Issues - Education
Crime, family breakdown, transient pupils
- London's got it all, say heads in a new study. Anat Arkin
Leading a school in London is a bit like being in charge of
repainting the Forth Bridge - a "relentless endeavour
in which nothing ever appears to be fully sorted", according
to a new study.
Whether it is meeting the needs of an ever-changing student
population or dealing with the fallout from gang culture,
crime and family breakdown, the pressures on school leaders
in the capital are incessant. Yet almost all those who took
part in the study had something positive to say about their
"It is addictive in a way," said one. "Colleagues
and friends who go to teach outside the area may have an easier
life but they miss the energy levels and diversity."
The top concerns of the 82 headteachers and deputy heads interviewed
for the research were staffing, pay and retention.
"We can get young teachers who want to live and work
in London because it's a fun place to be, and we can get people
for senior management positions because if people have decided
to stay in London then they are going to go for promotion,"
said Alasdair Macdonald, head of Morpeth secondary school
in Tower Hamlets, east London.
"But frequently it's middle management where the problem
arises because people think that they should move out of London
to have a family."
Other heads reported that teachers were demanding extra money
to stay in post. A head of music, for example, had two management
points after just one year's teaching. But all those surveyed
said their schools had been badly hit by last year's funding
crisis. There was a strong feeling that London schools were
simply not funded to meet the needs of their communities.
The transient populations of many of these communities mean
high pupil turnover. A deputy head from Greenwich said: "There
is a constant sense of loss when we put a great deal of energy
and effort into children who arrive, and then they leave before
we can see any of the results of our investment."
Schools with their own strong culture could demonstrate the
value of diversity to visitors, parents and pupils.
However, diversity brings challenges. Several school leaders
reported an increase in Islamophobia, while one remarked that
children from war-torn countries often bring their anger and
violence with them. "People who cannot articulate their
needs because of language problems can become angry and aggressive,"
In general, ethnic-minority students were doing well because
of their parents' high expectations. But some heads and deputies
were concerned about a "white underclass" of pupils
with a dismissive attitude towards learning. As one contributor
put it: "We have a low number of parents with any experience
of further or higher education. Some of them are anti-education.
As girls grow older their attendance goes down, mainly because
of childcare duties."
It is the sheer scale of these problems that makes London
different, according to John West-Burnham, senior research
adviser at the National College for School Leadership and
one of the authors of the report.
"All the problems in London are found in other urban
areas, but in London they come together in extreme numbers,"
In their report, Professor West-Burnham and co-author Professor
Kathryn Riley point to the extremes of poverty and wealth
in the capital, and the fact that around 42 per cent of pupils
in inner London speak English as an additional language, compared
to an average of 8 per cent for England as a whole. Contributors
thought it was crucial for school leaders to understand other
"Many pupils are victims of war. Racism and the range
of religious issues impacts directly on my work," said
With much of their time taken up with supporting children
and their families, heads also needed to be highly committed
to their communities.
Resilience was another important quality for London heads,
with many paying a high price for the long hours they worked.
"They talked about relationship breakdown and families
suffering, but at the end of it all they still had a mission,"
said Lynn Gadd, head of Copthall secondary school in Mill
Hill. Together with Hasan Chaudhry, a primary head, she carried
out the interviews for the study.
Interviewees mentioned the value of collaboration, especially
through cross-phase networks. In Tower Hamlets, for example,
heads were part of a mini-education action zone. But London-wide
networks were thin on the ground.
"Much lamented was the demise of the Inner London Education
Authority programme, which brought together new headteachers
across London to meet other leaders, discuss what they were
doing, and to lay the foundations for professional relationships
which had been sustained over many years," says the report.
Interviewees and other leaders will be invited to a conference
in April to discuss the study, commissioned by the NCSL for
the London Leadership Strategy, part of the London Challenge
headed by Tim Brighouse, the capital's schools commissioner.
Alan Davison, operational director of the strategy, said:
"We are working with the Institute of Education to modify
our programmes so that we can make sure leadership development
reflects the needs of colleagues."
Educational Leadership in London by Professors Kathryn Riley
and John West-Burnham is available on the NCSL's Talk2Learn
The report recommends:
* Access to advice on cultural and ethnic issues
* Opportunities for school leaders to "recharge their
batteries", for example through sabbaticals and retreats
* Skills-based training in areas such as conflict management
and working with diverse communities
* Support for the personal well-being of school leaders
* Links with schools in the UK and other countries
* Programmes to help school leaders get the most out of staff
* Divorce affects around 150,000 children every year, which
means almost half of all children will face their parents
splitting up before the end of their childhoods
* Teachers and heads are often called as witnesses during
* One London father cited the failure of the mother to read
with the child, and her failure to get her to school on time
and in uniform, as reasons to settle the custody case in his
* A leading independent school head says schools in his sector
may soon struggle to cope with the pastoral needs of the growing
number of children of divorced parents
Almost one UK child in two will face the crisis of parents
separating or divorcing before they leave school, according
to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Most will suffer distress
and trauma in the lead up to, and during, any split, leaving
some with emotional and behavioural difficulties. And if the
separation is adversarial, the effect can be even more devastating
and long-term. Children can get caught in the middle, often
used by one parent to get at the other. But it's not just
family and friends who get sucked into the battle when parents
go to war; schools and teachers often become targets as well.
Whether it is unwanted heart-to-hearts, after-school recriminations
or full-blown arguments during parents' evening, teachers
can find it difficult to remain aloof from family breakdowns.
Divorce affects around 150,000 children a year, putting almost
half of all school-age children through the emotional trauma
of separation. Although some splits will be amicable, many
won't, and will be a source of extreme anguish for all involved.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns in its factsheet
on mental health and growing up, The Impact on Children and
Adolescents of Divorce or Separation of Parents, that even
if the separation is amicable, the child may suffer insecurity,
fear of abandonment, anger and a sense of loss. When it is
adversarial, the child may be drawn into the conflict, forced
to hear endless criticism and hostility from each parent about
the other, or be asked to take sides or find fault. Their
daily routine may be upset and they may have to start living
between two homes. The more acrimonious the break-up, the
more chance it will spill over into other parts of the children's
lives, especially at school.
How can teachers recognise relationship breakdowns?
Some parents will tell the school when there is marital disharmony,
so teachers can watch out for behavioural changes. But some
won't, and the first sign of a problem is a change in the
pupil's behaviour, the sudden absence of one parent or an
uncomfortable atmosphere when the parents are together. "It's
not always easy to talk to parents about this sort of thing,"
says the head of a London secondary. "I have a way of
asking at the initial interview we have with all parents and
new pupils if they have anything they would like to share
with me. Not all parents are open.
Recently I had one couple where the man suddenly blurted out
that he wasn't sure what was happening at home. I asked if
things were a bit shaky and he replied that was one way to
describe it. The mother wasn't so open."
