Schools across the UK are facing massive budget cuts which are threatening our children’s education. But after reports of mismanaged budgets, teachers abusing pupils, and simple communication being an issue, it begs the question- is it worth saving our public schools?
As I sit and write this, I can feel the tension rippling across my forehead. A migraine is threatening to derail what I had hoped to be a productive day. But an incident at my son’s school this morning has thrown everything up in the air. And it was something that could have been avoided by a simple note, rather than trusting a five-year-old to relay information.
Yesterday was World Book Day but most primary school children were off because of the local elections. So today, as we got ready for school, my son dressed as the Gruffalo as part of the World Book Day celebrations. According to the Facebook page, text messages I had received, notes that had been sent home, my son’s school was making a big deal of World Book Day. Across the country, other children were dressing as their favourite characters too. My own Facebook feed was filled with Horrid Henry’s, Where’s Wally, and Harry Potter characters. As there had been no note sent home to say otherwise, I assumed that the school was allowing pupils to dress up for the day. Hence the Gruffalo outfit.
As we walked towards the school, I realised to my horror that no other children had dressed up. I met one of the other mums as we walked across the playground and she told me that they weren’t to dress up. A few days before, my son told me that the teacher had told the class not to dress up. I took this with a pinch of salt. Last year my son told me that nobody dressed up, I listened to him, and then walked into an entire class full of characters. This year, on seeing that no-one else had dressed up, my son burst into tears and demanded to leave. He was mortified.
I took myself and my son off to the principal’s office to have a word because I was cross. Why were they not dressing up for the day? Why was there no note sent home about it? They had time to send two different notes about the same charity collection but not one about dressing up. Why was it left to a bunch of 5 year olds to relay a message to their parents? Could the teacher not have written a note in the homework diary about not dressing up? And with the mountain of notes that come home about the curriculum and what the kids are doing, did no-one think it would be a good idea to send a note home with what was actually happening on World Book Day, rather than a couple of random Facebook posts and a couple of text messages asking for books?
Three members of staff prevented me from seeing the principle and I received a mixed response. One staff member looked horrified that wires had been crossed and my son was dressed up. Another staff member looked terrified because myself and my son were clearly upset and I wanted the principle. The third member of staff spoke to me like I was an idiot and treated me like something she had stepped in. I wasn’t going to punch or scream at the principle. I just wanted to inform her that trusting five year olds with information is stupid and I would appreciate it if things were put in writing. Especially seeing as every other school in the area was dressing up. A heads up in the homework diary would be nice. It was the ambivalent behaviour of the third staff member.
This might seem like a non-issue but it highlights the bigger problem of communication between parents and teachers. My daughter’s school on the other hand, sends notes home in the form of stickers in their homework diary. Want to go on the school trip? Here’s a note for your parents to sign and a sticker in your homework diary to sign too. School report was sent home, did your mum and dad get it? Make sure they sign this sticker otherwise you will get a detention. There is no room for error when it comes to communication from my daughters school. So if a bunch of teenagers can’t be trusted to relay information to their parents, or trusted not to lose notes, why should a five-year-old be trusted to pass information on?
This has been my experience only recently with the school system. For years I have been fighting with them over the behaviour of teachers, tackling bullying, and trying to get my voice heard as a parent and a pupil. Yes, a pupil. Ever since I lost my spelling book in P6 and the Principle of the school made me cry over it, I’ve had my back up about the school system. It was a simple mistake that was fixed a few days later when it was found mixed in with classwork books that the teacher had on his desk. But that man took pleasure in watching me break down. He went to tell my mother that I was “too emotional” and I should get that in check. Thankfully my mum believed me that he had grilled me for over 45 minutes until I cried. She had already had several run-ins with the school and had no faith in them. My brother had been beaten by a teacher and kept hiding in the bathroom during the day. He ended up being hospitalised because of his bathroom behaviour. Everyone thought his kidneys were failing because he kept going to the bathroom. It was only when a nurse tapped the back of his hand trying to find a vein that the truth came out. The teacher kept hitting him so he hid in the bathroom, it was the only place he felt safe. When my mum discovered the truth, she beat the living snot out of the teacher. Not the most mature response but the teacher had been beating my brother and we were nearly taken into care because of the investigation. All because the teacher thought my brother was “a cheeky, naughty boy”, and kept slapping him.
And since then, I have watched how teachers and educators have belittled students and parents with an air of arrogance. Repeatedly, parents have been told that they don’t know what they are talking about. When issues are raised about the conduct of a teacher, they are met with a condescending attitude from whoever is in charge. Only recently I witnessed a teacher grab a child by the neck and trail him into the classroom. Why? Because he was crying and didn’t want to go in. His mother stood there, frozen in horror at what she had witnessed, but was ordered to leave. She was so scared, she left. Is this the sort of behaviour that is acceptable of a teacher?
But now we are faced with a dilemma. As funding is being cut I find myself asking the question, should we campaign to save the schools and make sure they get the funding they want? Teaching is a difficult job but after seeing an abuse of power with my own eyes and the reports from various news outlets, I sometimes wonder what we are trying to save. HuffPost has an entire list of articles from America. But what is more alarming is the list of articles from psychologists, sociologists, and other members of the scientific community who have penned their own stories about students being abused by teachers.
One thing that stands out in the course of my research on this mess is how one-sided it is. It’s either a student is bullied by a teacher, or a teacher is bullied by a parent. I’m sure it happens but I have yet to see a parent bully a teacher, but I’ve seen plenty of teachers bully children and their parents. One of the few places that I could find any information on the subject was Net Mums. It was here I found a list of exasperated parents looking for advice on teachers bullying them and their children. Scary Mommy has also reported about teachers abusing their power. In one of their articles, there was a video taken by a mother who had to watch her child be smacked by a teacher. The reason- the mother was being threatened by the school to allow the punishment or they would report her to social services as a bad parent. Her child was acting up in class but that is no reason to beat a child. The allegation that the woman was being blackmailed with social services is beyond deplorable.
So why is it not reported when the teacher is the bully? Looking at various forums and posts, there are three big reasons. The first is that the child is not taken seriously by the parent. Is the child telling fibs or is the teacher really as horrible as they say? What if you go in to defend your child, only to discover that they have been acting like a complete sociopath and refuses to accept that their behaviour is unacceptable? For some parents, maybe it is better to bury their head in the sand that deal with the emotional trauma of having a bully.
The second reason is the parent is not taken seriously. Meetings with the principle can often be met with either patronising remarks or a condescending attitude. Or just flat out lies that “complaints are taken seriously and will be investigated” in the hope of getting you out of their office and placate you for a while.
The third reason is fear. When it comes to public schools, they can work closely with social services if they need to. So if a teacher is bullying a pupil and/or parent, what chance do they stand against two government bodies? Little to none. This is when we see the cases of emotional blackmail. Threats are made against the parents that they will lose their children because the school will get social services involved. When this is the card that is being played it is not surprising that people are afraid to speak out.