemed a little melodramatic as she said I would be left alone in the office to read it. This was day one of a visit I made to the primary school as an opportunity for me to acquaint myself with Zak and also meet the other teachers and pupils.
And so I began to read his file, and the more I read, the more I felt like Captain Benjamin Willard reading the file on Colonel Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (okay so now I’m being melodramatic). Nonetheless, it was relentlessly bleak.
He is Kurdish of Ethnic-Iranian descent, although he has lived in England for most of his natural life. His father and mother were 19 and 14 respectively when they married and are second cousins. The file was vague in certain areas, such as, his father had owned a series of shops and had left Iran when Zak was a year old. Although the file did not elaborate on the reason for this, I assumed he, like many Kurds in Iran, had been victimized. The file stated he can never return to the country, since his escape to seek asylum.
Zak’s mother was his sole carer until they joined their father in England when Zak was four, and the parents have since had two further children, a son and a daughter. The family originally lived in the North West of England but were victimised by their landlord to the extent they were forcibly removed and some of their possessions allegedly stolen. This situation seemed to have caused a lot of concern to Zak, particularly as the landlords’ children attended the same school.
They moved areas and Zak attended a school in Edmonton, North London. His poor behaviour exacerbated to the extent where staff were “unwilling to work with him” due to “repeated abusive behaviour”. Zak was excluded from school for a total of 26 days resulting in an eventual permanent exclusion in July last year.
The parents speak little English and at home they speak Farsi, a Persian language spoken primarily in Iran and Afghanistan. The father has a history of depressive illness and both he and Zak have visited a therapist in the interim period. The therapist reports that Zak had “spoken of the devil” and she’d witnessed evidence of self-harming.
I was given the opportunity to speak to Zak’s teacher, who has home schooled him since his permanent exclusion. She described him as a very depressed child, who has suffered a great deal of emotional distress. He needed constant reinforcement and had struggled with “cultural expectations”. When I pressed her for an example of cultural expectations, she explained how in Kurdish culture the eldest son is treated with a degree of reverence. He is not given normal boundaries by his parents and there are certain expectations placed upon him, which obscure Zak’s feelings of his role in the family.
Zak, who is now 11, is also suspected to have a degree of autism and visual problems which prompted the local authority to suggest that his “needs are too severe for a mainstream school”. Nevertheless he has made it to a mainstream school and I am responsible for helping him along what has already been a very chaotic journey.