How far can it affect schools?
The first consideration during a family crisis is the child.
But schools also have to consider the logistics of having
a child living with one parent, between two homes or with
separated parents who do not communicate with one another.
"It is important to be aware of the sensitivities of
the situation as this has an effect on the way teachers handle
the practicalities - such as parents' evenings, reports, and
school photographs," says Tom Lewis, head of counselling
at the Teachers Support Network.
Teachers and heads are often called as witnesses during custody
cases because they are so involved with the children. Courts
will ask schools to present reports to the courts in any dispute.
"These requests are common," says Clarissa Williams,
head of Tolworth girls' school, in the London borough of Kingston
upon Thames. "We have to present an objective report
considering all aspects, including attendance, time-keeping,
behaviour and commitment. It is a not a qualitative judgment,
but a collection of data."
The head of a leading independent school thinks so. At the
recent annual conference of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses'
Conference, the headmaster of Dulwich College, Graham Able,
launched an attack on the "self-indulgence" of divorced
parents. Mr Able, chairman of the HMC, warned that schools
were coming under increasing strain as they struggled to cope
with the growing number of children who have suffered emotional
damage as a result of family breakdown. He said it might not
be long before independent schools could no longer cope with
the pastoral needs of the children of divorced parents.
When a relationship becomes adversarial, the child's experiences
at school can become a focal point for the parents to get
at one another. An estranged parent may start writing to the
school voicing concerns about the other. "We've had letters
about behaviour, attendance, dress - even about the custodial
parent being too protective," says Ms Williams.
Another London school head is convinced one of her pupils
is being used by the mother to enlist sympathy and attention
after her distressing divorce, and to get at her ex-husband.
"I believe it is a case of Munchausen by proxy,"
she says. "It looks as if she is using the child to gain
This child has not been at school since October last year,
but there is no medical evidence that she is unwell. The mother
wants her work sent home, but teachers cannot function like
that. Unfortunately, the father, who recognises there is a
problem, refuses to get involved because of the acrimony of
their marriage split and the fear of the mother's retaliation
through the courts."
Schools may be unable to avoid getting involved in parental
conflict. A custody battle over one small girl in London,
for instance, became so bitter her school was sucked in. The
father cited the mother's failure to read with the child,
or get her to school on time and in uniform, as reasons to
settle the custody case in his favour. The ammunition was
the child's reading record, which clearly showed which parent
was putting in the effort. "He requested a copy of her
record, and we couldn't refuse," says the child's teacher.
"Every parent has a right to this. But we didn't really
want to get dragged in." After lengthy discussions, the
school decided to forward a copy, but everyone was left feeling
In Wiltshire, teachers of families skewered in an acrimonious
divorce received solicitors' letters demanding to know exactly
what had been said to each child and when. Words of comfort
were being twisted and used by the parents, leaving the teachers
feeling vulnerable and pushed into a corner, and the headteacher
"It has caused stress and anxiety to all of those involved,"
says the head.
"It has placed the selfishness of the parents against
the experiences of the children."
Yes, if they demand it, otherwise letters can simply be sent
to the parent who has custody. "Most communications with
parents are sent home by pupil post," says David Dempster,
principal teacher of physics at Boroughmuir secondary school
in Edinburgh. "But if parents are separated, and both
request we send any letters to them, we would have to post
them to the non-resident parent, and that has cost implications."
Byrchall high, in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan, has a policy
that the non-resident parent has to write to the school requesting
any communications be sent to them separately. "It means
double the workload," says Sue Joyce, deputy head in
charge of pastoral care. "But if they want it, we send
Pick-up and parents' evenings are the most volatile times.
Estranged parents can turn up at the end of the day hoping
to see their children, which puts the school in a difficult
position. "Sometimes violence may have been an issue
and there is a court order restricting access to the child,"
says Monica Galt, head of King's Road primary school in Old
Trafford, Manchester. "You have to know exactly what
the legal situation is. If an estranged parent were to turn
up, we would keep the child in school and phonethe other parent.
Or perhaps we would let the child leave early to avoid any
chance of a confrontation." She also warns that it may
not be the parent, but another relative. In extreme circumstances,
the police may have to be called.
But the first sign a teacher may get of disharmony is parents'
night, when the absence of one parent, or a tense atmosphere,
reveals the state of the relationship. "You can sense
the tension the minute they walk in the door," says Margaret,
a teacher at a school in the London borough of Westminster,
who has had parents engage in screaming matches during a parent
"They can be on the defensive straight away, and act
Body language can also say a lot. There may be lack of eye
contact, they will sit as far apart as possible and turn away
from one another, or there may simply be a chilling silence
Schools, especially primaries, where parents usually collect
their children at the end of the day, can help avoid conflict
by limiting access to the playground. Where there is only
one pick-up point, teachers will be able to watch carefully
for surprise visits. "We have had estranged parents coming
during the day requesting to see their child or claiming to
have lost the house keys. We always call the other parent
to check, and will call the police if it isn't resolved amicably,"
says Clarissa Williams. "If a parent feels excluded,
that inflames the situation, so I try to give them as much
information as possible. It's positive that they care about
the child to try and see him or her at school."
Separate meetings can resolve the difficulty of putting two
warring parents together, although it inevitably means more
work for the teachers.
Dealing with battling parents can be extremely stressful for
the class teacher, and many headteachers will have systems
in place to protect them.
"We have a procedure where I or my senior management
team deal with volatile situations. We are like a conduit
so the class teacher is protected from as much stress as possible,"
says John McNally, head of St Bernadette's primary school
It may also be difficult to remain objective. Some teachers
may have known the family for years, as the children have
passed through the school. "It can be upsetting for the
teachers to witness the break-up of a family they have known
for a long while," says Monica Galt. Some may even be
past pupils. Tom Lewis says it helps to keep personal feelings
"Teachers can often find themselves drawn to sympathising
with one parent over the other. But they need to remain neutral."
It may also be difficult, when just one parent comes, to avoid
unwelcome heart-to-heart chats, where the failings of the
other parent are laid out on the desk. Sue Donovan, head of
Holmewood nursery school, in the London borough of Lambeth,
where contact with the parents is on a daily basis, says parents
commonly try to enlist a teacher's sympathy when relationships
"They start telling you things which are simply not appropriate,"
"I advise my teachers to try to avoid such heart-to-hearts,
especially when the child is close by."
They can, but it's rare. "If we have a persistent problem,
I will arrange for the parents to come for a meeting and I
will talk to them about their behaviour and how it affects
their child and his or her teacher," says Ms Galt. "I
would never break off communications, because that can just
inflame the situation. If you have an irate parent, particularly
a father, giving him a chance to discuss the problem with
me allows a release for his aggression. If you don't meet
them, they just get more angry." Mr McNally agrees: "I
try to make time immediately to see any emotional parent,
otherwise they sit and fester over their grievance."
