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We must work together to improve relationships within Sheffield's schools

Police lockdown Fir Vale School in Sheffield following a mass fight in the canteen at lunchtime
Police lockdown Fir Vale School in Sheffield following a mass fight in the canteen at lunchtime

When I was training to be a teacher, back in the day, the Sheffield schools where I did my placements - to the west of the city - were not ethnically diverse.

The make-up of the schools caused a bit of an issue because one of the course requirements involved dealing with students who had English as a second language.

In the end, tutors arranged for us to spend some time in one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country - Fir Vale.

The experience was fantastic; it raised a number of challenges but was extremely rewarding as well.

The school has been through the highs and lows of different OFSTED inspections since those days and a number of headteachers and senior leaders have come and gone.

One of the key challenges has always remained constant, trying to bring a diverse - and changing – community together while ensuring students with limited English get exam results they can be proud of.

Always a tough task, but in terms of difficulty the work for those now in Fir Vale School went off the charts last week.

The headteacher called it an ‘incident,’ some locals and the national media calling it a riot.

Whatever name it goes by, what happened at Fir Vale last Tuesday has caused unspeakable damage and could well take a generation to recover from.

How a headteacher sits down and prepares an assembly to bring the school together after such

events, I just do not know.

There’s nothing at university to prepare staff for dealing with a canteen riot, just as there’s nothing

in the manual for rebuilding community cohesion from rock bottom.

Any school response to this situation could be improved in hindsight, though I appreciate the management at Fir Vale was in a very difficult position.

Head teacher Simon Hawkins said in a statement that the school would return to normal on Wednesday morning and that Fir Vale was a happy, calm and safe environment.

But there is no immediate return to normal from this. It will be talked about for years.

And any school requiring police dogs, a police helicopter and riot vans will have a lot of work to do if they’re to convince me it’s a calm and safe environment.

A misguided decision to hold a sort of public meeting on Monday evening was thankfully called off; that could have easily seen feelings reach boiling point yet again. And senior management must have been thankful government inspectors didn’t turn up first thing

Wednesday morning to find out what was going on and presumably plunge the school into years of additional scrutiny.

If I was head of OFSTED watching a lunchtime ‘riot’ at a school while I had my evening meal, I think I might have reached for my phone and made a call or two.

Everybody now, of course, needs to look forward and be aware that there is a potentially difficult

situation at Fir Vale that will take many more people than just the school staff to sort out.

Police are needed, community support workers are needed - both areas that have seen budgets and resources drastically cut since the days I spent at Fir Vale.

More money is needed for the school itself to boost the essential resources needed to support such a diverse population.

And let nobody pretend it’s going to be easy. Fir Vale will struggle even more to recruit the best teachers from now on.

It is essential that progress is made within the community, and that action is taken to improve relationships sooner rather than later.

But the road ahead will be slow to navigate and have numerous obstacles to deal with along the way.

Work with your families, work with others in the community, work with the police, work with the

teachers to move this situation forward – for the sake of our children.