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It’s been a while. I’ve got all kinds of excuses as to why I haven’t blogged but in reality I’ve just not had a strong enough opinion about something to rouse me out of my apathy to put pen to paper…..until now! I woke up this morning enraged and outraged by something which has drawn me to write, I’ve written about it before; I can’t seem to let it go or stop thinking about it so I thought I’d write about it in the hope it helps.

A friends child is in year 7 (that’s the first year in secondary school for all those who are used to the old way of making year groups) at an academy school that prides itself on its strict rules and regimented regimes. Anyway, late on Sunday evening this child suddenly remembered that their school shoes had a hole in them. Not a small hole, but a hole the size of a 10 pence piece. It was 8pm, the shops are closed, even if they had been open my friend doesn’t get paid until Tuesday next week and so my friend did what any sensible parent would do; she wrote a letter to the school explaining the situation and sent her child in wearing black trainers.

Back in my days at school that would have been the end of the issue. The school would have accepted the situation; maybe offered some financial help to get some shoes before the mothers pay day and everyone would have been happy. The child would be educated, the mother would have felt like a decent, hard working parent and the teachers would be satisfied that a child was learning and it would all be forgotten about as soon as the mother got paid and bought some new shoes. But not today. Oh no, not today.

Monday morning the child went into school in full school uniform, but wearing the black trainers. The child was picked out at the school gate by the teacher guarding it. The child was told to go home and change into school shoes, when the child then produced the note from the mother and tried to explain, embarrassed in front of school friends, she was sent to the school principles office, where she once again handed over the note and the headteacher made her sit while he called her mother.

The mother, also embarrassed explained that she couldn’t purchase school shoes until the following week and was told by the headteacher that her child would, in that case be put in isolation and have work set by her teachers to do there! There was no offer of help or understanding from the school.. They just put her daughter into isolation. For over a week. For something that was no fault of her own. Not for misbehaving, or not working, but as a punishment for something totally out of her control. Because her mother couldn’t afford to immediately go out and buy school shoes this child was to be segregated from her friends and her classmates for 6 days! She was going to have work set for her; miss out on the learning experience and the benefit of having lessons, because she was wearing the wrong pair of shoes.

I’m fucking outraged. As many of you will know I work with prisons. In a prison it is recognised that segregation is one of the worst forms of punishment. The impact that segregation can have on a person’s mental health is so great that there are prison service rules that mean that a person put into segregation has to have a full physical and mental health check undertaken by a clinician to agree that they are fit and mentally well enough to be there. It is seen as so damaging that this has to be undertaken within 24 hours of them being put there. There have been countless studies into the effects of it in prisons, in conclusion they nearly all say the same thing: solitary confinement has a negative effect on an individual’s wellbeing.

And yet we are socially and physically doing this to school children because they are wearing the wrong school uniform; through no fault of their own.

Let that just sink in a minute… We are risking a child’s mental wellbeing because their parents can’t afford a pair of shoes. We are risking them falling behind in class as they have missed the benefit of lessons, because a school can’t put education over a pair of shoes.

Countless studies have shown that the connections that teachers make with their students in classes make a difference to the child and an impact not only on their learning but their overall wellbeing and resilience. And. We. Are. Risking. This. Over. A. Pair. Of. Shoes.

I’ll just take a moment to let that sink in; Wearing the right shoes or having the right bag, or coat or haircut is more important than the education, and future mental health and the wellbeing of our children.

It is that simple. I get having rules. I get having a uniform. I understand that. But how can we say that a child can only have one day off of school after the death of a grandparent on one hand because the education they will be missing is too important:

Schools minister Nick Gibb warned in 2015 “taking just one week off during term time can impact a child’s GCSE grades…. Any absence, even if it’s illness actually, can damage the long-term chances of a child achieving good GCSE’s if they take just a week off a year.”

and then stop them going to class for 6 days over a godamned pair of shoes. And somehow, this is seen as a positive thing. Can someone explain to me how exactly? Schools mete out this isolation punishment as the first level of a behavioural policy, as if it is nothing. And yet it is damaging out children for things that are no fault of their own.

And we wonder why we have a disenchanted generation of children growing up.

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