"Never shout back or be aggressive," says Mr McNally.
"Try to stay calm and talk quietly to the individual.
If it is getting out of hand, send for the headteacher."
Most schools will treat any revelations by parents as confidential,
and inform teachers on a need-to-know basis. It is usual for
the senior management team to be told, and any teacher with
But if the estranged parent is known to be aggressive, heads
will decide to inform class teachers. "I tend to give
them the bare minimum so they can watch the situations without
knowing too much detail," says Ms Galt.
Mr Lewis adds that all teachers should be sensitive when talking
about families and relationships anyway, regardless of the
experiences of their group, so knowing the details of each
child's family life should be unnecessary.
Most schools have procedures for teachers to follow in volatile
situations, including the headteacher taking on responsibility
for managing difficult individuals.
* The Impact on Children and Adolescents of Divorce or Separation
of Parents factsheet, and others relating to mental health
and growing up, are available on the Royal College of Psychiatrists
Follow the mental health information route to factsheets.
The one on divorce and separation is sheet 15. l Teachers
Support Network: www.teacherline.org.uk
TEACHERS and other agencies must come to terms with the stresses
on young people in their families and communities if they
are to restore discipline in the classroom, according to a
leading researcher and youth advocate.
The problem is particularly acute among teenage boys and young
people themselves must be part of the solution.
As the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association published
a survey of nearly 2,500 members highlighting growing problems
in lesson after lesson, Adrienne Katz, chief executive of
Young Voice, said that the findings came as little surprise
against a background of family breakdown.
Ms Katz, who heads north next month to contribute to a conference
in Glasgow on working with boys, said problems in class stemmed
from problems in the home, on the street and among gangs.
Concerns about health, drugs and violence often made boys
depressed and teachers were simply in the firing line. "Some
children have terrible experiences before school and you have
got people angry before their first lesson," she told
The TES Scotland.
SSTA delegates repeatedly slated pupil indiscipline amid accusations
that many more young people are contemptuous of education
and teachers. Some 87 per cent say indiscipline has increased
in the past two years and blame parent and pupil attitudes.
Ms Katz said that society was far more polarised with parents
far less able to parent. "But why should teachers end
up carrying the can? School is only part of it and it cannot
do it on its own. It is about a community approach because
the problems come from there."
Researchers had found increasing levels of stress and depression
among young people as parents split and conflicts, sometimes
violent, emerged at home. Money was often a worry.
"Boys who are disruptive are quite worried about school
work and put on a tough front in front of their mates. They
say they are made to look stupid and to shore up their image
they have to fool around," Ms Katz said.
Teenagers were themselves part of the solution in making schools
safer places. Their constant plea was to be treated decently.
Ms Katz sympathised with hard-pressed teachers who wanted
problem pupils out the class and maybe out of school but said
that young people had to be worked with.
SSTA conference, page 4 Survey, page 5 Bullying, page 7 Leader,
David Henderson finds concern growing over erosion in family
values, at the Catholic primary heads' conference in Dunblane.
A young girl's matter-of-fact comment that "her daddy
was my daddy last year" characterises the backdrop to
the Catholic Education Commission's revised guidelines on
relationships and moral education that are now being dispatched
to denominational schools.
They were released last week to Roman Catholic primary headteachers
at their annual conference in Dunblane amidst continuing concerns
about family breakdown, increasing youth sexual experimentation
and struggling relationships. Both the Church and the Scottish
Executive have sanctioned the curricular guidelines that cover
primary to upper secondary.
Josie Mackay, headteacher of St John Bosco Primary in Erskine,
who introduced the document that has taken over two years
to finalise, said:
"Children are growing up in a different world to the
one most of us grew up in and are facing much greater temptations.
Some of our parents are also very young and need guidance."
But Ian Murray, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, queried how
the guidelines would impact on the different type of families
and on children who have "no experience of the parish".
Mrs Mackay replied: "There is no ideal family: children
draw their own family. We say people marry when they love
each other and when you marry you make a promise to love,
honour and stay with that person for the rest of your lives.
"Then we have to say sometimes this doesn't always work
and perhaps you're in a family where that marriage has broken.
It doesn't mean that at the time the promise was made, it
wasn't made truthfully. We don't want to devalue anyone's
family but we do want to give them the Church ideal which
is that children should be born within marriage. We are teaching
that sexual intercourse is for committed adults."
Mrs Mackay said the guidelines would emphasise that bringing
up children was not easy and placed stresses on parents. She
accepted it was common for parents to swap partners, leading
to the young girl's remark about changing fathers. The Church
had to teach what was right, yet not devalue the unit the
child lived in.
"That's why teachers need to be skilled and need the
support of parishes," she said.
The conference heard all staff involved in teaching about
relationships and moral education should go through specialist
in-service training on the guidelines to understand the "clear
and concise Church teaching on moral issues".
Father Joe Chambers, who chaired the Church's working group,
"This was possibly the most difficult task we have ever
undertaken in the Catholic Education Commission."
The commission points out that the guidelines were being redrafted
before the last row about sex education advice in schools,
prompted by the Section 2A wrangle that led to recent legislative
changes. Parents must now be consulted.
The Government should promote marriage and two-parent families
because fatherless homes are disastrous for children, the
right-leaning think-tank Civitas said this week.
Lone mothers are poorer, more depressed and more unhealthy,
says its survey of research into the effects of family breakdown.
"Non-residential fathers have higher death rates, drink
more, have more unsafe sex and risk losing contact with their
But it is the children who suffer most from these "experiments
in living," it says.
Children in fatherless families are more likely to suffer
from deprivation and ill-health, unpopularity and exclusion
at school. They are also most likely to experience physical
and sexual abuse, and to run away from home. They are prone
to drinking, smoking and taking drugs, are more likely to
become young offenders and to engage in early and unprotected
David Green, director of Civitas, said it was irrational of
Tony Blair to insist that family structure was not the business
"Experiments in living: the fatherless family,"
by Rebecca O'Neill, is available from Civitas (tel 020 7401
5470) or at www.civitas.org.uk
Dieting gone mad. This popular notion of an eating disorder
hides the fact that starving to skeletal proportions, or vomiting,
or succumbing to laxative abuse after a binge is the outward
sign of inner emotional turmoil. The number of people with
eating disorders seems to be rising. But that perception is
yet to be backed up by figures - no one, it seems, is collecting
them. Researchers agree, though, that these illnesses are
occurring at a younger age. Teachers and doctors seem to believe
that the number of children with abnormal eating patterns
is rising, unsurprising in a society that values thinness
and is obsessed with weight and body shape. But an eating
disorder amounts to much more than young girls aiming for
a Posh Spice figure. Exam pressure, bullying and family breakdown
can tip young people into civil war with themselves, with
food as the stooge. Your role as a teacher can be crucial
either by adding to the misery through ignorance and tactless
remarks, or in providing much-needed support.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorder describes difficulties people suffer in their
attitudes towards food, eating, weight and body shape. It
is not a helpful term as these difficulties have their roots
in problems of emotional communication and distorted views
of the self, rather than eating per se. As an umbrella term
it includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. Clinicians
do not consider compulsive eating, selective eating - Marmite
sandwiches and ice-cream for every meal, for instance - and
food phobias as eating disorders, although they can cause
acute anxiety and long-term difficulties.
