Yesterday we found two stories from the Daily Mirror that may have escaped notice due to neither of them appearing on any news bulletin.
One is about a reported increase in the number of calls to NSPCC’s ChildLine from frightened children in the wake of the Paris attacks.
“After last week’s Paris atrocity NSPCC’s ChildLine has reported more than 100 calls from children as young as nine who told counsellors they feared something was going to happen to them.
They also said they were frightened to leave the house, and struggled to think of anything else.
Some even said they feared the world was on the brink of a third world war.
One 12-year-old girl told a ChildLine counsellor: “I have heard that ISIS are in the UK and are planning a deadly attack.”
This is harrowing for many reasons.
Firstly, it’s wretched that children’s fear of brutal terrorism in this or any country is so prevalent in their minds.
Secondly, the NSPCC ChildLine was established to help young people who had nowhere else to go when they were being abused. Whilst it’s commendable that the dedicated staff have dealt with these phone calls about terrorism and ISIS, this wasn’t the reason the helpline was set up.
Thirdly, it’s appalling that they feel the need to talk to an anonymous, albeit able and professional, counsellor rather than a trusted adult at school or at home in order to explain, and hopefully, allay or rationalise their fears.
What are we doing to our children?
The NSCPCC ChildLine is an essential service, and thank goodness that it’s there for young people. However, let’s turn to that third point and think of the responsibility of the school.
Children should feel secure enough to, at the very least, talk to someone in their school about any anxiety – be it as large, terrifying and seemingly imminent as terrorism to what may be considered as a more realistic and age-relevant concern such as an argument with a sibling or a friend, or a genuine concern about the wellbeing of one of their family.
But in many places, children aren’t accustomed to talking about their feelings. They’re not skilled in being able to coherently and carefully convey their thoughts – unless it’s thinking about an aspect of academic work or answering factual questions about their studies.
Coincidentally, the government still hasn’t responded to the Education Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendation to make PSHE Education statutory. If you think there’s no connection between this and a child phoning Childline, then think again.
If anything, the atrocities should be a wake-up call to be proactive rather than reactive. We’re not suggesting that children’s fears will be eradicated by a statutory commitment to their personal and social development, but such a policy would stand children in good stead in times of crisis, and at least they would be used to expressing themselves and their worries as well as have the ability to listen to advice or work in groups to placate their anxieties on a whole range of subjects, or even be silent observers in carefully planned and managed conversations about life.
We need to skill children to talk. And to listen. We need them to know that there is someone closer than the recipient of their emergency call to ChildLine, who is there to support them in their moment, hour and days of need. We have to start skilling our young people, and even if their wellbeing isn’t the catalyst for doing so, then consider the words of the CBI and the likes who say that our young people are seriously lacking in these key communication skills in order to be employed in today’s work environment.
Maybe a tweet or two to Nicky Morgan about PSHE is called for. Again.
The other story is about the wellbeing of staff in schools, not children – though the two are so frequently inextricably linked.
See also this post from Janet Downs, with some pertinent points from readers.
A poor head teacher in Plymouth, Devon, felt so intimidated and so demoralised by her schools’ Ofsted “failure” that she committed suicide.
Admittedly, this may have been the last straw for someone who was already showing signs of depression and stress but such a tragedy shouldn’t be ignored. (Neither should the effect of such an act on the school, the children and the school community).
We don’t do enough for the wellbeing of pupils and we don’t do enough for the wellbeing of staff.
Since the demise of local authorities, head teachers don’t always get the same regular contact and support from peers. Since our education system became wholly concerned with results and how high up a school is on the performance tables, that has become many head teacher’s raison d’etre. When you’ve put your heart, soul and, quite frankly, your entire purpose in life into achieving results for your school and your pupils, then is it any wonder that people feel utterly demoralised to the point of suicide if an allegedly objective person comes into school and demolishes and criticises everything you’ve done.
Any institution, but especially a school – whose whole purpose is to nurture young people, should have wellbeing at the forefront of their philosophy and outlook – one aspect of which is to develop the academic capabilities of their pupils. But nurturing and wellbeing is far broader than that narrow interpretation of the purpose of schooling.
Lives shouldn’t be lost in the pursuit of a sometimes unattainable aspiration. Children shouldn’t have to pick up a phone to talk about their fears and we need to take wellbeing seriously, now.
Our thoughts and condolences go to the familyand friends of Carol Ann Woodward as well as the Woodford Primary School community.