If you have followed me on Instagram over the last year you will know that we have been really struggling with Miss J (8) and school. I wrote all about it in this post if you want to go back to read it. It started a year ago, just after the baby was born and she started refusing to go into school in the mornings. This carried on, on and off for the next few months. I would get calls from the school to say that she had settled down eventually.
As time went on, this behaviour continued. School stopped phoning - I guess there was no point going over the same thing but I was left wondering how her day was going, whether she was happy. We tried to talk to her about what was wrong, we grasped for answers, maybe it was the disruption of having a new baby, maybe it was the disruption of having two new teachers in close succession.
Let me just make it clear that Miss J was absolutely fine at home, no bad behaviour violence. She went to her extra curricular clubs as normal. She only exhibited this behaviour in school.
Eventually we discovered that she was being bullied by a girl in her class. A girl who was actually her best friend. She hadn't wanted to get her friend into trouble and she was scared of the repercussions if her 'friend' found out she had told on her.
By this point Miss J's behaviour going into school was awful. She was having to be physically restrained from running away when she went into school in the mornings. She would be kicking and punching teachers refusing to go in, running out of lessons, even running out of the school. I don't need to say how out of character this all was for her. I took her in one morning and she was physically restrained by the deputy head, I could hear him shouting at her as I waited outside and as I left the school she was kicking and hitting the window for me to come back. It was heartbreaking. We were totally shocked and had no idea what to do. We took her to the doctors on the advice of the school and she very clearly told the doctor about the bullying. The doctor said that she wasn't concerned about her mental health or an anxiety disorder because it seemed like a clear case of her reacting to the bullying situation that she was in, and as soon as it was resolved by the school she imagined Miss J would be back to her normal self.
We went in after this appointment and spoke with the school about what was said. We were very clear, we were assured that they would help.
The bullying continued. It got to the point where I refused to send Miss J to school if it carried on. They sat Miss J and the other girl down together and the other child admitted to being mean to her. I was so relieved. I thought this would be the end of it all, now that everyone was aware of what was happening, the school would take steps to stop the actions of the other child. I was wrong.
Still nothing was done, the bullying continued. We signed Miss J up to a wellbeing course where she was taught techniques to deal with anxiety and how to cope with bullies. This helped in a way, but we found that when she was in the moment of panic and fear she couldn't focus enough on what she had learnt for it to help.
We complained again. I asked for the girls to be separated. The school agreed but the class teacher took it upon herself to ignore the instruction.
We complained again. The school put a LSA in the class to keep them apart. Things improved but obviously this couldn't be a permanent solution.
Come September I had a big talk with Miss J. We talked about forgiveness and how we were going to give her bully the chance to start again. We went through what to do if she was experiencing bullying. We had built her self confidence back up over the summer. We hoped that the bullying would stop or that she would at least be more resilient to it.
Unfortunately the bullying didn't stop. The school whilst putting in specialist help to support Miss J and her behaviour did absolutely nothing to address the source of the problem - why she was behaving like this in the first place. I was met with a blank brick wall every time I went into school. We told them every time an incident occurred that Miss J told us about. They told us of many incidents that happened in school. Still there were absolutely no repercussions, consequences or measures taken against the bully and Miss J's mental health deteriorated to an all time low.
The school worked with her to address her worries but instead of focusing on the actual problem they invented new worries they were convinced were the cause of her issues, anything and everything from me being ill (I've not been ill) to being scared about her ballet exams (nonsense!). They even encouraged her to write me a letter saying that she didn't like getting up in the mornings and getting ready for school because I made her look after the boys - I've never been more upset than when I read that letter which couldn't have been more untrue. It became clear that school were continually trying to shift the blame of the issue away from the bullying to anything and everything else that they could think of. They were messing with her mind and her mental health.
I kept Miss J off school while she was struggling and had a cold. After 3 days she returned to school and I was met with what could only be described as hostility from the SENCO. It was very clear that our relationship with the school was at breaking point, we were at an impasse and Miss J's education, health and happiness were suffering. I once again asked for the girls to be separated and the teachers agreed. Only that week the bully still managed to find ways to upset her. Three times that week she had been caught 'stealing' away the friends that Miss J was playing with. I went into school again, but it became apparent that it was fruitless, nothing effective was going to be done. The bully was going to win and as much as I wanted Miss J to be able to stand up to her and fight, she just wasn't able to. She was so beaten down and lacking in self confidence that it was too late, and school were still doing essentially nothing to combat the situation.
We made the difficult but necessary choice to remove her from the school.
I was warned against this move by the teachers at school. They felt that Miss J would react badly to the change, that she had issues with anxiety and she would behave the same in another school. Well, guess what - of course she was fine in the new school - the bully wasn't there! She coped amazingly well with a new start in a new school. She has made lots of new friends, got stuck in doing her work, she is engaged and happy and animated and she is absolutely thriving. I'm sure that is case in point enough.
I am so saddened that it had to get to this point to help her. There is absolutely no way that the victim of abuse should be the one forced out of school. The most shocking thing of all is that she went to a faith school. One that should hold Christian values highly, but instead basic morals were lacking. Miss J comes from a happy, financially secure, united family and home. She is intellectually bright and has no special educational or health needs. She is a textbook perfect pupil and it is simply astounding how a school could fail her so badly to bring her to the broken point that she was at. And of course, the girl who bullied her is walking the corridors of the school, without a care in the world, waiting for her next victim. The school have failed her too.
Incidentally, two other children from the same school have left because they were being bullied and the school did nothing about it. So it isn't an isolated story, it is a systematic failure.
It is horrendous that in 2020 situations like this are acceptable in our schools. Victims of abuse are being pushed out, belittled, not believed, victimised. I'm shouting out about it to highlight the fact that this is not ok. Victims of abuse shouldn't suffer like this, being pushed out of schools because of a failure to address the problem with the bully. If issues like this aren't dealt with at a primary school level what does this mean for these children as they go further through life? What sort of future generation do we want to raise? Not one like this, that's for sure.
For now, I pity the bully and I am angry at the school that failed her. We are of course pursuing a formal complaint but I would like this story told, shared and listened to. Bullying is still happening in our schools and we need to deal with it head on or more innocent children like my daughter will suffer. Please if you have managed to read this far share this post on facebook, on twitter or on your social media of choice. Bullying is not ok and no child should be bullied out of school.
Some anti-bullying resources that might be useful...