FLINT logo
Families Link International
Tel:0781 886 1724

home | issues | policies | family groups | courts | court reporters | research | law | contacts | donations | Useful Quotes |

Issues - Education

Dfes should read The times Educational

Anat Arkin 13/02/2004

Capital punishment?
Crime, family breakdown, transient pupils - London's got it all, say heads in a new study. Anat Arkin reports
Leading a school in London is a bit like being in charge of repainting the Forth Bridge - a "relentless endeavour in which nothing ever appears to be fully sorted", according to a new study.
Whether it is meeting the needs of an ever-changing student population or dealing with the fallout from gang culture, crime and family breakdown, the pressures on school leaders in the capital are incessant. Yet almost all those who took part in the study had something positive to say about their jobs.
"It is addictive in a way," said one. "Colleagues and friends who go to teach outside the area may have an easier life but they miss the energy levels and diversity."
The top concerns of the 82 headteachers and deputy heads interviewed for the research were staffing, pay and retention.
"We can get young teachers who want to live and work in London because it's a fun place to be, and we can get people for senior management positions because if people have decided to stay in London then they are going to go for promotion," said Alasdair Macdonald, head of Morpeth secondary school in Tower Hamlets, east London.
"But frequently it's middle management where the problem arises because people think that they should move out of London to have a family."
Other heads reported that teachers were demanding extra money to stay in post. A head of music, for example, had two management points after just one year's teaching. But all those surveyed said their schools had been badly hit by last year's funding crisis. There was a strong feeling that London schools were simply not funded to meet the needs of their communities.
The transient populations of many of these communities mean high pupil turnover. A deputy head from Greenwich said: "There is a constant sense of loss when we put a great deal of energy and effort into children who arrive, and then they leave before we can see any of the results of our investment."
Schools with their own strong culture could demonstrate the value of diversity to visitors, parents and pupils.
However, diversity brings challenges. Several school leaders reported an increase in Islamophobia, while one remarked that children from war-torn countries often bring their anger and violence with them. "People who cannot articulate their needs because of language problems can become angry and aggressive," said another.
In general, ethnic-minority students were doing well because of their parents' high expectations. But some heads and deputies were concerned about a "white underclass" of pupils with a dismissive attitude towards learning. As one contributor put it: "We have a low number of parents with any experience of further or higher education. Some of them are anti-education. As girls grow older their attendance goes down, mainly because of childcare duties."
It is the sheer scale of these problems that makes London different, according to John West-Burnham, senior research adviser at the National College for School Leadership and one of the authors of the report.
"All the problems in London are found in other urban areas, but in London they come together in extreme numbers," he said.
In their report, Professor West-Burnham and co-author Professor Kathryn Riley point to the extremes of poverty and wealth in the capital, and the fact that around 42 per cent of pupils in inner London speak English as an additional language, compared to an average of 8 per cent for England as a whole. Contributors thought it was crucial for school leaders to understand other cultures.
"Many pupils are victims of war. Racism and the range of religious issues impacts directly on my work," said one headteacher.
With much of their time taken up with supporting children and their families, heads also needed to be highly committed to their communities.
Resilience was another important quality for London heads, with many paying a high price for the long hours they worked.
"They talked about relationship breakdown and families suffering, but at the end of it all they still had a mission," said Lynn Gadd, head of Copthall secondary school in Mill Hill. Together with Hasan Chaudhry, a primary head, she carried out the interviews for the study.
Interviewees mentioned the value of collaboration, especially through cross-phase networks. In Tower Hamlets, for example, heads were part of a mini-education action zone. But London-wide networks were thin on the ground.
"Much lamented was the demise of the Inner London Education Authority programme, which brought together new headteachers across London to meet other leaders, discuss what they were doing, and to lay the foundations for professional relationships which had been sustained over many years," says the report.
Interviewees and other leaders will be invited to a conference in April to discuss the study, commissioned by the NCSL for the London Leadership Strategy, part of the London Challenge headed by Tim Brighouse, the capital's schools commissioner.
Alan Davison, operational director of the strategy, said: "We are working with the Institute of Education to modify our programmes so that we can make sure leadership development reflects the needs of colleagues."
Educational Leadership in London by Professors Kathryn Riley and John West-Burnham is available on the NCSL's Talk2Learn website
The report recommends:
* Access to advice on cultural and ethnic issues
* Opportunities for school leaders to "recharge their batteries", for example through sabbaticals and retreats
* Skills-based training in areas such as conflict management and working with diverse communities
* Support for the personal well-being of school leaders
* Links with schools in the UK and other countries
* Programmes to help school leaders get the most out of staff

Su Clark 24/10/2003

Parents at war
Did you know?

