Mr Cameron, please learn this Lesson. “Children who are Fearful to go to school do not need Punishment.”

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Mr Cameron has clearly different experiences in life than those who he serves as Prime Minister.  As Maria Montessori has said, “It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” Mr Cameron’s callous response to the poor does not surprise any of us,  because he was never without a decent suit of clothes and a warm home, and he has lived among the privileged for all of his life.

Wikipedia lists David Cameron’s educational experiences:

 “From the age of seven, Cameron was educated at two independent schools: at Heatherdown School in Winkfield (near Ascot) in Berkshire, which counts Prince Andrew and Prince Edward among its alumni. Due to good academic grades, Cameron entered its top academic class almost two years early. At the age of thirteen, he went to Eton College in Berkshire, following his father and elder brother. His early interest was in art. ” 

Whether his expensive education was adequate is questionable, since it has clearly left him unable to identify with other people, to feel compassion, and certainly totally unskilled to be a Prime Minister.  Evidence from Finland shows its educational success is because it banned private schools. We need Jeremy Corbyn’s National Education System providing quality learning for all, from Cradle to Grave.

Having attended one of the very first purpose-built comprehensives, my experiences are different to his.  I find I can identify with people from various different walks of life, and when working in education, it is a skill which I have found invaluable.

However, I have less understanding of the experiences of the little Camerons of the world, and certainly find it difficult to feel compassion for anyone who can cut tax credits to millions of hard-working families, who can cut the numbers of health workers so that midwives have no time to eat, and who can attack the rights of working people because of a wish to crush trade unions. It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. But I wonder how much lower can politicians stoop, when now, the wish is to punish children who are too ill or frightened to go to school.

Now parents of “truants” have to face cuts to Child Benefits. 

Now, David Cameron proposes to cut child benefit to families. This approach is callous, and shows ignorance of the difficulties children face. Children who have difficulties attending school need support, not punishment. I have considerable experience working alongside families where children exhibit acute anxiety, and who find school a terrifying environment. You cannot force children with mental health issues into the busy stressful environment of a modern school without the trauma causing lasting damage which could result in them never being able to participate in a productive way in society.

Pressures may be due to the curriculum itself, where schools themselves are pressured by league tables to tick boxes and clock up more and more A-C’s, rather than providing individually tailored education and pastoral support which every child needs. Children with social anxieties find the hustle and bustle of large comprehensives impossible, so why is it not possible for more adequately funded and professionally staffed smaller units and schools to be set up – rather than closing them down?

Children suffering glandular fever, ME or CFS cannot attend school due to illness .Often there are issues with diagnosis, and differences of opinion exist between medical professionals, but attending school is impossible, unless supported and graded. Often other provision is required. Where there is insufficient home tuition support, the return to school, where classmates have moved on both in the curriculum and socially can leave them feeling further isolated.

Maria Montessori also said ““When dealing with children there is greater need for observing than of probing” . I would therefore suggest to Mr Cameron that he starts by listening to people about the reasons why children are finding it difficult to attend school. Then he may understand why breaking up LEAS, cuts to CAMHS and  EOTAS and home tuition services will not help. In Cambridge there is a crisis, a very modern scandal,  where cuts to services are damaging provision for autistic children.  Punishing their parents with fines  is absurd. It shows a total lack of understanding of the problems parents face.

What would Mr Cameron say to Anne’s friend?

” a petite, female, mid 40s friend of mine (who worked) had a difficult, tall, strong 13 year old son. He had mental health problems and often refused to go to school. Some mornings I would see her cajoling him into the car. Other mornings her ex husband (the lad’s dad) would come round and would be manhandling him into the car. But when, eventually, his mum would drive him to school, and had to stop at traffic lights, the lad would get out of the car. She couldn’t physically force him to go to school. She tried her best.”

How would docking tax credits or any financial penalty help this situation?  Punishing parents in this way is a triple whammy, first, cut their tax credits when they are trying to work hard. Then, withdraw the support families need for their children. Now they suggest cutting their child benefit because they are suffering for the government’s inadequacies? No. This will be opposed.

As Cathy observes  of the government ” they are blinkered as to some of the reasons children are truant from school. Some may be being horribly bullied and too frightened to go to school. Some may have horrible family lives and just can not cope with school on top. This could put children in danger if they have abusive parents.  I so wish this government opened its eyes to the real world.  But they do not live in it. They are never going to see how stupid and narrow-minded they are. School can be a horrible place for some children. No, it should not be but it is – and the government needs to tackle those reasons before it starts punishing parents and children so quickly. They really are a totally ignorant lot.”

