New term heralds old anxieties

In a perfect world, all children would be looking forward to the
start of the new school year. The prospect of seeing their friends
and teachers, the excitement of meeting new people and the promise
of stimulating lessons should make going back to school an exciting
and positive event. But for many children, school is not a happy or
a safe environment. For them, bullying, or the fear of bullying,
makes going to school a frightening prospect. Our young My Life
columnist this month explains how her own excitement about changing
schools is mixed with anxiety about being bullied, and our
interview with children who have been excluded from school shows
how bullying – including racist bullying – can trigger a reaction
from the victim with far reaching consequences. Many schools have
now developed sophisticated policies and programmes to prevent and
tackle it.

Among the best of these are initiatives that engage pupils in
changing the school’s culture, and encourage protective
relationships between pupils (see feature, page 10). But while
there are many resources available to combat bullying, we are still
a very long way from eradicating it from schools. And it’s
important to remember that bullying is the reason why many children
and young people avoid going to school.

The start of the new term is also blighted by shame for many
children living in poverty. Those who have had nothing to do during
the long summer break but play in the street or watch TV will not
enjoy a class discussion or homework on “What I did on my
holidays”. Many return knowing that the costs of school clothes,
equipment and trips put an enormous financial strain on their
families, or are simply unaffordable. Children should not be
expected to cope with this painful and damaging manifestation of
social exclusion.

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