* Divorce affects around 150,000 children every year, which means almost half of all children will face their parents splitting up before the end of their childhoods
* Teachers and heads are often called as witnesses during custody cases
* One London father cited the failure of the mother to read with the child, and her failure to get her to school on time and in uniform, as reasons to settle the custody case in his favour
* A leading independent school head says schools in his sector may soon struggle to cope with the pastoral needs of the growing number of children of divorced parents
Almost one UK child in two will face the crisis of parents separating or divorcing before they leave school, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Most will suffer distress and trauma in the lead up to, and during, any split, leaving some with emotional and behavioural difficulties. And if the separation is adversarial, the effect can be even more devastating and long-term. Children can get caught in the middle, often used by one parent to get at the other. But it's not just family and friends who get sucked into the battle when parents go to war; schools and teachers often become targets as well. Whether it is unwanted heart-to-hearts, after-school recriminations or full-blown arguments during parents' evening, teachers can find it difficult to remain aloof from family breakdowns.
How many children are affected?
Divorce affects around 150,000 children a year, putting almost half of all school-age children through the emotional trauma of separation. Although some splits will be amicable, many won't, and will be a source of extreme anguish for all involved. The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns in its factsheet on mental health and growing up, The Impact on Children and Adolescents of Divorce or Separation of Parents, that even if the separation is amicable, the child may suffer insecurity, fear of abandonment, anger and a sense of loss. When it is adversarial, the child may be drawn into the conflict, forced to hear endless criticism and hostility from each parent about the other, or be asked to take sides or find fault. Their daily routine may be upset and they may have to start living between two homes. The more acrimonious the break-up, the more chance it will spill over into other parts of the children's lives, especially at school.
How can teachers recognise relationship breakdowns?
Some parents will tell the school when there is marital disharmony, so teachers can watch out for behavioural changes. But some won't, and the first sign of a problem is a change in the pupil's behaviour, the sudden absence of one parent or an uncomfortable atmosphere when the parents are together. "It's not always easy to talk to parents about this sort of thing," says the head of a London secondary. "I have a way of asking at the initial interview we have with all parents and new pupils if they have anything they would like to share with me. Not all parents are open.
Recently I had one couple where the man suddenly blurted out that he wasn't sure what was happening at home. I asked if things were a bit shaky and he replied that was one way to describe it. The mother wasn't so open."
How far can it affect schools?
The first consideration during a family crisis is the child. But schools also have to consider the logistics of having a child living with one parent, between two homes or with separated parents who do not communicate with one another. "It is important to be aware of the sensitivities of the situation as this has an effect on the way teachers handle the practicalities - such as parents' evenings, reports, and school photographs," says Tom Lewis, head of counselling at the Teachers Support Network.
How far can schools be dragged in?
Teachers and heads are often called as witnesses during custody cases because they are so involved with the children. Courts will ask schools to present reports to the courts in any dispute. "These requests are common," says Clarissa Williams, head of Tolworth girls' school, in the London borough of Kingston upon Thames. "We have to present an objective report considering all aspects, including attendance, time-keeping, behaviour and commitment. It is a not a qualitative judgment, but a collection of data."
Can acrimony between parents spill over to the school?
The head of a leading independent school thinks so. At the recent annual conference of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, the headmaster of Dulwich College, Graham Able, launched an attack on the "self-indulgence" of divorced parents. Mr Able, chairman of the HMC, warned that schools were coming under increasing strain as they struggled to cope with the growing number of children who have suffered emotional damage as a result of family breakdown. He said it might not be long before independent schools could no longer cope with the pastoral needs of the children of divorced parents.
When a relationship becomes adversarial, the child's experiences at school can become a focal point for the parents to get at one another. An estranged parent may start writing to the school voicing concerns about the other. "We've had letters about behaviour, attendance, dress - even about the custodial parent being too protective," says Ms Williams.
Another London school head is convinced one of her pupils is being used by the mother to enlist sympathy and attention after her distressing divorce, and to get at her ex-husband. "I believe it is a case of Munchausen by proxy," she says. "It looks as if she is using the child to gain attention.
This child has not been at school since October last year, but there is no medical evidence that she is unwell. The mother wants her work sent home, but teachers cannot function like that. Unfortunately, the father, who recognises there is a problem, refuses to get involved because of the acrimony of their marriage split and the fear of the mother's retaliation through the courts."
How nasty can it get?
Schools may be unable to avoid getting involved in parental conflict. A custody battle over one small girl in London, for instance, became so bitter her school was sucked in. The father cited the mother's failure to read with the child, or get her to school on time and in uniform, as reasons to settle the custody case in his favour. The ammunition was the child's reading record, which clearly showed which parent was putting in the effort. "He requested a copy of her record, and we couldn't refuse," says the child's teacher. "Every parent has a right to this. But we didn't really want to get dragged in." After lengthy discussions, the school decided to forward a copy, but everyone was left feeling deeply uncomfortable.
In Wiltshire, teachers of families skewered in an acrimonious divorce received solicitors' letters demanding to know exactly what had been said to each child and when. Words of comfort were being twisted and used by the parents, leaving the teachers feeling vulnerable and pushed into a corner, and the headteacher furious.
"It has caused stress and anxiety to all of those involved," says the head.
"It has placed the selfishness of the parents against the experiences of the children."
Do schools have to communicate with both parents?
Yes, if they demand it, otherwise letters can simply be sent to the parent who has custody. "Most communications with parents are sent home by pupil post," says David Dempster, principal teacher of physics at Boroughmuir secondary school in Edinburgh. "But if parents are separated, and both request we send any letters to them, we would have to post them to the non-resident parent, and that has cost implications."
Byrchall high, in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan, has a policy that the non-resident parent has to write to the school requesting any communications be sent to them separately. "It means double the workload," says Sue Joyce, deputy head in charge of pastoral care. "But if they want it, we send it."
What are the worst flashpoints?
Pick-up and parents' evenings are the most volatile times. Estranged parents can turn up at the end of the day hoping to see their children, which puts the school in a difficult position. "Sometimes violence may have been an issue and there is a court order restricting access to the child," says Monica Galt, head of King's Road primary school in Old Trafford, Manchester. "You have to know exactly what the legal situation is. If an estranged parent were to turn up, we would keep the child in school and phonethe other parent. Or perhaps we would let the child leave early to avoid any chance of a confrontation." She also warns that it may not be the parent, but another relative. In extreme circumstances, the police may have to be called.
But the first sign a teacher may get of disharmony is parents' night, when the absence of one parent, or a tense atmosphere, reveals the state of the relationship. "You can sense the tension the minute they walk in the door," says Margaret, a teacher at a school in the London borough of Westminster, who has had parents engage in screaming matches during a parent conference.
"They can be on the defensive straight away, and act aggressively."
Body language can also say a lot. There may be lack of eye contact, they will sit as far apart as possible and turn away from one another, or there may simply be a chilling silence between them.
How can you avoid these situations?
Schools, especially primaries, where parents usually collect their children at the end of the day, can help avoid conflict by limiting access to the playground. Where there is only one pick-up point, teachers will be able to watch carefully for surprise visits. "We have had estranged parents coming during the day requesting to see their child or claiming to have lost the house keys. We always call the other parent to check, and will call the police if it isn't resolved amicably," says Clarissa Williams. "If a parent feels excluded, that inflames the situation, so I try to give them as much information as possible. It's positive that they care about the child to try and see him or her at school."
Separate meetings can resolve the difficulty of putting two warring parents together, although it inevitably means more work for the teachers.
How can it affect teachers?
Dealing with battling parents can be extremely stressful for the class teacher, and many headteachers will have systems in place to protect them.
"We have a procedure where I or my senior management team deal with volatile situations. We are like a conduit so the class teacher is protected from as much stress as possible," says John McNally, head of St Bernadette's primary school in Birmingham.
It may also be difficult to remain objective. Some teachers may have known the family for years, as the children have passed through the school. "It can be upsetting for the teachers to witness the break-up of a family they have known for a long while," says Monica Galt. Some may even be past pupils. Tom Lewis says it helps to keep personal feelings in check.
"Teachers can often find themselves drawn to sympathising with one parent over the other. But they need to remain neutral."
It may also be difficult, when just one parent comes, to avoid unwelcome heart-to-heart chats, where the failings of the other parent are laid out on the desk. Sue Donovan, head of Holmewood nursery school, in the London borough of Lambeth, where contact with the parents is on a daily basis, says parents commonly try to enlist a teacher's sympathy when relationships break down.
"They start telling you things which are simply not appropriate," she says.
"I advise my teachers to try to avoid such heart-to-hearts, especially when the child is close by."
Can schools refuse to co-operate with difficult parents?
They can, but it's rare. "If we have a persistent problem, I will arrange for the parents to come for a meeting and I will talk to them about their behaviour and how it affects their child and his or her teacher," says Ms Galt. "I would never break off communications, because that can just inflame the situation. If you have an irate parent, particularly a father, giving him a chance to discuss the problem with me allows a release for his aggression. If you don't meet them, they just get more angry." Mr McNally agrees: "I try to make time immediately to see any emotional parent, otherwise they sit and fester over their grievance."
What should teachers do if a parent starts getting physical or abusive?
"Never shout back or be aggressive," says Mr McNally. "Try to stay calm and talk quietly to the individual. If it is getting out of hand, send for the headteacher."
Can heads warn other teachers when a pupil's parents are splitting up?
Most schools will treat any revelations by parents as confidential, and inform teachers on a need-to-know basis. It is usual for the senior management team to be told, and any teacher with pastoral responsibility.
But if the estranged parent is known to be aggressive, heads will decide to inform class teachers. "I tend to give them the bare minimum so they can watch the situations without knowing too much detail," says Ms Galt.
Mr Lewis adds that all teachers should be sensitive when talking about families and relationships anyway, regardless of the experiences of their group, so knowing the details of each child's family life should be unnecessary.
Is there any training for dealing with difficult situations?
Most schools have procedures for teachers to follow in volatile situations, including the headteacher taking on responsibility for managing difficult individuals.
* The Impact on Children and Adolescents of Divorce or Separation of Parents factsheet, and others relating to mental health and growing up, are available on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website: www.rcpsych.ac.uk.
Follow the mental health information route to factsheets. The one on divorce and separation is sheet 15. l Teachers Support Network: www.teacherline.org.uk