Distinguishing between the two can be difficult as anorectics
go through bulimic phases, and vice versa. Basically, anorectics
are successful starvers; bulimics failed starvers. Both think
about food and calories all the time, but anorectics rarely
eat fat or carbohydrates and will try to skip meals. They
suffer extreme weight loss; periods may stop in girls, they
develop a growth of downy hair on the body, have difficulty
sleeping, and often feel dizzy. They feel fat even when underweight;
may exercise excessively; may get hooked on ritual behaviours
(such as cutting up food into tiny pieces, or constantly washing
their hands); lie about eating meals and insist on cooking
cakes and meals for the family.
Bulimics binge, then attempt to maintain a normal weight by
vomiting, obsessive exercising or laxative abuse. They experience
ravenous hunger and eat to cure a terrible feeling of emptiness,
then feel severe guilt and shame, which leads to vomiting
in an attempt to relieve those feelings. While bulimics can
suffer from heart disease and ruptured stomachs, which in
rare cases can lead to death, anorexia is a life-threatening
disorder with a higher mortality rate than leukaemia and the
highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions - at
around 13 to 20 per cent a year, according to the Eating Disorders
Anorectics tend to be fastidiously clean and tidy, high-achieving
and perfectionist about their studies, the teacher's dream
student who puts in the overtime on homework. The illness
was once perceived as the province of middle and upper-class,
highly intelligent children. Now specialists recognise that
it strikes the conscientious, fastidious and eager-to-please
across the social spectrum. Anorectics become increasingly
withdrawn, and avoid social gatherings likely to involve food.
They stop smiling. They also tend to withdraw from team sports
and take up more solitary pursuits such as jogging. They can
be bright-eyed and hyperactive. They lose weight when already
very thin and tend to compensate by wearing baggy clothes.
Bulimics are difficult to spot, but tell-tale signs include
disappearing for long periods after a meal; swollen glands
and hamster-cheeks (because the glands around their face and
throat become enlarged); tooth decay (stomach acids rot the
enamel); dry or poor skin; dehydration; unkempt appearance;
violent mood swings and self-harm; frequent shopping trips
or shoplifting if their money has run out.
The historical perspective Some authors suggest anorexia has
existed for centuries under other names, for example, "fasting
saints" or circus performers professing to "live
on air". Physician and minister John Reynolds wrote about
a disorder resembling anorexia in 1669, as did philosopher
Thomas Hobbes in 1688. An accurate description by Richard
Morton appeared in his 1694 Treatise on Consumption. Anorexia
nervosa was first formally described as a medical condition
in 1873 by Charles Lasegue (as "l'anorexie hysterique"),
and in 1874 by William Gull. Bulimia nervosa was not recognised
as a clinical condition until Gerald Russell's paper in 1979,
though it probably has a much longer history.
Nobody knows. Relevant studies are difficult, time-consuming
and expensive so have not been done. Around one person in
60 may suffer from an eating disorder, a similar level to
diabetes. In 1992, the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimated
that about 60,000 people might be receiving treatment for
anorexia or bulimia at any one time, although the EDA believes
the current number to be nearer 90,000. The prevalence of
anorexia among young adult women has been estimated at between
1 and 2 per cent; bulimia at 1 to 3 per cent. Specialists
also believe anorexia is occurring at an ever younger age,
even in primary school. Dr Andrew Hill, a psychologist at
Leeds University who has written extensively on body dissatisfaction
and dieting in children, says issues of body shape and weight
are "alive and kicking" among children as young
as seven or eight.
Males account for one person in 10 with an eating disorder.
Of these, about 20 per cent identify as gay. Among adolescents,
the overall figure rises to 25 per cent. Some boys tend to
focus their body image on muscularity rather than weight,
so their eating disorder is often expressed in over-exercising
(biggorexia) combined with insufficient food intake to fuel
this exercise. Others starve and exercise to lose weight,
rather than gain muscle, because they are afraid of manhood.
Dr John Morgan, an eating disorders specialist at St George's
medical school in London, who has focused on boys, says that
because fat is "clearly a feminist issue, men have been
written out of the equation". GPs are slow to spot anorexia
in boys, often misdiagnosing their weight loss as depression,
and it's relatively difficult for boys to access treatment.
This is extremely complex and controversial. There is no single
cause, but the fact that the peak age of onset for anorexia
and bulimia is in the teenage years strongly supports the
notion that the disorder is due to difficulties in negotiating
the developmental hurdles of adolescence. There may be genetic
traits that, with early environmental influences, lead to
the development of a vulnerable personality. For example,
according to Dr Jill Welbourne, a retired eating disorders
specialist and patron of the EDA, anorectics are invariably
the daughters of "grade A worriers". Sociocultural
factors are also considered influential, given that eating
disorders are much commoner in societies where material goods
- including food - are more readily available and where thinness,
especially in females, is valued highly.
According to Dr Morgan, the average female fashion model has
a "body/fat ratio inconsistent with a regular hormonal
cycle". Young women often, therefore, aspire to thinness
at puberty, when their bodies naturally lay down fat to support
But neither the media nor genetics can be blamed alone. Not
all children with anxious parents, nor all who wish to be
thinner, develop eating disorders. There have to be "trigger"
factors as well, such as stress caused by puberty, moving
school or exams, or more traumatic events such as parental
divorce or emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Bullying by
peers is a notorious trigger, as is insensitivity by teachers
about body shape, ability or character either in remarks or
actions (such as making an overweight child wear skimpy clothing
during PE). There may also be unconscious rewards in having
the illness, such as receiving attention within a busy family
or bringing parents who were drifting apart back together
again. Such factors can make sufferers fearful of recovery.
By being good listeners. You may be approached first by peers
worried about a friend. Take this kind of approach seriously;
early intervention greatly enhances chances of recovery. By
showing your concern you cannot make the condition worse,
and by initiating practical steps to help, you have a chance
of making things better. Do not focus the concern on food.