And in the pomposity of ignorance they feel morally superior, yet they really haven’t got a clue. Perhaps Cameron believes punishment is the answer at school, as he recollects his own for smoking cannabis.

 “.. .  fined, prevented from leaving school grounds, and given a “Georgic” – a punishment which involved copying 500 lines of Latin text.”

No, Mr Cameron, non-attendance at school is not a game or mischievous fun. EBSR is a very serious issue, and our children need support. Their families need support, not punishment. Please listen to those of us who do understand, and have seen the distress, the self-harm, the isolation, and educational opportunities missed. Please reverse the cuts to CAMHS. Provide training for teachers and pastoral staff about EBSR and ME/CFS.  Reintroduce EOTAS services. Bring back LEAS and  the centralised  specialist services which students and teachers need.

 Mr Cameron, learn your lessons! It’s time for you to start listening to teachers.

Making the Grade

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Young people strive for independence. Fears of unemployment, debt, tuition charges make the transition to independence possible much later in life. Carefree teenage years seem a thing of the past, with anxiety and pressure put upon our children from an early age. Rather than allowing them freedom to discover the world through their education, the obsession with exams leads many to anxiety, and even suicide. Yet the government seems intent on labelling our young people failures rather than celebrating achievement and motivating them to learn. Darrell Goodliffe’s  article ( previously published here) laments this and urges a stronger response from Labour.

Making The Grade

by Darrell Goodliffe

GCSE results day was a day when many, justifiably, were celebrating outstanding academic achievement. However, for different reasons, both the government and opposition failed to make the grade. Exam result days have become somewhat ritualistic, there are winners and losers but no matter what the outcome it has become typical for the political classes, usually accompanied by the media, to frown sternly and wag their finger. Little thought is given by either side to the far-reaching effect that the different outcomes have on so many lives. The government has however, have elevated this thoughtlessness to a whole new level. It is simply not fair that many pupils were denied a better grade in subjects, especially GCSE English, to satisfy the political whims of the Westminster class. It becomes even more unfair when you realise that had they been but a year older they would have obtained a totally different grade and their whole prospects would have been different.

Sadly, we should expect no better from a government which views us all as lab rats, pawns in its grand ideological designs. However, to play with the futures of so many in such a crass and uncaring way is a new low even for the current incumbents. Michael Gove has defined himself in his position by his subservience to ideological dogma and the ravenous gaggle of private interests looking to carve up the state education system in the name of making a quick buck. Flexibility in the National Curriculum is desperately needed but when that extends to the teaching of a religious belief, ie, in creationism, as established fact, you can be pretty its not the kind of flexibility that will help educate critical, and socially and crucially, economically, active human beings. His desire to batter state schools into becoming academies, against the wishes of all those involved, is democratically abhorrent.

Mr Gove is many things and sadly, for us, a political heavyweight is one of the things he is.

Meanwhile, his opposite number, Stephen Twigg, is scraping a featherweight. I accept that he is hampered by Labour’s continued lack of an over-arching meta-narrative with which to oppose the government but that still doesn’t excuse his generally poor performance.

He merely suggested that the government may be responsible for an unfair manipulation of the grading of today’s papers in the case of English rather than asserted what we can all see plainly to be a established fact. In being so equivocal he let down the students themselves, the teachers who had worked so hard and he let down his own Party. He had a golden opportunity to land a sucker punch on Mr Gove and he fluffed his lines.

Furthermore, he has no real vision to oppose Mr Gove’s let-alone any sensible policies. So, even given the restraints placed on him by the wider problems Labour has, his performance in-office is consistently poor enough to warrant a swift reshuffle away from the education brief.

Labour’s political garden looks especially rosy at the moment. However, there are plenty of signs that this is due merely due to dissatisfaction with the government as opposed to popular enthusiasm for a early Labour return to the corridors of power. We cannot afford to be carrying dead weight like Stephen Twigg and have to be cautious. At times, we barely look like an effective opposition, let-alone a potential government-in-waiting. Until we convert popular dissent into popular assent for our program the opinion polls will matter little in the grand scheme of things. Labour is sitting its own exam and there is along way to go for it to be able to reach the heights that so many achieved today.

From Think Left

An Olympic Challenge – Prizes for all please.

Academisation and the demolition of our Education System

What Price Failure

Integration and Inclusion

Emotionally Based School Refusal

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Inclusive Policies for Emotionally Based School Refusal

by Pam F.

“Everyone Matters!”