David Henderson 23/05/2003

Family stress spills into the classroom
TEACHERS and other agencies must come to terms with the stresses on young people in their families and communities if they are to restore discipline in the classroom, according to a leading researcher and youth advocate.
The problem is particularly acute among teenage boys and young people themselves must be part of the solution.
As the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association published a survey of nearly 2,500 members highlighting growing problems in lesson after lesson, Adrienne Katz, chief executive of Young Voice, said that the findings came as little surprise against a background of family breakdown.
Ms Katz, who heads north next month to contribute to a conference in Glasgow on working with boys, said problems in class stemmed from problems in the home, on the street and among gangs. Concerns about health, drugs and violence often made boys depressed and teachers were simply in the firing line. "Some children have terrible experiences before school and you have got people angry before their first lesson," she told The TES Scotland.
SSTA delegates repeatedly slated pupil indiscipline amid accusations that many more young people are contemptuous of education and teachers. Some 87 per cent say indiscipline has increased in the past two years and blame parent and pupil attitudes.
Ms Katz said that society was far more polarised with parents far less able to parent. "But why should teachers end up carrying the can? School is only part of it and it cannot do it on its own. It is about a community approach because the problems come from there."
Researchers had found increasing levels of stress and depression among young people as parents split and conflicts, sometimes violent, emerged at home. Money was often a worry.
"Boys who are disruptive are quite worried about school work and put on a tough front in front of their mates. They say they are made to look stupid and to shore up their image they have to fool around," Ms Katz said.
Teenagers were themselves part of the solution in making schools safer places. Their constant plea was to be treated decently. Ms Katz sympathised with hard-pressed teachers who wanted problem pupils out the class and maybe out of school but said that young people had to be worked with.
SSTA conference, page 4 Survey, page 5 Bullying, page 7 Leader, page 22

David Henderson 20/09/2002

Finding a morality for today
David Henderson finds concern growing over erosion in family values, at the Catholic primary heads' conference in Dunblane.
A young girl's matter-of-fact comment that "her daddy was my daddy last year" characterises the backdrop to the Catholic Education Commission's revised guidelines on relationships and moral education that are now being dispatched to denominational schools.
They were released last week to Roman Catholic primary headteachers at their annual conference in Dunblane amidst continuing concerns about family breakdown, increasing youth sexual experimentation and struggling relationships. Both the Church and the Scottish Executive have sanctioned the curricular guidelines that cover primary to upper secondary.
Josie Mackay, headteacher of St John Bosco Primary in Erskine, who introduced the document that has taken over two years to finalise, said:
"Children are growing up in a different world to the one most of us grew up in and are facing much greater temptations. Some of our parents are also very young and need guidance." But Ian Murray, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, queried how the guidelines would impact on the different type of families and on children who have "no experience of the parish".
Mrs Mackay replied: "There is no ideal family: children draw their own family. We say people marry when they love each other and when you marry you make a promise to love, honour and stay with that person for the rest of your lives.
"Then we have to say sometimes this doesn't always work and perhaps you're in a family where that marriage has broken. It doesn't mean that at the time the promise was made, it wasn't made truthfully. We don't want to devalue anyone's family but we do want to give them the Church ideal which is that children should be born within marriage. We are teaching that sexual intercourse is for committed adults."
Mrs Mackay said the guidelines would emphasise that bringing up children was not easy and placed stresses on parents. She accepted it was common for parents to swap partners, leading to the young girl's remark about changing fathers. The Church had to teach what was right, yet not devalue the unit the child lived in.
"That's why teachers need to be skilled and need the support of parishes," she said.
The conference heard all staff involved in teaching about relationships and moral education should go through specialist in-service training on the guidelines to understand the "clear and concise Church teaching on moral issues".
Father Joe Chambers, who chaired the Church's working group, admitted:
"This was possibly the most difficult task we have ever undertaken in the Catholic Education Commission."
The commission points out that the guidelines were being redrafted before the last row about sex education advice in schools, prompted by the Section 2A wrangle that led to recent legislative changes. Parents must now be consulted.

Biddy Passmore 20/09/2002

Fatherless face bleak futures
The Government should promote marriage and two-parent families because fatherless homes are disastrous for children, the right-leaning think-tank Civitas said this week.
Lone mothers are poorer, more depressed and more unhealthy, says its survey of research into the effects of family breakdown.
"Non-residential fathers have higher death rates, drink more, have more unsafe sex and risk losing contact with their children."
But it is the children who suffer most from these "experiments in living," it says.
Children in fatherless families are more likely to suffer from deprivation and ill-health, unpopularity and exclusion at school. They are also most likely to experience physical and sexual abuse, and to run away from home. They are prone to drinking, smoking and taking drugs, are more likely to become young offenders and to engage in early and unprotected sex.
David Green, director of Civitas, said it was irrational of Tony Blair to insist that family structure was not the business of policy-makers.
"Experiments in living: the fatherless family," by Rebecca O'Neill, is available from Civitas (tel 020 7401 5470) or at www.civitas.org.uk


