Tag Archives: bullying

The School Reunion

My School

Gosh, what a day.  As you know from my post back in March, I was rather apprehensive about going back, as one of the girls who bullied me was also going to be there.  I had arranged to meet my Naughty Friend, who I have not seen since we left school, as well as a couple of other girls, Orville and Vivienne Ferret, who I was really looking forward to seeing.  Also, to my delight, Denise Gnasher contacted me the night before to say she was going with her family and, although we’ve kept in touch, we’ve not actually met up for nigh on seven years.

One of the first people I saw as I approached the Old Girls’ Marquee was the bully.  I wouldn’t have recognised her and I said so and she appeared to be ill at ease.  I didn’t have a chance to speak to her alone, but as the conversation progressed among the group and I made the point that we had all been sent to the school in order to be safe, that many of us were bereaved or had very dysfunctional home lives.  Wasn’t it a pity, therefore that, because of the behaviour of other girls and certain members of staff, it turned out that we weren’t emotionally safe at school either.  I saw the look on her face and left it at that; she had been as troubled as the rest of us.

The rest of the day was spent touring the school, seeing all the wonderful changes that have been made, and exchanging histories and reminiscences with many other women who had come from all over the country to share the day.

We talked to lots of the girls who are still at the school, as well as one of the current House Mistresses and they listened wide-eyed to our tales of how the school used to be.  The girls were obviously very happy there and the whole feel of the place was one of nurture and contentment and it seemed impossible to them that we had lived in such a regimental and strictured environment and had never thought to complain.

It was a cathartic day.  The last time I went back I was very bitter that the school had changed and become such a comfortable place, too late for my generation to have had the benefit of it.  Now that my children are growing up, I am genuinely delighted that it has become such a healthy, happy school full of lively, well-adjusted girls.

Ghosts well and truly laid to rest.

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Ejukashunal success!

Many of you will have read my various articles regarding the education of Boy the Elder.

The first one explained the problems I was having at his state school

Then the joys of tutoring for the Common Entrance Exam

Followed by a comparison between the two shortlisted schools

And finally the difficulty of how to phrase letters to charities and trust funds and how he will feel if we fail

At some point, when I have gathered all my information together, I will write a post on how to approach the problem of finding funding as, hopefully, I have found out a great deal which may help other parents in the same situation.

But today, I have the wonderful news that Boy the Elder has been accepted into School A and will start in September.  We will have to move house to be a little nearer to the school, which is fine, as my current house is ghastly.  The whole process has taken nearly a year and a half and thankfully it has all been worth it.

I would also like to thank all of you who have shown me so much encouragement and sympathy – you have been a great support.

YIPPPPEEEEEEEEEE!

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Bullying remembered and a school reunion dilemma

"Let's steal Daryll's bathing suit and say she's a lesbian!" shrieked Gwendoline

In July, my old school is having a reunion.  When I went to boarding school, aged ten, I was very badly bullied by three girls who had the power to get any other girl on their side, simply by saying it should be so.  This went on for years.

Now, in order to set the scene, it’s quite important to have a (very) brief overview of why my sisters and I was sent to boarding school in the first place.  Our mother was very ill with depression, agoraphobia and addiction to benzodiazepines and was not in a fit state to look after us.  Our father had left when I was four and we pretty much had to fend for ourselves.  A charity stepped in and paid for us to go away to school as our mother was unable to cope.

I started at the school when I was ten.  Sister the First had left the term before and Sister the Second was in the Lower 6th.  I was really looking forward to going as it was a beautiful school and I wanted to do what my sisters did.  My mother always got hysterical as the end of the holidays approached and would frequently threaten to kill or harm herself if I left her, although my grandmother was still living with us at that time.  School, then, was a double edged sword; relief that I was away from home, and worry about how she would cope without me.

Two days before the start of my first term, I fell off my bike and sustained a huge, grazed lump on my forehead.  This was not a good way to start and I was teased unmercifully, being called alien and mutant.  I was also well spoken, prudish, I didn’t swear or fart, I did as I was told, I was keen on lessons, I couldn’t stand up for myself, I was emotionally vulnerable and I didn’t seem to have much in common with the other girls.  My card was marked.

