Friday, January 07, 2011

a game called hurt

Carol Hill is an SMSA (school dinner lady) who told parents that their seven year old daughter had been bullied. She was then suspended for a breach of confidentiality and later dismissed by the school’s governors, on the recommendation of the headteacher, for telling the story to a newspaper. Over a year later, an employment tribunal has said the sacking was unfair.

The school did not dispute that the girl was tied to a fence with a skipping rope by four boys and was hurt on her wrist and leg. The Head, Mrs Crabb, who in writing to the parents called it a minor accident, said that it was all just part of an inappropriate game. An inappropriate remark by an inappropriate Head.

Unfair dismissals are commonplace, so what makes this one special ? The sinister part of it is the concern the school showed over the bad publicity arising from the incident, more than the concern that a very young girl was being harmed by other pupils. And yet child welfare (safeguarding is the current term) is the highest priority for a school; Crabb and her ‘yes miss’ governors should know that. Far from being a breach of confidentiality, the parents had every right to be informed and the Head should have done so. At least Carol Hill did her duty; the Head and the governors did not.

Schools are in a competitive marketplace and they are in fear of their local competitors being seen as better in any way. Incidents of bullying can tarnish a school’s reputation and get it a ‘could do better’ rating from Ofsted. But bullying must be confronted, not given euphemistic names and not smothered by a collective pretence that it doesn’t happen here. It probably does. The truth is that nobody knows to what extent, not staff and certainly not governors, but the volume and frequency of reported incidents suggest the problem is huge.

There are many children at primary and secondary level who hate to go to school because of being bullied. Their parents, sometimes single mothers or fathers, are punished by being fined or taken to court by detached local authorities, backed by Heads and Education Welfare Officers, anxious to meet their attendance targets. The cause of the absence is often not investigated at all.

Bullies, who often use the flimsy cover of game-playing, come in all shapes and sizes and are a virus that attacks any school, from the best to the worst. They are rarely found out and can go on to become successful in all kinds of careers, even as doctors, caring nothing about the hurt and fear suffered by their victims. Anyone able to blow a whistle on them should blow hard.



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