The pupil is likely to be frightened off and clam up. Ask
if there is something worrying them rather than why they're
not eating. Try to maintain their trust but make sure the
pupil is aware that there are limits to confidentiality. If
the pupil denies there is a problem, try to keep the door
open for further talks. Tackle the low self-esteem, not the
eating pattern. Show children that you value their particular
gifts. Research shows that the support of family and friends
and schools is crucial; that unconditional love is a major
contributing factor to recovery. Consult other staff to see
if they have picked up signs of a disorder. In particular,
try to pick up any bullying issues. Do not act in isolation.
Encourage pupils to see the school nurse or a counsellor,
or to contact the EDA.
Cleaners and dinner staff are a good source of information.
They will have spotted if somebody is avoiding food or is
leaving food or sick bags around the school. Realise that
failing to gain weight can be a sign that a child is suffering.
Children need to gain weight to grow and often a rounded,
pudgier physique is a necessary precursor to growth spurts.
Be aware that many of you will also be dieting and may not
have resolved your own attitudes towards food. Analyse your
own prejudices about shape and weight and be aware that raising
eating disorders as a PSE issue can glamorise the condition
in the minds of vulnerable children and lead to copycat behaviour.
It might be better to deal with topics that develop self-esteem,
rather than the end results of not having it.
Realise that there is no one effective approach. Each situation
is unique but the illness can last a long time with many setbacks
- the mean duration of anorexia is five years - so consistent
and continuing support is vital.
If a child tells you, "I'm fat", never dismiss it
or contradict it - the pupil is likely to feel chastised and
close off lines of communication. Never praise a child for
losing weight or comment on his or her body shape. Do not
make personal comments that undermine self-esteem. Never say
anything such as, "Come on! Eat up". Sarcasm, according
to Dr Welbourne, should be a criminal offence. Never say,
"It's just a phase." It's not a phase, it's an illness.
If you are seriously concerned about a child's health, parents
must be informed, though they do not need to know everything.
Discuss with colleagues who should make the initial contact.
Parents have an unspoken contract with the school and have
a right to know; if the child had broken his or her leg, you
wouldn't hesitate. You can help families by encouraging pupils
to tell their parents about their problems. A child may want
to hang on to a disorder and so retain control by playing
adults off against each other. If parents refuse to acknowledge
that there is a problem, allow some time, then try again.
An eating disorder cannot be left to chart its own course.
There is no one effective treatment. What works for one child
can be a nightmare for another. The first contact for further
help must be the GP, who will refer on for specialist intervention.
A range of therapies - family, art therapy, drama therapy,
counselling, psychotherapy - can be brought into play. A child
may have to be admitted to hospital if the condition becomes
life-threatening and may have to be fed through a naso-gastric
tube. In cases of non-cooperation, a court order may have
to be obtained. This is not considered force-feeding; there
is still considerable debate about forcing food into a child's
Dr David Wood, a consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry
who runs the Ellernmede Centre for eating disorders in north
London, says any such traumatic intervention is seen as further
damaging self-esteem and can reinforce a child's determination
to lose weight. To be effective, therapy must address self-esteem,
so Dr Wood believes the sensitivity of the therapist and the
nature of the child's relationship with that therapist is
the key to success.
Quote - unquote
ICT in Practice awards
Junk food vending machines have no place in schools: discuss
Win Music Toolkit software and a Kidz Mouse
'Tis the season of goodwill - and rampant materialism, drunkenness,
indigestion, family breakdown, depression and suicide. As
the jingling of sleigh bells gives way to the sound of domestic
ding-dongs, Ruth Brown offers some seasonal survival tips
The tyranny of Christmas is upon us. Reminders of our seasonal
obligations are everywhere. It's not just the high street
shops, with their self-serving homilies ("Christmas is
a time for giving") and ceaseless panpipe offerings of
"O Little Town of Bethlehem". And it's more than
the demands of the Nativity play.
Fake snow and tinsel, reminders of this long-awaited date
on the retail calendar, have been with us for weeks already.
Now it's time for that small but vocal band of well-intentioned
celebrity columnists, society commentators and welfare agencies
to issue the yearly litany of advice about the correct way
to celebrate. We're offered recipes for perfect mince pies
and ideas for homemade presents - and there are plenty of
tellings-off for the merchants who parade expensive toys in
front of those who can't afford them.
Brace yourselves - it's going to be a rough ride. Even if
you do manage to escape the Queen's message ("Christmas
is a time for families"), chances are that along with
the "just-what-I've-always-wanted" gloves from Auntie
Margaret and the "lovely" two-sizes-too-small jumper
from Gran, your unwanted presents will include tension, family
arguments, gastric upsets, hangovers and impending financial
In a 1998 street poll of 1,000 people conducted by the mental
health charity Mind, Christmas was cited as one of the most
common causes of stress (along with that year's World Cup).
Ingrid Collins, consultant psychologist at the London Medical
Centre, a Harley Street clinic, says much of the stress is
caused by unreasonable expectations that everything must be
perfect, and misplaced attempts to live up to the rosy-cheeked,
happy-family image. "Christmas has to be traditional,
everyone has to love their presents; it is an impossible goal,"
she says. "People measure themselves against this and
find themselves falling short."
And if that's not enough to drive you crackers, the heaviest
burden on us all is the spirit of enforced jollity and merry-making
- the grim determination, against all the odds, to enjoy ourselves.
Party fatigue soon sets in. The pressure of shopping, organising
the tree/decorations/relatives, combined with overeating and
drinking, makes the Christmas spirit melt away faster than
a snowman in a sauna.
The answer is to be realistic and pace yourself, says Mark
McPherson of Turning Point, the organisation for people with
drug and alcohol problems. "People often go out for lunch,
and before they know it it's 2am. Don't pretend to yourself,
'I'll have two glasses of wine and then go home', when you
know that's not going to happen. Instead, plan ahead, admit
to yourself that you're probably going to be there all night
and drink soft drinks in between alcoholic ones. Maybe even
try to drink halves rather than pints." If you don't
manage this, there's always the all-important hangover cure
- plenty of orange juice to put back the vitamin C that alcohol
Christmas can bea time of nostalgia, as adults remember the
days when it used to be fun. And we may be right. Professor
Stephen Palmer, director of the Centre for Stress Management
in London, says pressure and responsibilities have increased
over the years. People now spend much more time than they
used to at work, and often have too little time to prepare
for Christmas. To avoid slipping into boring routines, he
urges a less traditional approach to how and when we conduct
our festivities. "Don't always do what you've done before,"
he says. "Don't feel obliged to do everything on Christmas
Day. It's an artificial date - and, if you're Christian, the
Bible is flexible. Why not see your family the weekend before
or after Christmas? And don't just sit watching TV and getting
drunk; plan to do something, such as going for a walk."
