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We dare not speak its name? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 25th May 2016

May 25, 2016

We dare not speak its name?

Ballard School Taboo blog wikipedia

Taboo Subjects?

I heard a church sermon recently on the rarely addressed topic of ‘death’. The pastor said that in Victorian times the taboo subject – the name that we dared not speak – was ‘sex’ whilst death was a regular topic in talks and writings of various kinds during the late Nineteenth Century. In our day things seem to have been reversed: the outrage over the UK publication in 1960 of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (actually first published in Italy in 1928) has long since passed and sex is what sells many newspapers, magazines and TV programmes. Death, the exploration of what might happen after this life, is now rarely explored and we are almost affronted if someone suggests that we might want to consider such a concept. This aside, it’s interesting to note how another once taboo subject is now the stuff of articles and conferences: depressive illness.

A Question of Balance

I have just been at a conference in London attended by Heads and senior teachers from leading independent schools from England and Scotland. Our theme was ‘a question of balance’ and the topic was ‘coping with mental health issues in schools today’.

We were told that 1 in 5 children aged from 5 to 16 years will be impacted by depression or depressive illness. And not just children – their parents are sometimes caught up in it and all too often teachers are also having time away in order to come to terms with stress, anxiety and depression. One of the lead speakers at the conference was the former Head of a well-known boarding school who spoke movingly of his experience, after 10 successful years in Headship, of coming to a period in his career when he had to have a term ‘out’ for rest and treatment before returning to his school. Rather tellingly he said that whilst about a third of parents and staff understood something of what he was going through and another third seemed sympathetic, there was a further third who seemingly cared not at all and felt he was weak and should ‘snap out of it’. His pupils, on the other hand, seemed more accepting.

Conference truths

The conference helped us to appreciate the growing stress factors in independent schools today (and all schools for that matter): commercial pressures of keeping a full roll, the involvement of more ‘hands on’ parents wanting, understandably, ‘value for money’ and the academic, social and co-curricular stress exerted on pupils to achieve highly. We can add to this:

  • inspection scrutiny
  • increasing demands for paperwork
  • exam league tables
  • and more staff (also understandably) wanting a better ‘work / life balance’

and potentially we have a very toxic mix!

I was pleased to consider several practical examples about how to relieve stress in school (perhaps the feature of another blog!) and to note the importance of ‘balance’ – enabling pupils to be fully developed and to have access to a wide spectrum of opportunities (something we strive to do at Ballard) – but most of all I was pleased to note that we can now ‘name’ this taboo subject and seek advice openly on how best to alleviate its’ symptoms and tackle its causes.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

Ballard School is a non-selective, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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