At that time, the school was mostly made up of girls who had suffered misfortune of some kind.  The pastoral care wasn’t great and 400 girls in close proximity seemed to develop a pack mentality.  Unfortunately I was not in the pack.

Three girls in particular made my life hell, two in my own year and one in the year above and they would incite others to join in.  They teased me constantly about the way I spoke and behaved, and suggested that I was always telling tales to my sister.  There were no grasses in that school.

They would take and damage my things so I would get into trouble with matron, they put used sanitary towels in my nightdress case, they poured water under the bathroom and toilet doors and watch me just to upset me and then call me a prude for making a fuss.  Another favourite game was to grab people and pull their knickers off to see if they were dirty, although I wasn’t the only victim of this charming little pastime.

Once, one of the perpetrators asked me if I would like some of her outgrown clothes as she knew I didn’t have much.  I said I would look at them and let her know if I wanted them.  She brought in a bagful after exeat but none of it fitted.  I told her this but she said that I had promised to take them and give her money.  This was not true, but all the girls in my dormitory backed her up and I was made to hand over my entire half term’s pocket money to pay for the clothes.

I had the added problem that I used to sleep walk.  The houses had four dormitories with long corridors and I would sometimes waken, curled up in a doorway or on a landing.  One night I had been sleepwalking and went back to the wrong bed.  I woke up in one of my tormentors’ beds and thought that that she had climbed in with me.  I asked her, forcefully, to get out and then realised that it was me who was in the wrong bed.  I tried to explain and went back to my own bed.

In the morning, she told the whole dorm that I had tried to get into bed with her and that I was a lesbian.  By break time, I had girls all over the school whispering “lesbian!” at me in the corridors.  I was twelve and this was just about the worst thing anyone could say to you.

This went on for four years.  I used to pray every night that the girls would change schools or die.  One did (leave that is), but the other two stayed.  In the interests of balance, it wasn’t horrible all the time, I certainly have some happy memories as well and there genuinely were Midnight Feasts and Dorm Raids.  There was always that underlying fear that it could all kick off again at any moment.

But when I was fourteen, I met this wonderful girl from a different house, who not only lived near to me at home, but was also really cool and naughty.  She smoked and drank and listened to punk and had spiky hair.  I actually believe that she saved my life.  My whole attitude changed; I discovered charity shop clothes, I changed my make-up, my hair, my music and, almost immediately, the bullying stopped.  I had taken myself out of reach.

At the end of 5th Year, the two remaining bullies left (as, sadly, did my naughty chum) and I moved into the 6th form house and made a new set of friends.  This is a very truncated version of the story, but you get the picture!

* * * *

In July, my school is having a reunion which is being much discussed on a certain social networking site.
I would like to go with The Boys and show them where I spent eight years of my life.
One of the girls who made my life so miserable has stated that she will be attending.
If I go, how do I respond?  I know she remembers me but I wonder what she will remember?
It was more than thirty years ago but at some level I want her to know what she did.
At the same time, my life’s fine, so what does it matter?
She’s probably charming now.

What do you think?

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Ejukashun – or lack of it. A personal account of the failure of the state education system

I’m going to talk about something quite personal tonight of which I’m sure many of you have some experience either as teachers or parents.

Boy the Elder started at a local state secondary school in September.  He was so excited about leaving Primary and getting his teeth into some proper learning and our visit to the Open Day had given us all great encouragement.  He had left Primary School in good academic form and he was looking forward to meeting new friends, using the public bus and generally doing Big Boy Things.

Without going into the boring detail, from the moment he started he was subjected to low level bullying, teasing and unpleasant behaviour from some of the other children and he felt very lonely and let down.  This was not helped by the fact that all his close friends had left to go to private schools so he had no allies.  We have tried every strategy we can think of but nothing works, nothing changes.