Professor Palmer also warns against leaving your shopping
and preparations until the last minute. If you're caught up
with Nativity plays and extra activities until the school
term ends - December 22 for some this year - it's best not
to flop on the couch on the first day of your holiday because
there's a good chance you'll come down with the flu as a result
of your immune system slacking off. "Try to get out and
do the Christmas shopping the weekend before school breaks
up. Keep up the pressure until you get everything done,"
A dose of realism can help in other ways. A spokeswoman for
Mind says lowering our aspirations for Christmas is the first
step towards avoiding disappointment."Things don't necessarily
live up to our amazing expectations. Just think of it as a
little bit of time off - a time to relax. Ease up on yourself
If you happen to be going through a rough patch, take extra
care. "For anyone going through a difficult time - such
as work or relationship problems - the stress will be much
worse at this time of year," says the Mind spokeswoman.
The number of calls to the Samaritans helpline routinely jumps
by 10 per cent over Christmas and, surprisingly, shoots up
another seven or eight percentage points once the holiday
is over. "Adrenalin keeps people going - then suddenly
it all gets too much," says a spokesperson for the Samaritans.
TeacherLine, the telephone helpline which launched three months
before last Christmas, reported more calls than usual in the
week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve - more than
half of them work-related, including two from suicidal teachers.
This year, with the service's higher profile, counsellors
are bracing themselves for another yuletide rush.
To top it all, Christmas comes at a dark, cold and damp time
of year, which can make it all the more gloomy. If it's all
getting on top of you, try this to cheer yourself up. Take
a bottle of the finest champagne you can afford and put on
your party frock (or a paper hat with a bit of tinsel will
do). Draw a large figure 8 on your lawn (or living room floor),
take your champagne and recite the following couplets in between
hefty slugs, while hopping on one foot around the figure 8
and trying not to fall over:
"Diddly-diddly-dee, I am the spirit of the Christmas
tree. Twinkly-twinkly-twee, the angel on top looks like me."
Sexual freedom can wreck girls' lives;Another
Voice;Opinion;News & Opinion
REDUCING the rate of teenage pregnancy is a top political
priority for the Government. Schools are in the firing line
over the content of their sex education lessons. Boys are
in the firing line for being feckless serial fathers.
The key, though, is surely the behaviour of girls, always
the pivotal partners in sexual relationships. Clearly, some
teenagers are ignorant of the facts of life; and accidents
do happen even when they use contraception. Nevertheless,
illegitimacy rates were far lower at the turn of the century,
when both sex education and contraception were much more scarce
It is clear from areas with very high rates of teenage pregnancy
that there are two particularly significant factors: a change
in the behaviour of girls, and the influence on both boys
and girls of catastrophic levels of family breakdown among
their own parents. Teenage pregnancy is umbilically linked
to a culture which promotes sexual freedom, indifference to
marriage and the disposability of fathers.
In researching the background for my book, I talked to teachers,
health visitors and vicars on Merseyside. They painted a grim
picture of social breakdown which feeds on itself with every
new generation. Lone mothers, they said, often give their
children few boundaries of behaviour. The children are furious
with the mother because the father isn't there; the mother
is resentful at the children for being a burden on her. Because
the mother has herself been so badly parented, she in turn
is emotionally little more than a child. So she won't bother
to collect the children from school, or will leave them alone
while she goes to the pub. Such children come to view parenthood
more as a biological fact than a role. They themselves are
extremely immature. "These teenagers may think they are
in love; two weeks later they feel completely differently,"
said one headteacher I spoke to.
The crucial factor, say the teachers, is that girls in these
areas become sexually available very early. Girls of 11 are
taunted by other girls for being virgins. "The main factor
is the changing nature of girls and their relationships,"
said the head. "They are much more willing to have sex."
Another teacher said: "They have the attitude towards
sex that previously only the boys had; they want the sex rather
than the relationship. They interpret equality as doing exactly
the same as the boys. They think it means initiating, not
just the sex, but also the smoking and the drugs." The
boys, however, including those who have sex with them, are
contemptuous of sexually available girls, calling them "slags"
or "slappers". "They also treat their own mothers
with contempt for having a different boyfriend every month,"
said a teacher.
Such a girl tends to think of her opportunities in terms of
having a baby. But whereas once she saw herself as a mother
within marriage, now she knows she will be housed and receive
benefit as a single mother, so if the boy who fathered her
baby doesn't measure up, she knows she can manage without
According to one health visitor, the boys want to be around
their babies - but they also want to come and go and see other
girls. The young mothers, not surprisingly, resent this.
Many girls become very preoccupied with their babies while
the boys, who are profoundly needy because of their own disastrous
family backgrounds, feel pushed out. "A lot of the women
here feel they are better off without a man," said the
health visitor. "After the boy has gone the friction
stops. A lot of these boys go back to their mothers."
Boys from areas with shatteringly high unemployment, with
no prospects for the future, suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem.
Doing badly at school, and with no job to aim for, they may
feel that the only way they can notch up any achievements
at all is to father a number of children. Why should these
lads be expected to stick around when the girls reject them
and say they want to go it alone? For a while the baby fulfils
their needs; most disastrously, the young mothers think the
baby will be someone to love them.
The saddest thing, say teachers, is to see baby buggies aimlessly
pushed around the local shopping precinct by young girls who
the previous year were sitting in their classrooms. They are
the teenage victims of the devastating message that girls
can match boys in opportunistic sex and that mothers can go
The Sex-Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered
Male, by Melanie Phillips; Social Market Foundation, £12.99.
With many pupils suffering from anxiety disorder, teachers
need to be able to recognise the signs, reports Reva Klein
Recognising when a child is suffering from mental illness
is difficult, but psychiatrists believe that teachers could
be in the front line of detection and support.
The most common childhood mental illness is anxiety disorder,
which affects about 12 per cent of all children. This can
range from separation anxiety in young children to phobias,
panic attacks and sleep problems in older children and adolescents.
These forms of anxiety, which can be mild or severe enough
to be disabling, can be triggered by external events, such
as divorce in the family, or they may be unrelated to anything
obvious. Depression, which affects 5 per cent of teenagers,
is a common denominator of several mental illnesses that children
may experience, and it can also occur on its own.
But at a recent conference in Bristol organised by the Wellcome
Trust, Dr Rebecca Park, of Cambridge University, documented
how easily depression was overlooked. Classic symptoms such
as social withdrawal, irritability and poor concentration
are so often put down to general adolescent malaise.
In a Cambridge study of 365 12 to 16-year-old girls, 28 showed
signs of clinical depression that had gone undetected for
some time; 13 others had been recently depressed, also without
Around 40 per cent of adolescents with depression suffer from
anxiety, behaviour disorder and obsessive/compulsive disorder.
Depression is also often a symptom of schizophrenia, another
notoriously difficult condition to recognise, which affects
one in 100 adults but which is unlikely to surface before
the age of 15.
