Despair that found its voice too late

The desperate words of Laura Rhodes, 13, who died of an overdose
three weeks ago, should become a permanent part of the training of
all social care professionals and teachers since they so eloquently
sum up the extent of her despair and the blindness of those around

Laura wrote: “I got fatter and fatter and sadder and
sadder… Everyone got meaner and meaner…I sat down [in
class] and started to draw flowers, not pretty ones, dead ones,
hanging lifeless, worthless, a piece of shit you throw out into the
rubbish, that’s how I felt.”

Laura’s parents, Michael and Yvonne Rhodes, released their
daughter’s letter so that her tormentors could “understand
how demoralised, belittled and helpless a bullied child feels”.

Michael Rhodes said: “Laura could never have known that her
letter could be used to help another child because she wrote it to
exorcise her ghosts following a bad experience. She would never
have imagined that anyone other than her family would be interested
– we hope they are.”

A survey for the Department for Education and Skills reports
that 87 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds say bullying is a problem in
their schools. That presents a huge challenge for head teachers
since new guidelines make schools legally responsible for
protecting pupils from being bullied. Most schools already have a
detailed anti-bullying policy, yet the cases of pupils persecuted
by their peers continues to rise – as does the number of

One advantage, in future, of professionals working together
– such as in children’s centres and the extended school
setting – may be the emergence of anti-bullying techniques
that are more consistently effective, not least because they ought
to be married to a strong commitment to children’s

It is a paradox that bullies who intimidate and terrorise are
themselves often “belittled” and “helpless” outside school.
Tackling the problem by putting head teachers in the dock will be
difficult and only undermine a school community further.

How long, for instance, will the bullying have to last? What
will be classed as bullying? How will a failure to protect be
defined? Far better to focus on promoting the familiar but often
ignored diktat, listen to the child. Repeatedly, pupils are advised
to tell an adult if they are being bullied. Often, when they do,
they either go unheard or, as in Laura’s case, the listening
happens too late.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.