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Bullying, Schools, Children Missing Education and Red Balloon – the link

September 20, 2013

There seems to be some misunderstanding in what I said in the Cambridge News article published today 20th September 2013.

Let me explain. Schools are on the frontline of academic learning, social teaching, setting values and moral attitudes and much more and do it extremely well in very difficult circumstances, fielding parental questions and criticisms, on a budget.  I know, I have been there – I was a teacher and have dealt with the difficult child, those who bully, the disenchanted, and the recalcitrant student as well as the lovely, able, motivated and bullied.

And in most cases in schools – 99.9% – incidents of bullying are dealt with in a professional, supportive, educational way, helping children understand what is and what is not appropriate behaviour.  So that leaves the 0.1%. And what happens to them?

There are always children who are bullied and for whom the methods and strategies put in to prevent it, curtail it and stop do not work. – Why, I hear you ask, does it not work? – If we knew the answer to that we would not have 0.1% of children absenting themselves from school for reasons of bullying. 

So we have a tiny number of children who feel /are so badly bullied that they leave school.  Under no circumstances will they walk through the school gates. No way will they engage with the teachers, the other students, the curriculum.  They have lost all trust and belief that they can be kept safe so they vote with their feet and stay ‘under the duvet’.

And in many case the teachers at their school have tried everything – staggered start times, staggered end times, reduced lessons, put lessons in other places, had one to one confidence sessions, organised lunch in a safe place, found buddies, and the list goes on.

My argument is this – when the school has exhausted all its ideas and strategies, perhaps it is time to consider the options. And what are they? Actually they are very few. Leave the student at home depressed, suicidal and missing education, or refer them to the experts?  (Oh, by the way, you have the other 99.9% of children who need your time, efforts, teaching, counsel, etc.)

And Red Balloon is expert in this area.   We have small schools – no more than 17 children, we operate out of Victorian houses which look and feel and smell like domestic homes.  The children wear slippers, have one to one sessions with teachers trained in counselling skills.  There are therapists on hand and we operate a negotiated curriculum, unconditional positive regard in a therapeutic environment.

So why not send them to us? In the medical field there is no stigma attached to doctors who pass cases on to another colleague outside the practice or the hospital.  It is recognised that some patients need specialised help.  That is what we do at Red Balloon. 

If you have a student who is not going to school and you have tried everything – please just hand them over.  We will try and see if we can recover them – 95% of the children we take return to school or move on to college.

We need to be working on this together, not against one another. One last thought  – don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers!

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