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What’s the harm? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 9th March 2016

March 9, 2016


What’s the harm?

Local Head Teachers meet at Ballard School

I have just hosted the first of what I hope will be a termly meeting of local Head Teachers, maintained and independent. We met over lunch (and enjoyed the usual high quality Ballard spread!) and had an ungendered discussion. Issues ranched from what our PAs might be discussing about us (they had their own lunch separately!) through issues to do with staff recruitment, uniform, rugby tackling, our lecture series and a sharing of resources and speakers. Time and again, however, our conversation returned to the issue of social networking, mobile ‘phones and, very sadly, self-harm concerns.

2016.3.9 Heads meeting

Headmasters meeting in March 2016 – Ballard, Arnewood, Priestlands and Highciffe.

Association of School and College Leaders

Just this morning (Saturday 5th March) the Press is full of the conference run by ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) in which, amongst many other key issues, delegates are discussing the rise in self-harm amongst young people nationwide. The statistics are extremely worrying: research conducted by the ASCL with the National Children’s Bureau shows that 79% of head teachers have seen an increase in the number of pupils self-harming or feeling suicidal. In a survey of 338 schools, 55% reported a large increase in cases of anxiety and stress.

Malcolm Trobe, the ASCL’s interim general secretary, said:

“The fact is that children today face an extraordinary range of pressures. They live in a world of enormously high expectations, where new technologies present totally new challenges such as cyberbullying.”

(Also reported in the Independent, the Times and the Sun.)

Emotional concerns

In my meeting with Heads we also lamented the rising tide of emotional concerns amongst young people in our schools which in some cases does lead to self-harm, distress, fallings out with peers and absence from school. It is evident that some causes appear to be family splits and children being pulled between parents who have separated. Much does lie, however, as the ASCL conference has highlighted, at the door of high expectations (often the need to secure seemingly specific qualifications, occasionally unrealistic) and peer pressure, often manifested through materialism and the media which fuels this. Moreover, some parents expect schools to resolve these issues for them which may increase the pressure as teachers endeavour to tackle concerns that in many instances have their origins outside of the school gates.

Pastoral Care at the centre of our care

All of our schools want to help pupils be secure and happy in themselves and we strive to equip them for the ‘world outside’. Time, money and training is given to pastoral care, counselling and services such as ELSA (emotional, literacy, support assistants) and these all make a very positive difference. PSHE (personal, social, health education) lessons enable us to deliver clear teaching on ‘life issues’ in a relevant and age appropriate way. For a few children the school is their ‘safe haven’ where they find both adult and pupil supporters, confidantes and advisors. More than ever, however, the partnership with the home is crucial in order to achieve an holistic approach to a young person’s welfare and to help address the issues which drive some to self-harm, underachieve and to become emotionally withdrawn.

‘Building children rather than repairing men’

2016.3.9 HM blog

I don’t sense that anyone is in despair – quite the contrary as we want to be a part of the solution in ‘building children rather than repairing men’ as the motto in my study indicates. What we do hope for, nevertheless, is openness from parents, carers and peers as we jointly seek to provide care and put in place programmes to assist troubled young people. It’s also important to establish boundaries which might assist this process. These might include the establishment of more secure routines at home such as removing mobile devices before bed time, turning off the internet overnight and regulating the use of social media generally. (see Headmaster’s blog from 18th November 2015 )

Whilst this may only be a symptom of underlying issues, this can be exacerbating an existing problem. Above all else, let’s talk and agree on strategies towards our young people. To this end we, in keeping with other local schools, are looking at engaging with outside agencies, such as parent practitioners, to provide advice and training for parents, carers and teachers. It’s easy to become afraid of the world but I hope we can look for ways to embrace it positively, certainly realistically, and to help our children be well prepared for what the future holds.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)


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