The way symptoms of depression present themselves is dictated
by the age of the sufferer. While younger children aged 11
and 12 are less verbal and are often overwhelmed by feelings
of hopelessness, depression in 13 and 14-year-olds is more
obvious and accompanied by cognitive difficulties, impaired
performance and indecisiveness.
When they reach 15 and 16, depression can be characterised
by agitation and suicidal thoughts.
"There's a lot of unrecognised child depression in the
community," said Dr Park. While social factors are partially
responsible, particularly situations like family breakdown,
abuse and bereavement, research shows that these triggers
alone don't cause a child to be depressed. Children whose
parents have mental-health problems or those with reactive
temperaments, for instance, are more at risk.
Despite the confusing picture, said Dr Michael Owen, of Fulbourn
Hospital, near Cambridge, teachers need to be alert to the
signs of mental illness as part of their pastoral role. "While
they can't refer directly to psychiatric services, they can
alert the appropriate services within education."
WHO TO TURN TO
* The Mental Health Foundation provides information to the
general public on all aspects of mental health as well as
funding research and promoting the development of appropriate
services. Tel: 0171 535 7400.
* Young Minds works to increase public awareness of the mental
health needs of children, young people and their families
and promotes mental health services for them. Tel: 0171 336
ONE in five children suffers from some form of mental health
problem, according to new research. An 18-month inquiry by
the Mental Health Foundation also found that one in ten youngsters
needs professional help for problems ranging from mild anxiety
to clinical depression and self-mutilation.
The MHF said that abuse, family breakdown and poverty had
contributed to an increase in the number of children found
to be suffering. "The nation's children, the country's
most important resource, are failing to thrive emotionally,"
said director June McKerrow.
Yesterday ministers announced an extra £84 million to
improve services for children and adolescents suffering from
Leader, page 16
TEACHERS, GPs and family lawyers need training to help parents
who are separating, according to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Some separating parents need help from specialist services,
but many turn to a doctor, teacher or lawyer.
The report confirms that children whose parents separate are
nearly twice as likely to suffer long-term disadvantages,
such as underperformance at school, poverty and depression.
Children who undergo multiple family break-ups are particularly
The scale of the problem of family breakdown in England and
Wales is shown in another report, published on Monday by the
Institute of Economic Affairs, in which John Haskey of the
Office for National Statistics says one child in four will
experience the divorce of parents before reaching 16 if present
divorce rates continue.
The authors of the Rowntree report - a review of more than
200 British research studies - stress that problems affect
only a minority of children whose parents separate. In most
cases the short-term distress, shown through bed-wetting and
bad behaviour, fades.
They say parents should tell their children what is happening,
keep them out of disputes and enable them to keep contact
with both parents, says the report. The quality rather than
the quantity of time with the non-resident parent is important.
The report, by Bryan Rodgers, of the Australian National University
in Canberra, Australia, and Jan Pryor, of the University of
Auckland in New Zealand, also dispels myths about the effects
There is no consistent evidence that boys are more affected
by divorce than girls (they may just show distress in different
Calling for policy-makers to recognise the growing diversity
of family structures, Jan Pryor said this week: "Support
for parents and children may be just as important at the time
of re-partnering as it is following separation. What is needed
is a focus on parenting rather than on marital status."
Patricia Morgan, family policy expert at the Institute of
Economic Affairs, said: "Marital breakdown, putative
fathers and unwed births have occurred whatever sort of family
is regarded as the norm in a society. The only difference
is that today's new family forms are yesterday's immoralities."
Rather than accepting the current trend away from marriage
as inevitable, politicians should devise policies to reverse
it, she said and added:
"Men's disengagement from families is of immense and
fundamental significance for public order and economic productivity.
This is something which is only just beginning to be acknowledged,
as we blithely head for a situation in which 54 per cent of
men aged 30 to 34 will be on their own by 2016."
Divorce and Separation: the Outcomes for Children, published
by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, costs £11.95 plus
£1.50 p & p from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield
Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ . The Fragmenting Family:
Does it Matter? costs £8 (including p & p) from
IEA, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1 P 3LB.
Controversial attainment targets could create "`a new
underclass'' of pupils excluded from school, Professor Pamela
Munn warned a Scottish Office conference this week.
Professor Munn, the country's leading researcher on discipline
and exclusions, said headteachers should not exclude more
pupils in a bid to meet new Government targets for exam passes.
For the good of an inclusive society, Scotland should not
follow the English path of rising exclusions.
Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, chose the meeting in
Edinburgh to launch the Government's guidance to heads on
exclusions. It calls for an end to informal exclusions and
fairer recording of pupils sent home.
But Professor Munn feared heads could be tempted: "There
may be a risk of schools excluding pupils who make it difficult
for them to reach targets. Raising attainment should not be
at the expense of the most economically and socially disadvantaged."
Sometimes exclusion turned in the last hope some children
had. School was a constant when many excluded pupils were
coping with family breakdown, bereavement, abuse and unemployment.
In Scotland 5,000 children were excluded in eight months.
"That seems to me quite a lot of children,'' Professor
There was enormous variation between schools. Some excluded
up to 10 per cent of their roll and one sent home 110 children.
Others have no exclusions. Serious offences such as violence
and use of drugs accounted for only a small number of cases.
"Informal exclusions are widespread, regardless of whether
it is permitted by the authority or not,'' she said. Boys
were four times as likely to be excluded. Their persistent
misbehaviour, the "drip, drip, drip effect'', leads to
Professor Munn admitted there was "no magic answer'',
but underpinning it all was the school's ideology and beliefs.
Schools which wanted to teach only those pupils who wanted
to learn were likely to have high exclusion rates. Those who
took a more social welfare approach had lower rates. The views
of the head and senior staff were crucial.
The Scottish Office guidance recommends all exclusions, however
short, should be recorded. It warns that suspension or sending
home could be against the law if regulations are not followed.
Mr Dewar told the conference: "It cannot be fair that
in one authority a child can be 'informally' sent home with
no record of it being kept, while somewhere else this is not
Developing his arguments on how history can promote social
cohesion, SCAA chief Nicholas Tate urges teachers to focus
more on local history. Someone once said of a history teacher
colleague of mine that, if stranded for a couple of hours
in a strange town, "it would never enter his head to
pass the time by visiting the local museum, popping into the
parish church or looking at historical buildings". Since
then I have always used this as a litmus test to distinguish
the bogus teacher of history from the genuine article.
Many teachers had their fascination with the past kindled
by an encounter with local history. I am lucky to be one of
them. I first became excited by history at the age of 12 when
I moved to an area of the Pennines rich in historical and
archaeological remains. Surrounded by a host of Mesolithic
settlements, Brigantian hillforts, Roman roads, Anglican crosses,
Tudor manor houses, weavers' cottages, Methodist chapels and
Victorian mills, I picked up more from the local environment
about how we have got to where we are today, and about the
diversity and ephemerality of the world, than from anything
else I learned at that stage of my schooling.
