What An Interesting Day!
What an interesting day I had recently! I was speaking with a Head from whose school five children in the last seven years have been referred to us at Red Balloon. My aim for the meeting was to reinforce the need for a provision like Red Balloon in the county – to discuss with him what he could do with children who do not attend school because of bullying and to forge positive relations with him and work in partnership.
At this point I should like to refer you to our previous blog written by Bernard Trafford, Head of Newcastle Grammar, who clearly states despite a school’s best intentions, their skill and concern for children, sometimes there is a child that leaves because of bullying. Let’s not be afraid of this – let’s stand up, own it and congratulate ourselves on the other 99% for whom we provide a robust appropriate education. Why not get the ‘experts’ to deal with school phobics, traumatised and terrified children who suffer from mental health issues as a result of the bullying they have received? It does not signify failure – but recognition that we as educators should not be Jacks of all trades and masters of none – rather the opposite.
So, where was I? – Oh yes talking with a Head about the provision Red Balloon offers and how we could work together. He said he did not have severely bullied children who would not go to school and that there was really no need to have such a provision as Red Balloon any more. I reminded him (gently) that we had taken five children from his school over the previous seven years.
I was put in my place – he had not had five bullied children – there had just been one – he went through the names! He listed them on his fingers: “There was Tom – well he was disruptive and needed to go the pupil referral unit – he hadn’t been bullied! And Will – well he was just unhappy – he left. Then there was Oscar – he was a most peculiar student – not bullied, just off the wall – disliked really by the other children – not surprising because he was so odd. Sharon – well her mother was the problem there – mad – or bad – he hadn’t decided! And Yemi – ah yes, well Yemi had been bullied albeit outside school so not really his problem – in a supermarket he remembered.
It is interesting – that is not what we saw, heard or listened to while the children were with us. All five have now moved on but at the time they talked to staff at RB about the traumas they suffered – one of them features in our recent publication – Rising Above Bullying. It is Tom, the “disruptive” one.
“Usually I was punched and kicked. They would attack me at once. One time, one of the gang had a really sharp pencil and they stabbed me with it. Not just a little prod – but really viscous hard stabs and they only stopped when I started screaming.
I looked at the open wound on my leg that was pouring blood. I couldn’t stop the bleeding so I went to the first aider and told her what had happened. ‘They attacked me in the toilets‘, I said ‘they had this sharp pencil and they kept jabbing me with it’.
But she didn’t take me seriously. She just gave me an ice pack to put on my leg and told me it would be OK.
……….. By this time I was in a mess. Although I pretended to my friends that I didn’t care what Matt and his friends said about me or did to me – deep down I did care and I was scared a lot of the time. It’s horrible to go around knowing that at the next moment someone might kick you or punch you or say vicious things about you”.
And so it went on until Tom exploded from fear and frustration and shouted at a teacher who took him to the Head (the one I met) at whom he also shouted. As a result he was excluded. After a spell at an exclusion unit, which was not the right place for Tom, he was sent to Red Balloon. Over a period of two years on our recovery programme he returned to school.
Why do Heads and teachers not realise that something or somebody makes children lose their tempers, lose control and shout. Why did no one talk to Tom to find out that he was traumatised by the bullying and find a solution? Do children usually lie about being bullied? Do ‘odd’ children have no rights? Do children with traumatised and difficult parents have no rights – and how do we explain – “He just left!”!
Red Balloon wants to work with those children for whom education in the mainstream has become unbearable – let’s work together – we are not in competition – you do 99.9% and we will take the 0.1 percent!