Nicola Barry

Category Archives: Children

School Exclusion

School exclusion is on the rise, but surely there has to be a better solution?

Apologies for the lengthy silence, readers: I am back and this time it’s personal…

Some local authorities are now working to reduce the practice of excluding pupils who misbehave. Not before time!

How did it ever come about that children who behave badly are excluded from school? What a ridiculous and drastic remedy – even for kids carrying weapons. image of bullying re school exclusion articleWhy are children always on the receiving end of society’s most draconian measures? The number of exclusions in UK schools has been on the rise in recent years. Now whose fault can that be? If it’s the parents’ fault then, no doubt, the politicians’ remedy is either to fine them or send them to prison. We’ve had that one before. If it’s the children’s fault, then they should be chucked out of the very school responsible for educating them.

When I was at school, if you behaved badly you were told off. If your behaviour became really bad, you were made to stand outside the door. That was enough. A large number of exclusions involved disobedience. Others are triggered by the verbal abuse of staff. Some pupils are excluded several times in the course of a year. According to my dictionary, the word ‘teacher’ means guide or adviser. There is a statutory duty to give a child an education. We all have to go to school, don’t we? Kids go to school to learn and I don’t just mean the three Rs. They need to learn how to be civilised, how to function as members of the human race. If a child is too disruptive to teach, modern teachers chuck the troublemakers, not just out of the classroom for the duration of the lesson but right out of the school, ruining their exam and career chances, however slim these might be. Let’s face it, low achieving and the spiral of failure can hardly be helped by complete exclusion. Many of these children who have been barred from school will end up being excluded from society as well – the failures of the future. It should be obvious to school staff that education is the principal weapon against social exclusion.

What would the world be like if we all decided to deal with out problems in this way? Wouldn’t most parents of difficult children give their eye teeth to be able to resolve their conflicts by chucking their children out on the street? So many families go through nightmares with children who are difficult and frequently violent. The situation is so bad that a Parentline equivalent to the one run by Childline had to be set up to help support them. We all know that bullying in schools is a huge problem. And carrying weapons in school is an extremely unpleasant sign of the times. But the harsh truth is that we all have to put up with aggressive, bullying people at work. Rudeness and abuse are not exclusive to the teaching profession, not by a long chalk. We are all at risk of the violent and misguided in our midst.

Doctors and nurses are routinely assaulted by drunks and drug addicts. Traffic wardens, the police, even the fire brigade are often attacked by irate members of the public. It would be very nice if we could all exclude our problems, shut them out and be done with it. But we can’t. We don’t. The number of exclusions in our schools is a national disgrace and teachers should learn to deal with young people in all their guises – or join another profession. A school is not supposed to be a refuge from society’s flotsam and jetsam. It’s not supposed to be a place where only goodie-goodies and swots are allowed to succeed. The highest number of exclusions occurs in areas where there are high levels of deprivation, such as Glasgow. In those places, teachers need to lead the way, not slam the door in the faces of those whose need for guidance is paramount.

 

Article focus: school exclusion

Fox Pest

Wise up people! Stop feeding the urban fox pest

Fox

THESE days, no matter how hard you look for fairies at the bottom of your garden, you are far more likely to find foxes – aggressive ones at that. Years ago, the fox was a wily-but-shy creature, preferring to live in wide open spaces, doing its level best to keep away from human beings.

In 2013, we are hearing more and more about fox aggression; particularly the recent attack on the five-week old Denny Dolan, from Bromley, South East London. A fox chewed off the baby’s finger and tried to drag him out of his house.

It is the stuff of nightmares, yet, still, people refuse to take it seriously.

The mauling of tiny Denny and other babies, found covered in blood in their cots, has fuelled an unprecedented uproar about the risks posed by the urban fox. Perhaps now it will be taken seriously. There is talk of a cull in towns where they pose a particular problem.

Without a doubt, the main problem is that some of us have become too friendly with this particular predator. Forgetting how aggressive they can be, some daft humans have insisted on leaving food for them in their back gardens – even when children are in the vicinity. Usually Mr Fox restricts his activities to stealing things from the garden – whether it be food or clothes – sometimes shoes and kids’ toys disappear as well.

