An open letter to Richard Tutt (Principal of Magna Academy Poole)
On the 7th November you sent a letter home to parents advising them of the ‘refinements’ you have made to the schools behaviour and rewards policy, which was subsequently published in the Bournemouth Echo.
When I read the details of you plans a wave of sickness and horror came over me. I’m not quite sure where you got the idea that humiliating pupils in front of their peers is an effective way to improve behaviour but I’m asking you to do some research into the impact shame and humiliation can have on mental health.
Don’t get me wrong, I empathise with you, I hear that you have a job to do and standards to meet but at what cost?
Young minds, an organisation that supports young people found that:
- One in Four (26%) young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts[i]
- ChildLine (UK) has revealed that it held 34,517 counselling sessions in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicide – a 116 percent increase since 2010/11.[ii]
- Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s.[iii]
- The number of children and young people who have presented to A&E with a psychiatric condition have more than doubled since 2009. (8,358 in 10/11; 17,278 in 13/14)[iv]
- 55% of children who have been bullied later developed depression as adults[v]
- 45% of children and young people under the age of 18 detained under s.136 were taken to police custody in 2012/13[vi]
And it doesn’t end in childhood, we now know adverse childhood experiences (including being shamed or humiliated) have been linked to:
- risky health behaviors,
- chronic health conditions,
- low life potential, and
- early death.
I acknowledge that every child is different but we rarely know which children will be affected until we discover they are self harming or read about it in their suicide letter. That might seem a little extreme but I know the devastating affect that humiliation can have on some young people from personal experience.
My school life is something I rarely talk about, however today I will share my experience in the hope you may reconsider your behaviour policy.
I had an unstable home life, my parents separated, remarried and I witnessed a lot of conflict and anger in this process. I was also bullied at school, it was always low level and the school did their ‘best’ but it carried on. Overall, I was a well behaved student, I worked as a librarian in break periods, had excellent attendance, no record of punishments and I handed my homework in on time.
One day, as usual, I was being bullied by a lad on the school bus and I retaliated by calling him names. The incident was reported and both I and the lad were issued with a ‘Senior staff detention’. For reasons unbeknown to me there was no opportunity to explain my behaviour and my parents felt powerless to question the authority of the school.
As word of my impending punishment got round my peers mocked me, the shame of receiving such punishment was overwhelming, I can assure you now if I had been a pupil at your school and forced to ‘stand up at the front in their Faculty assembly, face their peers, and apologise to the whole Faculty for letting them down and impacting negatively on their life chances’ I would have been in bits.
The day of the ‘Senior staff detention’ arrived and I felt sick, I went to the room and my punishment was to copy out the story of a girl who had committed suicide for being bullied, how ironic considering the school knew I was being bullied. As I sat there writing out this story, completely overwhelmed with feelings of humiliation, anger and sadness I realised that I could end this if I too committed suicide. Later when my parents collected me and took me home I found some paracetamol in the cupboard and took an overdose. Obviously it wasn’t fatal as I’m still here today but I made several other attempts to take my life throughout my school life as I was offered no support to deal with my inability to cope with my life circumstances and the emotional overload I experienced. Although I left full time education with average grades, I now know I could have achieved much more academically if my school:
- had a basic understanding of mental health and how to support children.
- treated each child individually.
- dealt with the bullying.
- had clear and realistic expectations of behaviour.
- supported and responded with compassion to children with unstable home lives.
I know not all children would have responded in this way but I did and I know many others who have too. As I’ve already stated, One in Four (26%) young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts[i], statically that’s over 150 of your pupils, here are some more examples of the harm using humiliation as a form of punishment can have. Please just take a moment to think about that.
Many children are ‘misbehaving’ as they are unable to cope with the ever increasing pressure they are under today, the rates of anxiety in children are higher than they’ve ever been and anxiety leads to disruptive behaviour.
The Child Mind Institute state that:
‘Anxiety manifests in a surprising variety of ways in part because it is based on a physiological response to a threat in the environment, a response that maximizes the body’s ability to either face danger or escape danger. So while some children exhibit anxiety by shrinking from situations or objects that trigger fears, some react with overwhelming need to break out of an uncomfortable situation. That behavior, which can be unmanageable, is often misread as anger or opposition.’
I’m not suggesting you allow this behaviour to continue, I agree it is highly disruptive and affects other children but these children need strategies and support to manage this behaviour NOT to be demonised.
Here are some useful resources and I’d be happy to meet with you and your team to help you find ways to combat this matter and help you achieve your vision for ‘All children can be successful, regardless of their background.’