Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Excluded primary schoolchildren

Last night on TV, there was a programme about problem children and exclusion in primary schools.

Like all these types of investigative programmes, there was too much information on a serious subject, that had to be fitted into less than 30 minutes. What there was, had to be tightly edited and possibly sensationalised, to catch the viewer's attention. Much of what I saw, asked more questions than it answered.

Number One: The children were in special units. They were being filmed and for the most part their faces were clear for all to see. These children were vulnerable. Why were they allowed to be exposed in such a way to the public gaze?

Children love watching TV and being on TV will be like being famous, to which many youngsters aspire. Children don't just want attention, they need attention. In fact we all do, to be emotionally healthy, as long it's the right type of attention. Could some of the children think that their bad behaviour is being rewarded, with the attention from millions? I'm not sure what they will understand from that.

Number Two: Adults who have, at some time in their lives, behaved in a questionable/embarrassing way (isn't that most of us?), are generally extremely pleased that it was not filmed or recorded in anyway. Although nowadays, being filmed is more prevalent with the ubiquitous mobile camera/phone, internet and CCTV.

For these vulnerable children to be filmed and replayed years later could be mortifying and damaging to their emotional development. I feel it's cruel. So why is it right in this context? It's all there now, in the archives, in all it's glory, to possibly be picked over forever and setting up the child for ridicule and humiliation.
There is a fascinating TV programme called '7Up'. It started in the 1960s with a group of 7 year olds and has followed their progress through life every 7 years since. Most of the participants are willing to be filmed, but not all. Having their childhood behaviour, thoughts and feelings exposed decades later, is not always a happy experience. It's one thing to have memories, but to have unhappy ones replayed on film, could lead to various levels of trauma in an emotionally immature brain.

Number Three: I have two colleagues who are animal behaviourists. One works with dogs and one with horses. They both say that there is not a badly behaved dog or horse they have seen, without it being the owners that needed re-training. I have also noticed that in all the 'naughty children' programmes, that improvement in behaviour only comes from encouraging the parents to change their own behaviour. It's obvious really isn't it?

As I watched these unhappy children, I couldn't help but wonder what reflection of home life I was observing. But the focus was on the naughty child. I expect that there were some family counselling, parenting classes being offered, but there was no mention of them. Just the focus on the child's undesirable behaviour.

Number Four: This concerned me the most. A boy of 10/11 yrs was kept in at breaktime with two female teaching assistants, as a punishment for bad behaviour in class. He appeared to be moving around a small classroom like a disturbed, caged bear. Yet, he still managed to escape. No wonder.

Why couldn't he have been given physical exercise as punishment, or taken through a relaxation procedure? Both activities would have helped him bring down his arousal levels. Having a male member of staff present, may have been helpful too. It was no wonder the boy behaved as he did and got the blame. It could have been an opportunity for him to learn ways of managing his anger, not making it worse. It could still have made watchable TV.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a sea front cafe and watched a family at the next table. The scenario I will describe is not unusual. There was a toddler in a pushchair and a lively little boy of around 4 years old. The family had arrived at the table with fizzy drinks and sweet wrappers on the pushchair hood. The dad and son went inside to order a cooked breakfast. The son ran out with a KitKat and a big lolly off the shelf, saying he wanted them. He was allowed to keep and eat both, while happily climbing all over a sculpture nearby. Breakfast came and he was threatened with 'going home' if he didn't come to the table. He did, but didn't want the food ordered. The half chewed lolly was discarded. He went back to the sculpture and there were more 'going home' threats. He found the sweet wrappers in the hood of the pushchair and threw them on the ground. The parents didn't notice. In all the time they were there, the only conversation that mum had with her son, was of a "don't do that, stop it" nature. Not one positive comment or observational conversation. At no time did she talk with the little girl in the pushchair, who just grunted through her dummy for sweets.

My heart went out to the little boy, who may well end up in trouble at school. Will it be his fault? There may be some people who that say it's not the parent's fault either, as they are doing their best.

Someone has to take responsibility and stop blaming others. It's quite normal for a child to say, "it's not my fault, they made me do it." Unfortunately we live in a world when too many adults, some in the most senior positions, use those words too. Who are children to learn from?