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.

The Political Policies of Poverty

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The Political Policies of Poverty

By Jayne Linney

Also published here

 A post on Think Left (I) highlights the problems faced by ‘hidden children , those young people who go under the radar because no one knows why they’re missing from school!

For me this raise questions about what happens when these young people leave school? My guess is they’re likely to find themselves joining the increasing number of ‘Hidden’ Chronically sick and disabled people.

There is an ever growing number of Societies most vulnerable  adults, who have been cynically and callously stripped of their financial independence via them being deemed ‘Fit For Work’ by the DWP, but who are unable to claim/fulfil the requirements for other State Welfare; this is up to 55% of those claimants, according to a recent study conducted by the DWP! (ii)

So what happens to the ‘Hidden’ ill and disabled? I can only hope they have family or another close network of people able, and willing, to support their basic needs of Shelter, Warmth, Food & Drink, & Affection. However even if they are fortunate to have access to such a network this then put them in the category of ‘Hidden Homeless’, forced to revert to being dependant  upon others.

There is yet another ‘Hidden’ group even within the ill and disabled, that is those of us with invisible disabilities, particularly fluctuating conditions such as ME, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, and countless others. Living with widespread Chronic pain on a daily basis  is soul destroying; just imagine NEVER being comfortable, not in bed, sitting in your favourite chair, walking, or standing and you can begin to comprehend what it’s like, then imagine sharp, hot, shooting/radiating/stabbing  pains hitting any or even every muscle and joint and you begin to get the idea. We have better days where the pain and associated fatigue (because we don’t sleep well due to pain) is bearable and we might look OK, and we have bad days where everything you thought about before happens & all at once! I’m sure you can now accept, living like this has a major impact on our mental health also.

No one who is fortunate enough to not belong to our ‘Hidden’ group can understand what we feel like, if we’re lucky, we have family and,or an often small group of people who care about us enough, not to give up on us. Unfortunately the general public, and perhaps more importantly the DWP, frequently do not take the time to try and empathise, therefore those of us with ‘Hidden’ illnesses are more vulnerable than ever, to becoming completely dependent upon someone else. When we’re found ‘Fit’ for Work; we then often find ourselves deemed ‘Unfit’ if we try and claim Job Seekers Allowance!

So where does this leave ill and disabled people who do not have access to a financially able and willing person to support us? Logic can only force me to conclude of the 55% of people unable to claim any income from the State, some of them will end up actually ‘Homeless’, without anywhere to call home and subject to the obvious strains of existing  on the street.

It has to be bad enough to find yourself without a home, not knowing where (and if) the next meal will come from! But how much worse will it be for people already too sick and,or disabled, never mind the next meal just where would you get your medication from?

It sickens me that in 2012, the year of the London Paralympics; here in the UK, chronically ill and disabled people are fighting to maintain their independence, their homes and even their basic Human Rights as !

And just who is doing anything to stop this, the current Coalition Government has, without a mandate from the people, destroyed and continues to strip away resources from the Welfare State, choosing instead to pay private Companies millions of pounds to carry out this devastation. The opposition whilst starting to make noise about ‘unfairness’,concur the only way from the UK economy to be revived is to maintain the Cuts.

This series of Policies to decimate the Welfare State  has created a cycle of deprivation not seen for over 80 years and it is this bigger picture the UK people need to become aware of and quickly!

(i) https://think-left.org/2012/10/11/labours-welcome-helping-hand-for-the-hidden-children/

(ii) http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/atos-scandal-benefits-bosses-admit-1344278

Labour’s welcome helping hand for the Hidden Children

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Andy Burnham’s comments on closer links between the Health Service and Education showed a welcome insight.  He pledges to overturn the privatisation of the Health Service and to give back control to local authorities.

“Local councils would take the lead in purchasing care and the NHS would be expanded so that hospitals offer social and mental health care under a Labour government, a dramatic rolling back of the coalition’s health reforms, Andy Burnham has said.”

From The Guardian (1)

“He also made it clear that local authorities would take the lead in commissioning that care, replacing the system of clinical commissioning groups where GPs are put in charge of buying treatments for patients. “It will take time, it won’t happen overnight, but I believe organisations will grow into that,” he said.

The changes represent an effective re-nationalisation of the NHS that would give hospitals and councillors a much bigger say in how the health service would run.”

Many people are unaware of the thousands of children missing from school.  Even teachers may not have an understanding of the reasons for absence. Today’s young children are pressurized by a curriculum driven by politicians, teachers striving to ensure their schools meets the targets of league tables.

The anxiety caused by extreme pressures such as this, or by the stresses of adolescence, by bullying rife in large, noisy schools  where lip service is given to  resolving bullying and teachers trained in policy, yet in practice it is very difficult to resolve, and so that the bullied child remains too frightened to attend school. Other children miss out on education because they are caring for an adult at home.

Speaking at a party conference fringe event, Andy Burnham argued that health and wellbeing boards could be the “best hope” for young people, who are losing out on early intervention to safeguard their mental health because of public services reforms.

Health and wellbeing boards are the best hope. I can’t think of any other forum that has the health responsibility but also that link in terms of the council’s other responsibilities,” he said.

He added that Labour-led councils were being encouraged to combine commissioning decisions over health and education wherever possible, to encourage early support for young people in schools and other children’s services settings.

“We’re getting them together in the same room to start talking about health and public health and starting to say, why don’t we all have a consistency in what we do? This needs to be on the education side as well,” he said.

From CYPNow: (2)

Some children are just too ill to attend school, many suffering chronic illnesses or fatigue. Forward thinking LEAs have provided specialist tutors and Tuition Centres to provide education for sick children. Sadly, the Coalition’s Education Policy is the break up of the Local Education networks. Centralised services have been cut. Academy Schools and Free Schools have no obligation to provide education for children suffering from EBSR (Emotionally Based School Refusal) (3) , or children with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, or severely ill children (4).

Hidden children will just drop out of the statistics, to be forgotten about, the children no-one sees.  Anxiety which is not addressed may continue into adulthood.A lonely childhood can lead to depression, and life-long isolation. This demonstrates yet more ill-thought out policies from a government with no idea of the reality for anxious or ill children. Their privileged and distorted experience does not lend itself to providing solutions for health and education for the majority of people in this country. Lacking an education,  what prospects for employment and an independent life can these children hope for?

It is time we had some politicians in power who showed some empathy.  It would seem that Andy Burnham for one is showing he is in touch. How welcome that is!

1) Guradian : Andy Burnham: Pledges Reversal of NHS break up. (1)

2) CYP Now (Children and Young People Now) Andy Burnham calls on local areas to prioritise mental health in schools

3) Think Left: EBSR: Emotionally Based School Refusal

4) Think Left: Somebody help ME! (Children with ME/ Chronic Fatigue)

Other relevant posts:

Think Left: Consortia , not Academies

Think Left: Cinderella Services: Children Deserve Better.

Think Left: Integration or 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/