There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In this modern world one wonders whether most people assume that it is only a school’s responsibility to raise a child.
In almost every sphere of life, be it public or private, it seems to be believed that it is our schools which should ensure that a young person does or says the right thing and if they do not then it is the staff at the school who will be blamed. It is now our job to instil British values, in many ways a laudable aim, but can schools always counter the influence of family, peers or the media, as they try to fulfil this role? Yet, if any young person in a school is found to have expressed unacceptable views, then it is the school which will be censored and may fail its inspection.
We are now told that we have to teach children as young as 11 about informed consent for sexual activities. Will schools be censured for poor teaching if any ex-pupil later commits a sexual offence? Should not parents, wider society and the media also have a major role in educating young people about consent and how to recognise and deal with unreasonable demands in a relationship?
The fact that the internet is awash with pornography, easily accessible to very young children, and that young people can readily post and share online or via mobiles indecent and compromising photos of one another, without any restraint by service providers or legal consequences, is ignored. If “sexting” is taking place, then often the school is seen to be responsible.
There has been much in the media lately about the enormous increase in young people suffering from mental health issues. When this was reported the first possible cause which listed was “stress at school”. I have encountered a fair number of depressed and troubled young people in 40 years working in education, but none of them were solely stressed by school, almost all had family issues of some sort, be it family illness, parental break-up, missing a parent who was working away from home, feeling unwanted, sibling rivalries or other such things.
However, schools seemed to be judged, found wanting and labelled as having pupils with problems, rather than being praised for being an open place where young people feel confident enough to share their concerns. Teachers are not trained psychologists and young people suffering from mental health issues need specialist professional help and support in the context of their family. Unfortunately, CAMHS funding has been cut so far that little budget for whole family work remains.
Schools also have to provide education about drugs and alcohol, but can we really have so large an impact as to outweigh years of upbringing at home or the almost irresistible pull of peer pressure on young teenagers? I am not saying that we should desist, but just that we need the rest of the community and families to get involved too.
Many primary-aged children now have Facebook profiles, instagram or tumblr accounts, use ask.fm, tweet and post images online. They have no real understanding that nothing which is posted online ever really disappears. We tell our pupils over and over again that those photos and injudicious comments will stay there forever, but somehow the young do not believe us. We don’t have the resources in schools to be able to monitor every personal account run by every individual pupil, but surely parents should be able to take some responsibility?
We live in very difficult times, but we need to return to the notion that it is a whole community’s responsibility to raise the next generation. We in schools will do our very best to educate young people, but they do not live with us and we are not their parents. Making schools accountable for all society’s ills and blaming and punishing schools for them is just plain wrong.
Marion Gibbs is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London.