But the fox will never be tamed. Idiotic people who keep feeding them need to accept this fact. The problem with the fox is that he or she has been growing used to hospitality from some misguided humans, to the point where they actually expect their meals to be served on a silver platter. Mistake. For every person who seeks to eliminate the fox, there are a dozen others who feed them and give them names.

Fox cubs may look cute, but they are wild animals and should be treated as such. As they grow, they can become boisterous and destructive. They also tend to smell really bad; so much so, that our dafter bretheren who are mad enough to keep foxes as pets have their anal glands removed to try to reduce the smell. They also castrate or spay the fox to modify its behaviour. Some seriously deranged people even have their claws removed to ward off any nasty attacks. Such mutilations are far from natural.

Foxes should not be kept as pets – and I include feeding in that directive. The trouble is the fox has all but lost its fear of human beings and knows it is on to a good thing. The heart of suburbia is bliss for the fox – douce households in the smartest parts of our towns and cities – are precisely what they crave. The availability of leftover cold meat and delicious treats now outweigh the risks of danger. Unfortunately, babies have become just another treat.

Reactions to the urban fox vary widely. Objectors have tried to poison them, trap them, bait them, even shoot them. Yet, despite their efforts, this formerly reclusive creature has become a great deal more confident and blasé in his dealings with humans. The fox has suffered in the same way as the seagull, with the arrival of wheelie bins. These have cut off their old source of food: namely the black bin bag. Remember those? Easy for wildlife to access, the black bags used to be left in shreds on the pavements of Britain, surrounded by burping gulls and foxes, bloated and content. Thanks to the wheelie bin, gulls and foxes are now, often, left starving.

Instead of trying to deter them, urge them back to the wild where they belong, some people leave out titbits. In fact, the most humane thing to do when you find a wild animal in your garden is to go back to bed and leave it alone. They disappear as quietly as they arrive. Experts repeatedly tell us that foxes will only bite if distressed and cornered and, thankfully, such attacks are incredibly rare.

Another thing which scares me about foxes is when my Westie, Coll, chases them at night. He loves running after squirrels and foxes but never catches them. But, I sometimes wonder who would win the argument if a fight started. What if an overgrown, chubby fox – we have them in our back garden – were to find itself cornered by Coll? What then would happen to my precious pet?

Before the last war, the fox was never an urban problem. Then they started moving into the cities because there were so many opportunities to exploit human beings. Unfortunately, we have become such a disposable society. We throw out more and more – cordon bleu for the humble fox. Food and waste are a major factor when it comes to the prevalence of the fox and its presence is related to population size. The bigger the city, the cheekier its foxes. Of course, if we deny Mr Fox his food source, he will inevitably revert to type and hunt in the wild, the predator of old.

Until then, we need to be on our guard. The tragedy of Denny Dolan is proof of that. To allow children to be scarred for life, mentally and physically, is far too high a price to pay for our own shortcomings. Remember, waste not – want not.

 Article focus: fox pest

Private Education

Private education has become an embarrassment

Apparently, it has become embarrassing to admit you were educated at a private school. All the politicians who were educated at Eton, for example, do their best to keep it quiet. The head of Rodean School, Frances King, has just resigned, supposedly saddened by the lack of support from politicians for private education. The general feeling is that boarding schools are elitist. They exist for the wealthy and privileged.

St Trinians

Private education: naughty or nice?  Photo credit: Père Ubu

That makes me laugh. You should have seen the convent I attended.

The school contained the usual mix of children you’d find in any day school – misfits, clever, thick, well adjusted, happy, unhappy, horrible and nice. For children, especially those who, like me, had problems at home, the convent was a ‘safe’ place. The nuns cared deeply about us and the feeling was mutual. However, the so-called private education was beyond awful. Academic levels were so low that, if any girl was accepted by Oxford or Cambridge Universities, the whole school was given a day off. In the entire eight years I was there, we only ever had one day off.

Of course, I know that much private education takes place in high-achieving establishments. Ours, however, was not. In fact, even in the sixth form, educational standards were practically non-existent. My three brothers were also sent away to school, but to Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, a school still known for the top politicians and men of influence it produces. In the Sixties, the education of girls came second to that of boys.

