This is the title of an article in the Independent
of 21 January.
According to the article:
'Children are living in an “unprecedented toxic climate” in which they skip meals to stay thin, are bombarded by pornographic images and fear they will be failures amid a “continuous onslaught of stress at school”, according to research published today.'
'A poll commissioned to coincide with the launch of a national campaign found 40 per cent of 11 to 14-year-olds said they missed meals for weight-loss reasons, while a similar proportion said their relationships with other children had been affected by watching pornography online.'
'Half of children and young people had been bullied and more than half believed they would end up being a failure if they did not get good exam grades.'
'The charity YoungMinds said the UK was sitting on a “mental health time bomb” and that action is needed by the Government, schools and parents to help young people cope with the pressures of modern life."'
If true, this is an alarming and depressing image of school life form pupils' perspective. Last year Channel 4 News produced a number of secondary school pupils who described the nature and scale of 'sexting' (think sending and requesting explicit selfies). The pupils claimed that phone-based pornographic sexual harassment of a gross nature was a regular and normal part of school experience.
In terms of sexual harassment this is many orders of magnitude more serious than the allegations currently being denied by Lord Rennard.
I don't know if this is indeed a 'mental health time bomb', but I do know for certain, that even if only partly true, it is not a good context for effective teaching and learning.
'Lucie Russell, YoungMinds’s campaigns director, said: “Every day we hear about the unprecedented toxic climate children and young people face in a 24/7 online culture where they can never switch off."'
'“Young people tell us they experience a continuous onslaught of stress at school, bullying, sexual pressures and bleak employment prospects. When this becomes too much for them they don’t know where to turn for help and when they do often the support just isn’t there for them."'
'She added: “It isn’t on Gove’s agenda really. It’s all about academic success. There is a strong link between attainment and emotional wellbeing.”'
I realise that adults have always panicked about the perceived goings on in the minds and lives of teenagers, but it can't help if the school system increases these stresses unnecessarily.
I recall the myth of the father who shouts at his wife, who harangues the kids, who kick the dog.
Isn't our school system like this? Heads and Principals are under football manager type pressure to get results and achieve league table success for their schools. League table failure spells 'relegation' in terms of able pupil recruitment followed by the sack, not to mention constant earache from Mssrs Gove and Wilshaw and the ever present possibility of an OfSTED visit going pear-shaped.
So the Executive Principal draws her senior team around her and shares out her stress. This is then suitably amplified for the necessary effect and passed down the line in various ways to the teachers.
What determines whether a teacher gets her PRP bonus, or conversely poor GCSE/SATs results and/or the thumbs down sign from the OfSTED inspector?
It is of course the pupils. So they must be in turn be coached, drilled, threatened, worked harder and pressured into producing the desired results. At least in the case of GCSE the pupils may benefit to some degree from their exam success (unless it is a worthless vocational equivalent), but failure to get the odd C is not as calamitous for them as it is for their teachers, the Principal and the school.
For innocent Y6 children SATs failure has absolutely no implications whatever. If their school goes down the pan as a result they will have moved on. On no account must they or their parents be allowed to catch on to this professionally dangerous fact, so there must be no let up in the pressure on parents.
Are parents concerned by the stresses that schools are loading onto their children? To judge by follow-up letters in the 'i' of 22 January they are. Here are some quotes.
'As the mother of two teenage girls I am horrified by how stressed they are by schooling where every piece of work or homework is marked to see if they are on target. My 14-year-old even gets told to remember her targets before PE lessons.'
'they are continuously judged and put under pressure so that schools can maintain their places in the league tables. Even the lunch breaks have been curtailed.'
'Young people are subjected to a relentless system based on passing exams rather than love of learning.'
'Gradgrind - style school policy seems to extend the British long hours culture to children.'
Perhaps I have been wrong to condemn floor targets. Could we just be targeting the wrong things?
LSN readers may find the experience
of this parent relevant.