Eating disorders
Dieting gone mad. This popular notion of an eating disorder hides the fact that starving to skeletal proportions, or vomiting, or succumbing to laxative abuse after a binge is the outward sign of inner emotional turmoil. The number of people with eating disorders seems to be rising. But that perception is yet to be backed up by figures - no one, it seems, is collecting them. Researchers agree, though, that these illnesses are occurring at a younger age. Teachers and doctors seem to believe that the number of children with abnormal eating patterns is rising, unsurprising in a society that values thinness and is obsessed with weight and body shape. But an eating disorder amounts to much more than young girls aiming for a Posh Spice figure. Exam pressure, bullying and family breakdown can tip young people into civil war with themselves, with food as the stooge. Your role as a teacher can be crucial either by adding to the misery through ignorance and tactless remarks, or in providing much-needed support.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorder describes difficulties people suffer in their attitudes towards food, eating, weight and body shape. It is not a helpful term as these difficulties have their roots in problems of emotional communication and distorted views of the self, rather than eating per se. As an umbrella term it includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. Clinicians do not consider compulsive eating, selective eating - Marmite sandwiches and ice-cream for every meal, for instance - and food phobias as eating disorders, although they can cause acute anxiety and long-term difficulties.
What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?
Distinguishing between the two can be difficult as anorectics go through bulimic phases, and vice versa. Basically, anorectics are successful starvers; bulimics failed starvers. Both think about food and calories all the time, but anorectics rarely eat fat or carbohydrates and will try to skip meals. They suffer extreme weight loss; periods may stop in girls, they develop a growth of downy hair on the body, have difficulty sleeping, and often feel dizzy. They feel fat even when underweight; may exercise excessively; may get hooked on ritual behaviours (such as cutting up food into tiny pieces, or constantly washing their hands); lie about eating meals and insist on cooking cakes and meals for the family.
Bulimics binge, then attempt to maintain a normal weight by vomiting, obsessive exercising or laxative abuse. They experience ravenous hunger and eat to cure a terrible feeling of emptiness, then feel severe guilt and shame, which leads to vomiting in an attempt to relieve those feelings. While bulimics can suffer from heart disease and ruptured stomachs, which in rare cases can lead to death, anorexia is a life-threatening disorder with a higher mortality rate than leukaemia and the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions - at around 13 to 20 per cent a year, according to the Eating Disorders Association (EDA).
What does it look like and who does it affect?
Anorectics tend to be fastidiously clean and tidy, high-achieving and perfectionist about their studies, the teacher's dream student who puts in the overtime on homework. The illness was once perceived as the province of middle and upper-class, highly intelligent children. Now specialists recognise that it strikes the conscientious, fastidious and eager-to-please across the social spectrum. Anorectics become increasingly withdrawn, and avoid social gatherings likely to involve food. They stop smiling. They also tend to withdraw from team sports and take up more solitary pursuits such as jogging. They can be bright-eyed and hyperactive. They lose weight when already very thin and tend to compensate by wearing baggy clothes.
Bulimics are difficult to spot, but tell-tale signs include disappearing for long periods after a meal; swollen glands and hamster-cheeks (because the glands around their face and throat become enlarged); tooth decay (stomach acids rot the enamel); dry or poor skin; dehydration; unkempt appearance; violent mood swings and self-harm; frequent shopping trips or shoplifting if their money has run out.
The historical perspective Some authors suggest anorexia has existed for centuries under other names, for example, "fasting saints" or circus performers professing to "live on air". Physician and minister John Reynolds wrote about a disorder resembling anorexia in 1669, as did philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1688. An accurate description by Richard Morton appeared in his 1694 Treatise on Consumption. Anorexia nervosa was first formally described as a medical condition in 1873 by Charles Lasegue (as "l'anorexie hysterique"), and in 1874 by William Gull. Bulimia nervosa was not recognised as a clinical condition until Gerald Russell's paper in 1979, though it probably has a much longer history.
Is it really on the increase?
Nobody knows. Relevant studies are difficult, time-consuming and expensive so have not been done. Around one person in 60 may suffer from an eating disorder, a similar level to diabetes. In 1992, the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimated that about 60,000 people might be receiving treatment for anorexia or bulimia at any one time, although the EDA believes the current number to be nearer 90,000. The prevalence of anorexia among young adult women has been estimated at between 1 and 2 per cent; bulimia at 1 to 3 per cent. Specialists also believe anorexia is occurring at an ever younger age, even in primary school. Dr Andrew Hill, a psychologist at Leeds University who has written extensively on body dissatisfaction and dieting in children, says issues of body shape and weight are "alive and kicking" among children as young as seven or eight.
What about the boys?
Males account for one person in 10 with an eating disorder. Of these, about 20 per cent identify as gay. Among adolescents, the overall figure rises to 25 per cent. Some boys tend to focus their body image on muscularity rather than weight, so their eating disorder is often expressed in over-exercising (biggorexia) combined with insufficient food intake to fuel this exercise. Others starve and exercise to lose weight, rather than gain muscle, because they are afraid of manhood.
Dr John Morgan, an eating disorders specialist at St George's medical school in London, who has focused on boys, says that because fat is "clearly a feminist issue, men have been written out of the equation". GPs are slow to spot anorexia in boys, often misdiagnosing their weight loss as depression, and it's relatively difficult for boys to access treatment.
This is extremely complex and controversial. There is no single cause, but the fact that the peak age of onset for anorexia and bulimia is in the teenage years strongly supports the notion that the disorder is due to difficulties in negotiating the developmental hurdles of adolescence. There may be genetic traits that, with early environmental influences, lead to the development of a vulnerable personality. For example, according to Dr Jill Welbourne, a retired eating disorders specialist and patron of the EDA, anorectics are invariably the daughters of "grade A worriers". Sociocultural factors are also considered influential, given that eating disorders are much commoner in societies where material goods - including food - are more readily available and where thinness, especially in females, is valued highly.
According to Dr Morgan, the average female fashion model has a "body/fat ratio inconsistent with a regular hormonal cycle". Young women often, therefore, aspire to thinness at puberty, when their bodies naturally lay down fat to support fertility.
But neither the media nor genetics can be blamed alone. Not all children with anxious parents, nor all who wish to be thinner, develop eating disorders. There have to be "trigger" factors as well, such as stress caused by puberty, moving school or exams, or more traumatic events such as parental divorce or emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Bullying by peers is a notorious trigger, as is insensitivity by teachers about body shape, ability or character either in remarks or actions (such as making an overweight child wear skimpy clothing during PE). There may also be unconscious rewards in having the illness, such as receiving attention within a busy family or bringing parents who were drifting apart back together again. Such factors can make sufferers fearful of recovery.
How can teachers help?
By being good listeners. You may be approached first by peers worried about a friend. Take this kind of approach seriously; early intervention greatly enhances chances of recovery. By showing your concern you cannot make the condition worse, and by initiating practical steps to help, you have a chance of making things better. Do not focus the concern on food. The pupil is likely to be frightened off and clam up. Ask if there is something worrying them rather than why they're not eating. Try to maintain their trust but make sure the pupil is aware that there are limits to confidentiality. If the pupil denies there is a problem, try to keep the door open for further talks. Tackle the low self-esteem, not the eating pattern. Show children that you value their particular gifts. Research shows that the support of family and friends and schools is crucial; that unconditional love is a major contributing factor to recovery. Consult other staff to see if they have picked up signs of a disorder. In particular, try to pick up any bullying issues. Do not act in isolation. Encourage pupils to see the school nurse or a counsellor, or to contact the EDA.
Cleaners and dinner staff are a good source of information. They will have spotted if somebody is avoiding food or is leaving food or sick bags around the school. Realise that failing to gain weight can be a sign that a child is suffering. Children need to gain weight to grow and often a rounded, pudgier physique is a necessary precursor to growth spurts. Be aware that many of you will also be dieting and may not have resolved your own attitudes towards food. Analyse your own prejudices about shape and weight and be aware that raising eating disorders as a PSE issue can glamorise the condition in the minds of vulnerable children and lead to copycat behaviour. It might be better to deal with topics that develop self-esteem, rather than the end results of not having it.
Realise that there is no one effective approach. Each situation is unique but the illness can last a long time with many setbacks - the mean duration of anorexia is five years - so consistent and continuing support is vital.
What you shouldn't say
If a child tells you, "I'm fat", never dismiss it or contradict it - the pupil is likely to feel chastised and close off lines of communication. Never praise a child for losing weight or comment on his or her body shape. Do not make personal comments that undermine self-esteem. Never say anything such as, "Come on! Eat up". Sarcasm, according to Dr Welbourne, should be a criminal offence. Never say, "It's just a phase." It's not a phase, it's an illness.
How to support parents
If you are seriously concerned about a child's health, parents must be informed, though they do not need to know everything. Discuss with colleagues who should make the initial contact. Parents have an unspoken contract with the school and have a right to know; if the child had broken his or her leg, you wouldn't hesitate. You can help families by encouraging pupils to tell their parents about their problems. A child may want to hang on to a disorder and so retain control by playing adults off against each other. If parents refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem, allow some time, then try again. An eating disorder cannot be left to chart its own course.
There is no one effective treatment. What works for one child can be a nightmare for another. The first contact for further help must be the GP, who will refer on for specialist intervention. A range of therapies - family, art therapy, drama therapy, counselling, psychotherapy - can be brought into play. A child may have to be admitted to hospital if the condition becomes life-threatening and may have to be fed through a naso-gastric tube. In cases of non-cooperation, a court order may have to be obtained. This is not considered force-feeding; there is still considerable debate about forcing food into a child's mouth.
Dr David Wood, a consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry who runs the Ellernmede Centre for eating disorders in north London, says any such traumatic intervention is seen as further damaging self-esteem and can reinforce a child's determination to lose weight. To be effective, therapy must address self-esteem, so Dr Wood believes the sensitivity of the therapist and the nature of the child's relationship with that therapist is the key to success.