When I recently recounted these experiences at a conference
organised by the British Association for Local History in
London, it was obvious that there were many other teachers
of history who had become interested in the subject by this
route. Regrettably in some cases, these experiences had come
long after childhood rather than during it.
Local history has always had a special place within the history
national curriculum. This has been preserved in three ways
in the revised national curriculum that schools have been
teaching since last September: by the retention of a specific
local history study unit in key stage 2; by a requirement
across all three key stages that pupils learn about the past
through buildings and sites; and in key stage 3 that pupils
make links between history at a variety of levels, including
that of the locality.
In addition, the other study units in the revised Order can
and should be taught using local examples: anniversaries of
local events in key stage 1; local place names to illustrate
Anglo-Saxon settlement in key stage 2; local castles, churches
and cathedrals to illustrate the medieval realms study unit
in key stage 3. Now that the Order requires fewer topics to
be taught and is much less prescriptive, schools have more
flexibility to make best use of the distinctive characteristics
of their own area.
Local history is important for two main reasons: its ability
to convey a sense of the reality of the past by means of the
concrete, immediate and familiar; and its contribution to
the development of a sense of belonging and identity with
a local area. The first needs no further illustration. The
second has received less attention.
We have heard relatively little about purposes of education
that relate to the way in which it can contribute to social
cohesiveness, to maintaining, transmitting, and if necessary
rebuilding a sense of community. In some ways this is surprising
given that the Education Reform Act, which is the basis of
so much of our work in the curriculum, makes very clear that
a key purpose of the curriculum is to promote the "moral,
spiritual and cultural development of society" as a whole.
This nudge to thinking of education as an integral part of
social policy has been largely ignored.
Now there are many communities and many identities. The local
community, and a sense of identity with this community, is
only one of these. But it is a very important one. Most people
spend most of their time in and around the place where they
live. Many people, despite increased mobility, still do not
move very far from where they were brought up or, if they
do, form close attachments to the other parts of the country
where they have settled.
These attachments have the potential to play an even more
important part in people's lives at a time when other identities
are in a state of flux because of developments such as increased
social mobility, high rates of family breakdown, the disappearance
of the traditional "job for life", and the threat
to the nation state from economic globalisation.
A sense of local identity consists of three main elements:
a sense of the distinctiveness of a particular place, a sense
of identification with that place, and a sense of belonging
to a community with shared purposes, which at the very least
must include living harmoniously with each other. Whatever
one's locality, and whether or not there are clearly discernible
boundaries around the local community - for example, a village,
a town, a city, a well-established county, even a street -
this kind of identity is open to everyone.
Assuming such an identity is a "good thing", how
can the curriculum, and especially local history, help to
First, by providing pupils with the knowledge and understanding
they need to make sense of their local area. This involves
learning about the distinctive physical features of the local
area, its landscape, its architecture, its social, economic,
demographic and employment characteristics, its links with
the arts, its religious life, its distinctive customs and
annual rhythms, and of course its history.
Work on local history needs to go hand in hand with work in
geography, where the study of the local area is required at
each of key stages 1 to 3, and in art, in which pupils are
introduced to their local artistic heritage. In addition,
there are many opportunities to develop pupils' knowledge
of the locality, and sense of belonging to it, in other subjects
even when local contexts are not prescribed: through literary
accounts of the local landscape, work on local newspapers,
or the study of local religious traditions. It is useful to
have an overview of these activities, though the last thing
one wants to suggest is yet another whole-school policy document.
Second, by creating opportunities for pupils to go out into
the locality, look at buildings and sites, including historic
houses and sites, at first hand, talk to local old people,
take part in community service and work experience, find out
about local industry, and get a feel for local traditions
These are by no means the only experiences that children need
- equally important is the need to be taken out of their immediate
background and locality - but they are a necessary counterweight
to the kaleidoscope of images of lifestyles, customs and places
from all over the world with which they are daily bombarded.
They are also experiences that some children may only encounter
if their school provides them.
Third, by fostering pupils' sense of responsibility towards
others in the community and awareness that they can influence
its development through direct action and participation in
local politics. The sense of belonging stimulated by the study
of the locality can contribute to the feeling that these are
matters for "us" and not just for "them".
There are close links here between local history and education
for citizenship, which needs to include active citizenship
within the locality.
The future of local communities and the nature of local identity
are closely tied up with the role of local government and
the balance of power between central government and the regions
and localities.These are matters which are currently of considerable
political interest. If the upshot is a renewed emphasis on
local government and the local community, there will be an
added reason to ensure we get it right in terms of the local
element in the school curriculum.
British Association for Local History: for more details contact
David Short, Ashwell Education Services, Merchant Taylors'
Centre, Ashwell, Baldock, Hertfordshire SG7 5LY
Dr Nicholas Tate is chief executive of the School Curriculum
and Assessment Authority
Government-led initiatives are needed if British society is
to cut down the high number of violent and abusive relationships,
according to a top adviser on child mental health.
Zarrina Kurtz, a consultant in public medicine who is leading
a Department of Health review of child mental services, said
too much violence, physical and psychological, is accepted
as an everyday part of life.
She told a conference organised last week by the child mental
health group Young Minds on the link between violent behaviour
and psychological damage: "We must question the premise
which says that we need only prevent the kind of violence
that requires medical or criminal responses."
The London conference, sponsored by The TES, was the culmination
of a year-long campaign by Young Minds to illustrate the damaging
effects of abuse and violence on children's mental health.
The past 12 months have seen symposia covering bullying, violence
in the media, child sexual abuse, and the violence inflicted
by war and refugee status.
Dr Kurtz said that public strategies should concentrate on
reducing the level of risk for the majority of people rather
than on just a few individuals at the greatest risk. This,
she said, would have the greatest general effect and would
have a significant impact in breaking cycles of violence.
"We should aim to shift the whole statistical distribution
so that that nearly everyone enjoys a slightly lower risk
level than before," said Dr Kurtz.
One of the best approaches, she said, would be to boost the
status of parenthood.
Also, she suggested that professionals should pay attention
to the victims of abuse as well as the perpetrators. Until
now children suffering violent or abusive behaviour have received
little more than attempts to "patch up" the physical
The conference also heard from Dr Sebastian Kraemer, consultant
child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic,
that a policy of statutory paternity leave would be a major
step forward in breaking the cycle of poor parenting and subsequent
family breakdown. Too often, he said, parents are left to
fend for themselves in difficult circumstances.
An earlier paper from Dr Danya Glaser, consultant child and
family psychiatrist at the Lewisham and Guy's Mental Health
Trust, warned against ignoring non-physical violence - deliberate
hurt or humiliation - that can prove just as psychologically
"Violence is affecting so many children," said Young
Minds director Peter Wilson. "There are things we can
and should do about it."