At his first Parents’ Evening the teachers told me that he was doing extremely well, not quite so well in Maths (apparently still at national average though) and I was generally given a rosy picture of his progress.  I asked his Maths teacher how I could support his learning at home and asked why, if he was not doing so well, he was never given any homework. I was told that he always finished his work in class and that home time should be devoted to hobbies and family time, not homework.  I stared at him open-mouthed.  Did he really think that children who regularly had homework didn’t have hobbies or playtime?  He replied that my son would never get any homework from him. 

Half way through his third term, the bullying has not stopped and his recent report was less than encouraging.  It was still good, but his grades had dropped and I was not happy.  I have been in touch with the school regularly regarding the behaviour of the other children but this time I needed to tackle the apparent change in his academic progress.  I did not get a satisfactory response.

A couple of months ago I got in touch with a local fee paying grammar school who have an excellent reputation and more importantly, have some available bursaries.  The next round of entrance exams was not until January 2011 which would mean that even if he passed, got a place and won a bursary, he wouldn’t be able to start until September 2011.  That is a very long time for a 12-year old boy.  A week ago, in desperation, I rang the school again and they invited me in for an interview.  They were wonderfully understanding and encouraging and pointed out all the incumbent difficulties and hoops that we would have to jump through to get there, but, out of the blue, he invited to Boy the Elder to take the entrance exam.  10 days from the date of the meeting.  After much discussion with The Father of My Children and advice from Sister the First, we decided to go for it. 

And thank God I did.  Putting aside the exam, the process of doing papers in English Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning and Mathematics has revealed the vast gaps in his knowledge, of which I had no idea because he never gets any bloody homework.  I was astonished to discover that Boy the Elder, who will be 13 in September, could not do long multiplication, long division, percentages or areas and didn’t know his tables.  He had no confidence in geometry or algebra, although he can do it, and pretty much has a cerebral powercut the moment he turns over the paper.  Maths isn’t my strong point either and, although I can help with some things, my  CSE from 1981 would need a palaeontologist to bring the information to the front of my brain, so, after a week of searching I managed to find a tutor.  His first session is tomorrow morning. His exam is on Tuesday.

Even if he fails the exam, I will carry on with the test papers for the foreseeable future, both to get him up to an appropriate standard and to make sure that he stands an equal chance if we re-apply, or indeed if we try another school. 

I am firm in the belief that parents have the right to educate their children how they see fit and in a way that is appropriate to their family and lifestyle.  I also believe that state schools have a responsibility to provide the best education they can for the children in their care and to provide those children with an equal chance of competing in the working environment or in further education.  Of course private schools are going to have the edge – if they don’t, a lot of people are paying an awful lot of money for nothing – but a bright child in the state system should be nurtured and supported with as much care as the less able who often get a high level of learning support.  If they can’t provide this in the classroom, then the least they can do is to give the parents the opportunity to support the child’s learning at home.

I’m not interested in whether Boy the Elder’s maths corresponds to the national average.  I only care about whether he is achieving his potential.  If my children are going to be astrophysicists or film directors, that’s fantastic, but if they want to be plumbers or basket weavers, I would like to think that they would be the best and happiest plumbers and basket weavers they are capable of being.

Wish us luck

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The Tale of the Bullies, The Dinner Lady and the Paranoid School

It has been reported in the news this week that a Dinner Lady has been sacked  for telling a girl’s parents the details of a bullying incident at her school.  (For one report use this link to The Telegraph.) It would appear (and I stress, appear as we only know what the media tells us) that the school didn’t tell the parents the full story of the incident. The Dinner Lady was merely commiserating with the parents in an out of school situation, about what she considered to be a very unpleasant instance of bullying in the school playground.

‘Bully’ means ‘to bluster, use violent threats, swagger, intimidate, abuse’ (Sh.OED) and it is a word that should not be bandied about lightly. 

I want my sons to grow up to be able to handle themselves in difficult situations, to be able to stand up to other people, to have the ability to assess situations and react sensibly and appropriately.  I want them to learn to understand the difference between teasing, playing rough and bravado, and genuine threats, intimidation and abuse.  Above all I do not want them to grow up with a victim mentality; there is nothing a bully finds more attractive than a dyed-in-the-wool victim, whether as a child or an adult.

