Over the last month I’ve been struggling to get daughter three to go to school due to her anxiety about the whole school scenario. So I joined a Facebook group for school refusers. It’s a brilliant form of support, but what has shocked me is how widespread the problem is and how many mums – it is almost entirely mums – are dealing with all sorts of issues around getting their kids to school.
Support from schools seems to vary a lot as does support from work, with some mums saying they are being threatened with disciplinary action. Having been in the situation of having a child shaking and crying at the mere thought of going into school, I know how stressful the whole thing is and I work mainly from home so there is not the same problem with getting into work.
The levels of anxiety reported by these parents around going to school are very high. Have they always been this way? I doubt it. Surveys show high levels of anxiety among young people generally these days and that mental health problems are rife. Social media gets the headlines, and cyber bullying, the pressure to look great all the time and the pressure to be popular must play a part. “Every part of my body is judged,” daughter three said, sobbing, on one recent occasion. We also live in a so-called age of anxiety where nothing is certain, where jobs are insecure, where debt is the norm, where food banks have become widespread, where people can have their whole lives ripped apart due to politicians pandering to intolerance and fear and where we have never been more informed and misinformed.
In the middle of it all there is the pressure from school. It’s not just that GCSEs seem to be the be all and end all of secondary school life from day one of year seven in some schools. It’s that the whole school thing has become soulless in many respects. Teachers are stressed out and leaving; schools are under-resourced and under pressure to get results, meet targets or lose funding and to deal with all the myriad issues related to the whole age of anxiety thing. The whole process has become corporatised. There are interim reports, home school contracts and targets coming out of your ears – I’m not entirely sure who this is for, but it doesn’t feel like it is for the children. Children seem to have been lost in the middle of all of this covering your back accountability stuff. I once considered going into teaching, but now I go to parents’ evenings and I feel sorry for the people across the desk from me.
I asked our school for support. Apparently there is no counselling available [I know that in past years the counselling service has been under pressure from the GCSE year, which tells you something]. You’re basically on your own and the school will fine you if you don’t get your child in. The parent becomes the enemy rather than someone to work with in the interests of the child. I know other schools may be more supportive and maybe I’ve had a bad experience, but when daughter three tells me no-one at school cares, I find it hard to argue against her because that is my impression too.
I doubt teachers went into education for this, but they’re stuck in a system that seems, from reading about the struggles of so many parents, to be fundamentally failing a lot of young people.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.