Secondary schools have become larger, busier and noisier places. Many children find this an unsuitable learning environment. The number of GCSE subjects children are expected to sit has increased dramatically in recent years, increasing stress on young people, seemingly because of an obsession with league tables. This obsession has led some schools to now expect young people to start their GCSE subjects at an even younger age, but it is no use having a school offering a whole host of GCSEs if a child is too frightened to get through the door.

  • Labour’s education policy on EBSR must recognise that:
  • Comprehensive education provides quality education for all.
  • Children who miss an education miss many of life’s opportunities.
  • Both small and larger schools can be comprehensive as well as inclusive.
  • Children learn when they’re happy, nurtured and feel safe.
  • Staff awareness of the early signs of EBSR is essential.
  • Flexibility and co-operation of everyone is key to helping all children succeed.
  • The curriculum a child follows needs to be appropriate, and considerations should be made for in context of their ability and of their health.

Labour’s strategy will be to ensure EBSR is recognised early, and that multi professional teams work together closely ensuring an inclusive outcome.

Qualified professionals should feel confident that their assessments are valued and trusted.

So what is EBSR?

Between 2-5% of children suffer from Emotionally Based School Refusal (EBSR) (1)

According to Anxiety UK (5), up to 1-6 children suffer from anxiety of some kind at some time in their lives.

EBSR differs from truancy as unlike truants, EBSR sufferers may exhibit:

•            Severe difficulty in attending school—often amounting to prolonged absence

•            Severe emotional upset—shown by such symptoms as excessive fearfulness, undue tempers, misery, or complaints of feeling ill without obvious organic cause on being faced with the prospect of going to             school.

•            Staying at home with the knowledge of the parents, when they should be at school, at some stage in the course of the disorder.

•            Absence of significant anti-social disorders such as stealing, lying, wandering, destructiveness and   sexual misbehaviour.

If EBSR is not recognised early enough, children can become more isolated, more anxious. The anxiety can intensify if the child gets further behind at school. Some children may never leave their homes and may be unwilling to attend CAMHS appointments. Such a child being taught on a 1:1 basis at home for prolonged periods may become increasingly socially withdrawn. Furthermore, such provision is expensive and unsustainable as well as inadequate and often inappropriate.

  • Triggers causing EBSR vary and may indeed not be school based:
  • School Transfer (especially Y 6 an Y7)
  • Anxiety about the journey to school
  • Educational demands
  • The unpredictability of teacher’s demands or the school environment
  • Bullying or the fear of being bullied
  • Social Factors
  • Traumatic events within the family
  • A young person’s own long-term illness

Appropriate support put in early enough to assist a return to school is much more likely to be successful. Studies and workshops (2,3,4,) have produced some very helpful advice for schools and parents, but provision for EBSR varies widely throughout the nation. I would like to see Labour’s policy ensure provision is inclusive providing access to the curriculum and support from a range of multi-professional agencies working together. If the mainstream school environment itself or the nature of the curriculum is deemed to contribute to anxiety, then schools will need to recognise the need for flexibility and make adjustments, rather than the “one-size fits all policy”. Inclusion is about access to education and to society, it is not necessarily therefore to involve a large secondary school. Training of teaching staff and close co-operation of multi-professional teams is essential.

It is also concerning that EBSR can run in families, and therefore suffered by successive generations. The implication is clear, in that the social exclusion may continue into adult life, having further impact on mental health, on employment prospects, and the long-term quality of life for a whole family. The consequences could be depression, unemployment, and poverty and even suicide. It is not something to be ignored, however tempting it might seem to a teacher who does not have awareness of the condition to say, “Snap out of it.” It is unlikely to go away without intervention.

Labour’s caring, inclusive approach is the way forward. Every child matters, and so does every family. But schools need to be allowed the freedom of flexibility, so as to ensure the appropriate solution is found for each anxious child exhibiting EBSR.

Schools and health professionals working with them need to be reassured, to know that Labour trusts their assessments without looking over their shoulders at league tables,  the arbitrary targets to which “New Labour” adhered and which restricted the approaches that professionals could take.

Our future society cannot afford to miss out the contributions lost to our society, caused by these damaged lives and failed opportunities. We want a Labour Party that creates a fair society in which all  people can look forward to satisfying lives. We want a Labour Party that is totally committed to the belief  that “Everyone Matters”.

References re EBSR: (Emotionally Based School Refusal)

1. Mary B Wimmer PhD, Understanding School Refusal

2. http://www.social-emotional-learning-update.com/node/6735

Helpful strategies from Social and Emotional Learning Update

3. EBSR,  West Sussex Guidance for Schools, 2004

4. North Somerset Council, Every Child Matters, EBSR

Guidance for Schools pupils and families

5. Anxiety UK

http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/about-anxiety/young-people-and-anxiety/