Caption competition
Strange Hill
Quote - unquote

Talking to


ICT in Practice awards


Junk food vending machines have no place in schools: discuss

Win Music Toolkit software and a Kidz Mouse

Ruth Brown 08/12/2000

Eat, drink and be merry - or else
'Tis the season of goodwill - and rampant materialism, drunkenness, indigestion, family breakdown, depression and suicide. As the jingling of sleigh bells gives way to the sound of domestic ding-dongs, Ruth Brown offers some seasonal survival tips
The tyranny of Christmas is upon us. Reminders of our seasonal obligations are everywhere. It's not just the high street shops, with their self-serving homilies ("Christmas is a time for giving") and ceaseless panpipe offerings of "O Little Town of Bethlehem". And it's more than the demands of the Nativity play.
Fake snow and tinsel, reminders of this long-awaited date on the retail calendar, have been with us for weeks already. Now it's time for that small but vocal band of well-intentioned celebrity columnists, society commentators and welfare agencies to issue the yearly litany of advice about the correct way to celebrate. We're offered recipes for perfect mince pies and ideas for homemade presents - and there are plenty of tellings-off for the merchants who parade expensive toys in front of those who can't afford them.
Brace yourselves - it's going to be a rough ride. Even if you do manage to escape the Queen's message ("Christmas is a time for families"), chances are that along with the "just-what-I've-always-wanted" gloves from Auntie Margaret and the "lovely" two-sizes-too-small jumper from Gran, your unwanted presents will include tension, family arguments, gastric upsets, hangovers and impending financial ruin.
In a 1998 street poll of 1,000 people conducted by the mental health charity Mind, Christmas was cited as one of the most common causes of stress (along with that year's World Cup). Ingrid Collins, consultant psychologist at the London Medical Centre, a Harley Street clinic, says much of the stress is caused by unreasonable expectations that everything must be perfect, and misplaced attempts to live up to the rosy-cheeked, happy-family image. "Christmas has to be traditional, everyone has to love their presents; it is an impossible goal," she says. "People measure themselves against this and find themselves falling short."
And if that's not enough to drive you crackers, the heaviest burden on us all is the spirit of enforced jollity and merry-making - the grim determination, against all the odds, to enjoy ourselves. Party fatigue soon sets in. The pressure of shopping, organising the tree/decorations/relatives, combined with overeating and drinking, makes the Christmas spirit melt away faster than a snowman in a sauna.
The answer is to be realistic and pace yourself, says Mark McPherson of Turning Point, the organisation for people with drug and alcohol problems. "People often go out for lunch, and before they know it it's 2am. Don't pretend to yourself, 'I'll have two glasses of wine and then go home', when you know that's not going to happen. Instead, plan ahead, admit to yourself that you're probably going to be there all night and drink soft drinks in between alcoholic ones. Maybe even try to drink halves rather than pints." If you don't manage this, there's always the all-important hangover cure - plenty of orange juice to put back the vitamin C that alcohol diminishes.
Christmas can bea time of nostalgia, as adults remember the days when it used to be fun. And we may be right. Professor Stephen Palmer, director of the Centre for Stress Management in London, says pressure and responsibilities have increased over the years. People now spend much more time than they used to at work, and often have too little time to prepare for Christmas. To avoid slipping into boring routines, he urges a less traditional approach to how and when we conduct our festivities. "Don't always do what you've done before," he says. "Don't feel obliged to do everything on Christmas Day. It's an artificial date - and, if you're Christian, the Bible is flexible. Why not see your family the weekend before or after Christmas? And don't just sit watching TV and getting drunk; plan to do something, such as going for a walk."
Professor Palmer also warns against leaving your shopping and preparations until the last minute. If you're caught up with Nativity plays and extra activities until the school term ends - December 22 for some this year - it's best not to flop on the couch on the first day of your holiday because there's a good chance you'll come down with the flu as a result of your immune system slacking off. "Try to get out and do the Christmas shopping the weekend before school breaks up. Keep up the pressure until you get everything done," he says.
A dose of realism can help in other ways. A spokeswoman for Mind says lowering our aspirations for Christmas is the first step towards avoiding disappointment."Things don't necessarily live up to our amazing expectations. Just think of it as a little bit of time off - a time to relax. Ease up on yourself and others."
If you happen to be going through a rough patch, take extra care. "For anyone going through a difficult time - such as work or relationship problems - the stress will be much worse at this time of year," says the Mind spokeswoman.
The number of calls to the Samaritans helpline routinely jumps by 10 per cent over Christmas and, surprisingly, shoots up another seven or eight percentage points once the holiday is over. "Adrenalin keeps people going - then suddenly it all gets too much," says a spokesperson for the Samaritans.
TeacherLine, the telephone helpline which launched three months before last Christmas, reported more calls than usual in the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve - more than half of them work-related, including two from suicidal teachers. This year, with the service's higher profile, counsellors are bracing themselves for another yuletide rush.
To top it all, Christmas comes at a dark, cold and damp time of year, which can make it all the more gloomy. If it's all getting on top of you, try this to cheer yourself up. Take a bottle of the finest champagne you can afford and put on your party frock (or a paper hat with a bit of tinsel will do). Draw a large figure 8 on your lawn (or living room floor), take your champagne and recite the following couplets in between hefty slugs, while hopping on one foot around the figure 8 and trying not to fall over:
"Diddly-diddly-dee, I am the spirit of the Christmas tree. Twinkly-twinkly-twee, the angel on top looks like me."