There are several problems with this aspiration.  We live in a culture where we are actively discouraged from taking responsibility for our own actions, everything is someone else’s fault.  If we crash our cars we are told on no account to admit liability.  If we fall over in the street, it is not an unhappy accident it is a dangerous paving stone.  Children are told, right from the word go, that if anything unpleasant happens or their comfort is threatened in any way, they must immediately tell a teacher or parent who will intervene on their behalf. 

A huge proportion of children have little or no unsupervised time with their peers in which to fall out, sort it out and make it up, on their own terms without an adult leaping into the fray and solving everything.  There is, of course, another group of children who receive so little supervision that they have no guidelines whatsoever and are forced to make everything up for themselves and the solutions to that are complex indeed.  But we need to find some middle ground.

In order to allow our children to develop into capable, sensible adults, we have to first teach them some values about how we treat people and how we conduct ourselves, with courtesy, dignity and compassion.  We have to show them love and kindness when they hurt themselves but not make too much fuss so they learn to put a brave face on things.  We should reward them with praise when they achieve, not shower them with gifts which I suggests sends the message that achievement for one’s own satisfaction is not enough in itself.  When they make mistakes, make sure they take responsibility for them and help to point out the changes that need to be made.

We give them these tools so that they can manage by themselves, make informed decisions, assess risk.  This way, when something serious does happen, we as adults will take them seriously and know when it is appropriate for us to intervene on their behalf.  We must not disable them.

Schools no longer have the freedom to operate appropriately for the cohort of children in their care.  Teachers no longer have the freedom to do the job for which (we hope) they have been highly trained and have a passionate vocation. Head Teachers are not free to be leaders.   League tables, SATS, OFSTED, Government initiatives, random knee-jerk policies – these are the Leaders of our schools and the schools are terrified that if they manifest one single area of perceived ‘failure’ they will lose funding, drop in the league tables or in some cases be closed altogether.

I would suggest that this could be why the school in question failed to report, what appears to have been a very unpleasant case of genuine bullying, because it was terrified of the wider  repercussions.  The Dinner Lady reasonably assumed that the parents had been informed and she was ashamed that such an incident had happened at the school in which she worked. 

I sincerely hope that the school gave the perpetrators an industrial strength dressing down and appropriate punshments.  I hope that the parents of the bullies supported the school in chastising their children again when they got home.  I also hope that the parents of the bullied child not only took the school to task for failing in their duty to communicate, but spent some valuable time helping their own child to develop strategies for avoiding such a situation in the first place.

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Melting Moments & a promise of things to come…

Melting Moments 23.09.09I’m going to show you how to make the easiest biscuits in the world; they look lovely and are absolutely delicious.  They melt in the mouth and only take a moment to make.  And they are made from, you guessed it,  storecupboard ingredients!

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about The Dinner Lady and The Bullies.  Bullying is no longer the domain of the playground and the Wartime Housewife, unsurprisingly, has an Opinion.  However, I made a batch of Melting Moments this evening, because I had the oven on for dinner and (all together now)  “We don’t put the oven on for just one thing!”.  Makes about 14 biscuits.

Utensils:
1 x medium mixing bowl
1 x food mixer
1 x large baking sheet (may need 2 x 12″x8″ baking sheets)
1 x wire cooling tray

Ingredients:
6oz / 150g butter
3oz / 75g white sugar
7 ½ oz / 200g white self raising flour
7 or 8 glace cherries – halved
Oats (2 or 3 ounces for rolling)

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 180 / 360 / 4
Cream the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy with the mixer
Beat in the flour
Roll the mixture into balls and press them down lightly with your hand to flatten to about 2″ diameter
Coat them in the oats and place onto a greased baking tray
Put half a cherry in the centre of each biscuit
Bake for about 15 minutes until just starting to brown
Remove from the oven but leave the biscuits on the tray for 10 minutes to settle
Then remove to a wire cooling rack until completely cold.

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