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Enough is enough

March 16, 2013

What can you say to a parent when a child dies before his time – at the age of fourteen?  And how much more difficult is it to think of something helpful to say to a mother whose son takes his own life because of bullying?  A life wasted, a child’s potential not realised because another child – or group of children – made his life so miserable, so unbearable, so frightening that death was preferably to facing the tormentors again.

And of course the spotlight must fall on our schools.  What should schools be doing – what should the teachers be doing – or does the problem lie elsewhere?

I would like to suggest that the problem lies with the government’s obsession with targets, exams and academic superiority.  Not that I am against this on all levels – we must have schools where children reach their academic potential – but this needs to be measured against the need to develop rounded, well-balanced, emotionally astute and kind, sensitive human beings and I am not sure that we still have that as a central tenet in our education system.

If our teachers are exhausted, ground down by never ending targets, fiercer and fiercer Ofsted inspections (now with just four hours notice), tighter rules and regulations, a greater emphasis on exam results and national standards – where is the time in the school day to learn how to be a human being?

Where is the time in the already crowded school day for classroom discussions about the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, for learning about feelings and how they are expressed differently by each person, for recognising and reading body language and, above all, for caring for each other, taking responsibility for those less confident, less able and less popular and being able to create a community where everyone has a role, where everybody has a stake and where everyone believes they belong.

We have seen in America the frightful consequences of the bullied child who grows up and one day – at the end of their tether, angry and outraged at the treatment they have received at the hands of their peers for months and in some cases years – takes a gun and creates devastation by taking the lives of innocent (and maybe not so innocent) peers.

The other side of this is that in some cases the bullied child takes their own life.

Enough is enough.  Let there be no more deaths of children who could not turn to a teacher for help because the relationship was not there.  We don’t want teachers so busy with the curriculum and targets that the human side of their job is squeezed out.  We don’t want children having to deal with such unpleasant behaviour that they want to die.  We don’t want the children doing the bullying thinking that that is an OK way to treat their peers.

Let’s stop and think. And restore more personal and social time in schools where children can learn about the fragility of the human ego.

Those who work in the charity of which I am the CE know a broken child when they see one, know how to help children learn about relationships, and their part in them, how to make them, how to end them (carefully), and how to be sure that each person retains their self-respect. Our students learn to read body language, to respect difference, to use restorative justice as a way of making amends, and much more – but all this takes time. At Red Balloon we make sure we do have the time.  In mainstream school, I am afraid, these things lose out.

For the sake of our children – let’s find the time for them. 


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