Melanie Phillips 19/11/1999

Sexual freedom can wreck girls' lives;Another Voice;Opinion;News & Opinion
REDUCING the rate of teenage pregnancy is a top political priority for the Government. Schools are in the firing line over the content of their sex education lessons. Boys are in the firing line for being feckless serial fathers.
The key, though, is surely the behaviour of girls, always the pivotal partners in sexual relationships. Clearly, some teenagers are ignorant of the facts of life; and accidents do happen even when they use contraception. Nevertheless, illegitimacy rates were far lower at the turn of the century, when both sex education and contraception were much more scarce and unreliable.
It is clear from areas with very high rates of teenage pregnancy that there are two particularly significant factors: a change in the behaviour of girls, and the influence on both boys and girls of catastrophic levels of family breakdown among their own parents. Teenage pregnancy is umbilically linked to a culture which promotes sexual freedom, indifference to marriage and the disposability of fathers.
In researching the background for my book, I talked to teachers, health visitors and vicars on Merseyside. They painted a grim picture of social breakdown which feeds on itself with every new generation. Lone mothers, they said, often give their children few boundaries of behaviour. The children are furious with the mother because the father isn't there; the mother is resentful at the children for being a burden on her. Because the mother has herself been so badly parented, she in turn is emotionally little more than a child. So she won't bother to collect the children from school, or will leave them alone while she goes to the pub. Such children come to view parenthood more as a biological fact than a role. They themselves are extremely immature. "These teenagers may think they are in love; two weeks later they feel completely differently," said one headteacher I spoke to.
The crucial factor, say the teachers, is that girls in these areas become sexually available very early. Girls of 11 are taunted by other girls for being virgins. "The main factor is the changing nature of girls and their relationships," said the head. "They are much more willing to have sex." Another teacher said: "They have the attitude towards sex that previously only the boys had; they want the sex rather than the relationship. They interpret equality as doing exactly the same as the boys. They think it means initiating, not just the sex, but also the smoking and the drugs." The boys, however, including those who have sex with them, are contemptuous of sexually available girls, calling them "slags" or "slappers". "They also treat their own mothers with contempt for having a different boyfriend every month," said a teacher.
Such a girl tends to think of her opportunities in terms of having a baby. But whereas once she saw herself as a mother within marriage, now she knows she will be housed and receive benefit as a single mother, so if the boy who fathered her baby doesn't measure up, she knows she can manage without him.
According to one health visitor, the boys want to be around their babies - but they also want to come and go and see other girls. The young mothers, not surprisingly, resent this.
Many girls become very preoccupied with their babies while the boys, who are profoundly needy because of their own disastrous family backgrounds, feel pushed out. "A lot of the women here feel they are better off without a man," said the health visitor. "After the boy has gone the friction stops. A lot of these boys go back to their mothers."
Boys from areas with shatteringly high unemployment, with no prospects for the future, suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem.
Doing badly at school, and with no job to aim for, they may feel that the only way they can notch up any achievements at all is to father a number of children. Why should these lads be expected to stick around when the girls reject them and say they want to go it alone? For a while the baby fulfils their needs; most disastrously, the young mothers think the baby will be someone to love them.
The saddest thing, say teachers, is to see baby buggies aimlessly pushed around the local shopping precinct by young girls who the previous year were sitting in their classrooms. They are the teenage victims of the devastating message that girls can match boys in opportunistic sex and that mothers can go it alone.
The Sex-Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male, by Melanie Phillips; Social Market Foundation, £12.99.

Reva Klein 12/02/1999
In the front line of detection
With many pupils suffering from anxiety disorder, teachers need to be able to recognise the signs, reports Reva Klein
Recognising when a child is suffering from mental illness is difficult, but psychiatrists believe that teachers could be in the front line of detection and support.
The most common childhood mental illness is anxiety disorder, which affects about 12 per cent of all children. This can range from separation anxiety in young children to phobias, panic attacks and sleep problems in older children and adolescents.
These forms of anxiety, which can be mild or severe enough to be disabling, can be triggered by external events, such as divorce in the family, or they may be unrelated to anything obvious. Depression, which affects 5 per cent of teenagers, is a common denominator of several mental illnesses that children may experience, and it can also occur on its own.
But at a recent conference in Bristol organised by the Wellcome Trust, Dr Rebecca Park, of Cambridge University, documented how easily depression was overlooked. Classic symptoms such as social withdrawal, irritability and poor concentration are so often put down to general adolescent malaise.
In a Cambridge study of 365 12 to 16-year-old girls, 28 showed signs of clinical depression that had gone undetected for some time; 13 others had been recently depressed, also without receiving help.
Around 40 per cent of adolescents with depression suffer from anxiety, behaviour disorder and obsessive/compulsive disorder. Depression is also often a symptom of schizophrenia, another notoriously difficult condition to recognise, which affects one in 100 adults but which is unlikely to surface before the age of 15.
The way symptoms of depression present themselves is dictated by the age of the sufferer. While younger children aged 11 and 12 are less verbal and are often overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, depression in 13 and 14-year-olds is more obvious and accompanied by cognitive difficulties, impaired performance and indecisiveness.
When they reach 15 and 16, depression can be characterised by agitation and suicidal thoughts.
"There's a lot of unrecognised child depression in the community," said Dr Park. While social factors are partially responsible, particularly situations like family breakdown, abuse and bereavement, research shows that these triggers alone don't cause a child to be depressed. Children whose parents have mental-health problems or those with reactive temperaments, for instance, are more at risk.
Despite the confusing picture, said Dr Michael Owen, of Fulbourn Hospital, near Cambridge, teachers need to be alert to the signs of mental illness as part of their pastoral role. "While they can't refer directly to psychiatric services, they can alert the appropriate services within education."
* The Mental Health Foundation provides information to the general public on all aspects of mental health as well as funding research and promoting the development of appropriate services. Tel: 0171 535 7400.
* Young Minds works to increase public awareness of the mental health needs of children, young people and their families and promotes mental health services for them. Tel: 0171 336 8445.

