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.

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