Monday, 25 April 2022

Is the school system traumatising young people?

A few weeks ago, a series of tweets about how the current school system is traumatising young people stopped me in my tracks and I nodded vigorously as I read them all. They were written by Dr Chris Bagley who started in education as a secondary school teacher and later trained as an Educational Psychologist. He has experience of working in prison with youth offenders, in a mental health unit and in a pupil referral unit (PRU). 

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript
Dr Chris is not writing specifically about children with Pathological Demand Avoidance but I know his comments would be so relevant for many families of PDAers, particularly those who are struggling with school. According to the Being Misunderstood survey undertaken by the PDA Society in 2018, 70% of the 969 children and young people with PDA who were covered by the survey were not able to tolerate their school environment or were home educated.

I thought these tweets would make a great addition to the 'Not Fine In School' series that I published on my blog last year (I hope to have new posts in that series to share with you from September). My own family's experiences of education will be included in more detail in my book which is due to be published later this year.


Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript
His thoughts definitely align with mine and I'm sure with many of those who are part of the Not Fine In School community. We are not blaming schools or teachers, we are striving to highlight the need for systemic change.


Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Education comes in many forms and school is not the only way to learn. In fact for many children, schools these days are not a great way to learn at all. Another point worth considering is that there is so much amazing technology at our disposal and yet it doesn't seem to have been fully embraced.

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript
There seems to be far too much parent-blaming still, and a lack of understanding of what it is that makes schools unsuitable environments for many of our children. School shouldn't be treated as a one-size-fits-all option.

Screenshot of tweet from @hiddendepths. Please see bottom of post for full transcript

I don't know why it is that 'professionals' are often respected, and listened to, more than those of us who are 'just' parents, but I've found that's generally what happens. So I believe that sharing these kinds of thoughts from professionals is well worth doing if it means more people will listen. Anything written online by me or by Dr Bagley can be shared in the hope of reaching more people and achieving a greater understanding. Dr Bagley can be found on the Twitter handle @hiddendepths and he also has a website with more articles and information here: www.chrisbagley.co.uk


Please see below for a full script of his comments:

Over the past few years, working as an Ed Psych in a secure unit (prison), mental health unit and PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) has been both rewarding, challenging and disturbing. A major theme (more prevalent now than I've experienced in all my time working in education) is the way the school system traumatises many young people.

There are no easy answers or targets for blame. This post is not an attack on teachers or schools, it’s an account of what I’m constantly seeing as a practitioner. I used to be a teacher, work closely with teachers week in week out and have huge respect for the work they (and we) do.

However, what’s clear is how core facets of the education system are harmful. In part- inflexible curricula, rigid behaviour policies, lack of space to build teacher-student relationships, incentives for young people to compete at high stakes, setting/streaming thus labelling some as ‘less than’.

Every week I meet young people and families who’ve been labelled as ‘anxious’, ‘hard to reach’, ‘challenging’, ‘avoidant’ ‘school refusers’ etc when their young person struggles to attend. Families are often (not always) blamed when the problems are far more complex, entrenched and systemic.

Thousands of families are being cajoled, coerced and in some cases, criminalised, for failing to force their child into school when doing so may cause significant damage to their mental health. This narrative is being pushed by senior politicians and Ofsted as ‘protecting’ a young person’s right to education.

What this actually protects is the state’s right to enforce its preferred version of education onto young people and families regardless of the consequences. It demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of human psychology and a drive to promote ideology above young people’s health.

Many young people I’ve met have self-harmed or attempted suicide as a consequence of trauma caused by being forced to attend school. This sounds shocking (it is) but it’s an inescapable reality. In a disturbing number of cases, parents are inappropriately blamed/shamed.

We can either put our fingers in our ears, as many are choosing to do, or accept that schooling in its current form is not an adequate conceptualisation of education for all. It can be hugely problematic for many YP and actively damaging to some.

What we need to do, in my view, is proceed with two big ears and one small mouth. We need to listen to families when they say their child is not coping & work with them. We can also acknowledge, as a society, that schooling is one step in a possibly infinite evolution of what education is.

Schooling isn’t the full stop at the end of the sentence. It isn’t the end of history, unless we believe that thousands of children who are excluded from school, fail academically or suffer mental health crises are unavoidable collateral damage.


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