Rise in child mental health problems;In brief
ONE in five children suffers from some form of mental health problem, according to new research. An 18-month inquiry by the Mental Health Foundation also found that one in ten youngsters needs professional help for problems ranging from mild anxiety to clinical depression and self-mutilation.
The MHF said that abuse, family breakdown and poverty had contributed to an increase in the number of children found to be suffering. "The nation's children, the country's most important resource, are failing to thrive emotionally," said director June McKerrow.
Yesterday ministers announced an extra £84 million to improve services for children and adolescents suffering from mental problems.
Leader, page 16

Biddy Passmore 26/06/1998
Divorce set to hit one in four
TEACHERS, GPs and family lawyers need training to help parents who are separating, according to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.
Some separating parents need help from specialist services, but many turn to a doctor, teacher or lawyer.
The report confirms that children whose parents separate are nearly twice as likely to suffer long-term disadvantages, such as underperformance at school, poverty and depression. Children who undergo multiple family break-ups are particularly at risk.
The scale of the problem of family breakdown in England and Wales is shown in another report, published on Monday by the Institute of Economic Affairs, in which John Haskey of the Office for National Statistics says one child in four will experience the divorce of parents before reaching 16 if present divorce rates continue.
The authors of the Rowntree report - a review of more than 200 British research studies - stress that problems affect only a minority of children whose parents separate. In most cases the short-term distress, shown through bed-wetting and bad behaviour, fades.
They say parents should tell their children what is happening, keep them out of disputes and enable them to keep contact with both parents, says the report. The quality rather than the quantity of time with the non-resident parent is important.
The report, by Bryan Rodgers, of the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and Jan Pryor, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, also dispels myths about the effects of divorce.
There is no consistent evidence that boys are more affected by divorce than girls (they may just show distress in different ways).
Calling for policy-makers to recognise the growing diversity of family structures, Jan Pryor said this week: "Support for parents and children may be just as important at the time of re-partnering as it is following separation. What is needed is a focus on parenting rather than on marital status."
Patricia Morgan, family policy expert at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "Marital breakdown, putative fathers and unwed births have occurred whatever sort of family is regarded as the norm in a society. The only difference is that today's new family forms are yesterday's immoralities."
Rather than accepting the current trend away from marriage as inevitable, politicians should devise policies to reverse it, she said and added:
"Men's disengagement from families is of immense and fundamental significance for public order and economic productivity. This is something which is only just beginning to be acknowledged, as we blithely head for a situation in which 54 per cent of men aged 30 to 34 will be on their own by 2016."
Divorce and Separation: the Outcomes for Children, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, costs £11.95 plus £1.50 p & p from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ . The Fragmenting Family: Does it Matter? costs £8 (including p & p) from IEA, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1 P 3LB.

David Henderson 01/05/1998
Heads may exclude to raise results

Controversial attainment targets could create "`a new underclass'' of pupils excluded from school, Professor Pamela Munn warned a Scottish Office conference this week.
Professor Munn, the country's leading researcher on discipline and exclusions, said headteachers should not exclude more pupils in a bid to meet new Government targets for exam passes. For the good of an inclusive society, Scotland should not follow the English path of rising exclusions.
Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, chose the meeting in Edinburgh to launch the Government's guidance to heads on exclusions. It calls for an end to informal exclusions and fairer recording of pupils sent home.
But Professor Munn feared heads could be tempted: "There may be a risk of schools excluding pupils who make it difficult for them to reach targets. Raising attainment should not be at the expense of the most economically and socially disadvantaged."
Sometimes exclusion turned in the last hope some children had. School was a constant when many excluded pupils were coping with family breakdown, bereavement, abuse and unemployment.
In Scotland 5,000 children were excluded in eight months. "That seems to me quite a lot of children,'' Professor Munn said.
There was enormous variation between schools. Some excluded up to 10 per cent of their roll and one sent home 110 children. Others have no exclusions. Serious offences such as violence and use of drugs accounted for only a small number of cases.
"Informal exclusions are widespread, regardless of whether it is permitted by the authority or not,'' she said. Boys were four times as likely to be excluded. Their persistent misbehaviour, the "drip, drip, drip effect'', leads to exclusion.
Professor Munn admitted there was "no magic answer'', but underpinning it all was the school's ideology and beliefs.
Schools which wanted to teach only those pupils who wanted to learn were likely to have high exclusion rates. Those who took a more social welfare approach had lower rates. The views of the head and senior staff were crucial.
The Scottish Office guidance recommends all exclusions, however short, should be recorded. It warns that suspension or sending home could be against the law if regulations are not followed.
Mr Dewar told the conference: "It cannot be fair that in one authority a child can be 'informally' sent home with no record of it being kept, while somewhere else this is not allowed."

