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It’s back to school and this holiday has been more difficult than most because daughter three has been having some problems at school with bullying and, understandably, doesn’t want to go back at all. It’s not the first time – she was bullied at primary school, resulting in her eventually moving school. It took at least a year and a half for her to recover some of her old confidence. I don’t think she has yet recovered academically because, of course, you can’t focus on your studies if you are panicking about all the comments you are getting and about wandering around the playground on your own every day.
At primary school she would come home practically every day in tears at one point and I would need to hold her hand when she went to sleep. All sorts of tactics were tried by the school, but they seemed to treat her as the problem. I am intensely proud of how she handled it. She looked out for others who were bullied, she nominated a friend for star of the week to make her feel better, she read up about her rights, she tried to introduce some positive black role models into the curriculum [since she was receiving racist comments in addition to all the other comments]…She was eight at the time.
So she was looking forward to secondary school because the school she goes to emphasises multiculturalism, but at the same time she retained that underlying fear of being isolated and alone and picked on. She tried to make friends quickly and that does not always work out well. This year she has been having a lot of problems with endless comments from boys about her appearance, some of them absolutely vile. She has been trying different strategies to deal with them, but without any solid support from friends, she is on her own again. At the end of last term she was coming home with migraines. She lay on the bed at one point with an acute migraine, unable to move. “Why is this happening to me again?” she sobbed. I kept her off school and took action. I had not been aware of how bad it had become because she was trying to deal with it all on her own and had only let on about isolated incidents.
So here we are now. The school gave two boys detention when she was taken in tears to pastoral support one day. One of the reasons she didn’t tell anyone what was going on was because she thought it would make things worse. The two boys cornered her the next day and shouted “snitch” at her. Other boys have now told her that “you can’t say anything to her or she will tell on you”. Apparently being called ugly, spotty, flat-chested, being compared unfavourably to her sister and so forth every single day is just banter.
So we are waiting for a meeting with the school. Daughter three is not very optimistic. She’s been here before. The main thrust of the conversations so far seem to be why didn’t she tell us what was going on. Well, that’s the nature of the problem, isn’t it? I have been told to ready myself for the meeting and that the next question will be to throw it over to me – what would you do? I have to say that that is exactly what the primary school head teacher did. And, despite the fact that they are the experts and do countless inset days about bullying and the like, they somehow expect me to come up with the answers for them. So I listed some things, for instance, bringing in more positive black role models from outside. I gave them some names of people they could invite. To my knowledge, they did not follow up on one single suggestion.
So here we are again. Daughter three has investigated home schooling. I am worried about cutting her off even more, but I am also concerned that she is not actually safe at school and that she cannot possibly learn much in an environment of fear. But one thing I have learned in all of this is to trust absolutely what my daughter is saying.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.