Nicholas Tate 19/04/1996
Rebuilding a sense of community

Developing his arguments on how history can promote social cohesion, SCAA chief Nicholas Tate urges teachers to focus more on local history. Someone once said of a history teacher colleague of mine that, if stranded for a couple of hours in a strange town, "it would never enter his head to pass the time by visiting the local museum, popping into the parish church or looking at historical buildings". Since then I have always used this as a litmus test to distinguish the bogus teacher of history from the genuine article.
Many teachers had their fascination with the past kindled by an encounter with local history. I am lucky to be one of them. I first became excited by history at the age of 12 when I moved to an area of the Pennines rich in historical and archaeological remains. Surrounded by a host of Mesolithic settlements, Brigantian hillforts, Roman roads, Anglican crosses, Tudor manor houses, weavers' cottages, Methodist chapels and Victorian mills, I picked up more from the local environment about how we have got to where we are today, and about the diversity and ephemerality of the world, than from anything else I learned at that stage of my schooling.
When I recently recounted these experiences at a conference organised by the British Association for Local History in London, it was obvious that there were many other teachers of history who had become interested in the subject by this route. Regrettably in some cases, these experiences had come long after childhood rather than during it.
Local history has always had a special place within the history national curriculum. This has been preserved in three ways in the revised national curriculum that schools have been teaching since last September: by the retention of a specific local history study unit in key stage 2; by a requirement across all three key stages that pupils learn about the past through buildings and sites; and in key stage 3 that pupils make links between history at a variety of levels, including that of the locality.
In addition, the other study units in the revised Order can and should be taught using local examples: anniversaries of local events in key stage 1; local place names to illustrate Anglo-Saxon settlement in key stage 2; local castles, churches and cathedrals to illustrate the medieval realms study unit in key stage 3. Now that the Order requires fewer topics to be taught and is much less prescriptive, schools have more flexibility to make best use of the distinctive characteristics of their own area.
Local history is important for two main reasons: its ability to convey a sense of the reality of the past by means of the concrete, immediate and familiar; and its contribution to the development of a sense of belonging and identity with a local area. The first needs no further illustration. The second has received less attention.
We have heard relatively little about purposes of education that relate to the way in which it can contribute to social cohesiveness, to maintaining, transmitting, and if necessary rebuilding a sense of community. In some ways this is surprising given that the Education Reform Act, which is the basis of so much of our work in the curriculum, makes very clear that a key purpose of the curriculum is to promote the "moral, spiritual and cultural development of society" as a whole. This nudge to thinking of education as an integral part of social policy has been largely ignored.
Now there are many communities and many identities. The local community, and a sense of identity with this community, is only one of these. But it is a very important one. Most people spend most of their time in and around the place where they live. Many people, despite increased mobility, still do not move very far from where they were brought up or, if they do, form close attachments to the other parts of the country where they have settled.
These attachments have the potential to play an even more important part in people's lives at a time when other identities are in a state of flux because of developments such as increased social mobility, high rates of family breakdown, the disappearance of the traditional "job for life", and the threat to the nation state from economic globalisation.
A sense of local identity consists of three main elements: a sense of the distinctiveness of a particular place, a sense of identification with that place, and a sense of belonging to a community with shared purposes, which at the very least must include living harmoniously with each other. Whatever one's locality, and whether or not there are clearly discernible boundaries around the local community - for example, a village, a town, a city, a well-established county, even a street - this kind of identity is open to everyone.
Assuming such an identity is a "good thing", how can the curriculum, and especially local history, help to maintain it?
First, by providing pupils with the knowledge and understanding they need to make sense of their local area. This involves learning about the distinctive physical features of the local area, its landscape, its architecture, its social, economic, demographic and employment characteristics, its links with the arts, its religious life, its distinctive customs and annual rhythms, and of course its history.
Work on local history needs to go hand in hand with work in geography, where the study of the local area is required at each of key stages 1 to 3, and in art, in which pupils are introduced to their local artistic heritage. In addition, there are many opportunities to develop pupils' knowledge of the locality, and sense of belonging to it, in other subjects even when local contexts are not prescribed: through literary accounts of the local landscape, work on local newspapers, or the study of local religious traditions. It is useful to have an overview of these activities, though the last thing one wants to suggest is yet another whole-school policy document.
Second, by creating opportunities for pupils to go out into the locality, look at buildings and sites, including historic houses and sites, at first hand, talk to local old people, take part in community service and work experience, find out about local industry, and get a feel for local traditions and customs.
These are by no means the only experiences that children need - equally important is the need to be taken out of their immediate background and locality - but they are a necessary counterweight to the kaleidoscope of images of lifestyles, customs and places from all over the world with which they are daily bombarded. They are also experiences that some children may only encounter if their school provides them.
Third, by fostering pupils' sense of responsibility towards others in the community and awareness that they can influence its development through direct action and participation in local politics. The sense of belonging stimulated by the study of the locality can contribute to the feeling that these are matters for "us" and not just for "them". There are close links here between local history and education for citizenship, which needs to include active citizenship within the locality.
The future of local communities and the nature of local identity are closely tied up with the role of local government and the balance of power between central government and the regions and localities.These are matters which are currently of considerable political interest. If the upshot is a renewed emphasis on local government and the local community, there will be an added reason to ensure we get it right in terms of the local element in the school curriculum.
British Association for Local History: for more details contact David Short, Ashwell Education Services, Merchant Taylors' Centre, Ashwell, Baldock, Hertfordshire SG7 5LY
Dr Nicholas Tate is chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority

Nicholas Pyke 16/12/1994
Call to act on family violence

Government-led initiatives are needed if British society is to cut down the high number of violent and abusive relationships, according to a top adviser on child mental health.
Zarrina Kurtz, a consultant in public medicine who is leading a Department of Health review of child mental services, said too much violence, physical and psychological, is accepted as an everyday part of life.
She told a conference organised last week by the child mental health group Young Minds on the link between violent behaviour and psychological damage: "We must question the premise which says that we need only prevent the kind of violence that requires medical or criminal responses."
The London conference, sponsored by The TES, was the culmination of a year-long campaign by Young Minds to illustrate the damaging effects of abuse and violence on children's mental health. The past 12 months have seen symposia covering bullying, violence in the media, child sexual abuse, and the violence inflicted by war and refugee status.
Dr Kurtz said that public strategies should concentrate on reducing the level of risk for the majority of people rather than on just a few individuals at the greatest risk. This, she said, would have the greatest general effect and would have a significant impact in breaking cycles of violence.
"We should aim to shift the whole statistical distribution so that that nearly everyone enjoys a slightly lower risk level than before," said Dr Kurtz.
One of the best approaches, she said, would be to boost the status of parenthood.
Also, she suggested that professionals should pay attention to the victims of abuse as well as the perpetrators. Until now children suffering violent or abusive behaviour have received little more than attempts to "patch up" the physical damage.
The conference also heard from Dr Sebastian Kraemer, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic, that a policy of statutory paternity leave would be a major step forward in breaking the cycle of poor parenting and subsequent family breakdown. Too often, he said, parents are left to fend for themselves in difficult circumstances.
An earlier paper from Dr Danya Glaser, consultant child and family psychiatrist at the Lewisham and Guy's Mental Health Trust, warned against ignoring non-physical violence - deliberate hurt or humiliation - that can prove just as psychologically damaging.
"Violence is affecting so many children," said Young Minds director Peter Wilson. "There are things we can and should do about it."

The contents on these pages are provided as information only. No responsibility or liability is accepted by or on behalf of FLINT for any errors, omissions, or misleading statements on these pages, or any site to which these pages connect, whether provided by FLINT or by any organisation, company or individual. No mention of any organisation, company or individual, whether on these pages or on other sites to which these pages are linked, shall imply any approval or warranty as to the standing and capability of any such organisations, companies or individuals on the part of FLINT. All rights reserved.