Isolationist

Boarding school isn’t just school, it’s a complete way of life, with its own isolationist culture. Because we lived together, away from our parents, we had a strong sense of being on our own, of growing up very quickly, of fight or flight. It’s the stodgy puddings I remember best and the not-being-allowed-to-wash-your-hair-for-two-weeks, as well as the endless bad marks – never mind the punishment of standing in a hot cupboard for hours, beside the girls’ drying underwear, learning Cicero’s letters off by heart. I was always being caught for doing the wrong thing, like the time I was sent, one night, by my peers to raid the nuns’ fridge. When I opened the fridge door I accidentally sent flying a bowl of those little silver balls you ice cakes with. Most of them fell into a large vat of curry the nuns were having for their lunch the following day. One sister broke a tooth, another had a filling come loose. I wasn’t allowed out for a month.

People outside the convent walls were all immoral, according to the nuns. We were taught that practically everything going on in the world was a sin, and a mortal sin at that. The nearest we girls came to committing a mortal sin was talking about it. Consequently, we talked about it all the time. Outside, the permissive society was in full swing. Permissive society meant permissive policies. While I was at school, for example, the death penalty was abolished, homosexuality between consenting adults became legal and divorce and abortion were made a lot easier.

Man Eaters

Yet, convents have always had an undeserved reputation. Mention to any group of men that you went to a convent and your reputation immediately takes a tumble. The word convent seems to equal sex maniac. The reaction is almost always the same. God knows why. I spent the whole of the Swinging Sixties closeted away in a school where hellfire and eternal damnation awaited any girl who so much as dared to think of the opposite sex. There weren’t any men around anyway. Finding a man in those hallowed corridors was a bit like finding a sausage in a trifle: unheard of. The only time the permissive society did infiltrate our walls was at the annual school dance. For my first, I was trussed up in a ghastly silver lurex dress and looked for all like an oven-ready Christmas turkey. I can still remember the spotty, lanky youth in orange flares who sidled up to ask me to dance. Suffice it to say that, in normal circumstances, you wouldn’t pick up such a specimen on a shovel. However, by the time all his creepy schoolmates had arrived, I’d have given my right arm for him. It was that bad.

At my school, we spent our days on our knees in prayer. In fact, when I left, I had a very irritating and disconcerting habit of genuflecting all the time, especially on trips to the cinema. Ironically, the convent way of life seems so remote to me now that, if I do attend Mass, I find myself looking around for an ice-cream girl during the sermon. A few years ago I returned to find the convent and see who was still there. It was a shock to find the building had been knocked down and the nuns and girls long gone. I felt sad because the nuns had been special people. They instilled in us a lifelong sense of altruism, a feeling for what is right and wrong in society.

I cannot agree with those who believe private schools are all a bastion of privilege. I have always considered them to be a substitute for local authorities taking children into care. The nuns took on the role of parents. Some were good at it, others were not, but they all made an effort. It’s what used to be called a vocation and there are very few of those around now.

 

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Jimmy Savile scandal

Post about Jimmy Savile scandal. Image of BBC Director Ge...

BBC Director General George Entwistle.

Jimmy Savile’s Shame Is Our Shame

Most of us like to remember Sir Jimmy Savile, Britain’s first really famous DJ, as a multi-tasker: a miner, a wrestler, cyclist, dance hall manager, marathon man, member of Mensa, Top of the Pops presenter, arguably this country’s most successful charity fundraiser and, perhaps, most famously the fixer, the man who realised childhood dreams.

The man we do not like to remember is Sir Jimmy, the pervert.

Oh, come on, we all had our suspicions.

I interviewed him twice, in recent years. Twice I explained his reputation to the editors in question. Both men were quite clearly bowled over by the man’s so-called charm and willingness to befriend them.

Those two editors were in good company. Savile’s pals were many and powerful. They included the BBC, the Catholic Church, the NHS, the Royal Family and countless charities – most notably the wonderful Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire.

Never mind the shock of the Panorama revelations on Monday night, women are still coming forward to claim the DJ sexually abused them.

Now, suddenly, we are all surprised and horrified that a man we thought of as generous and caring is widely alleged to have abused children, many of them vulnerable and institutionalised.

For God’s sake, how many times do we have to be told that child molesters rarely come across as the monsters they actually are?

The fact that someone lusts after children is monstrous, all right, but, in the main, paedophiles look like ordinary men and women; occasionally extraordinary like Sir Jimmy Savile.

And that is where society has its biggest problem.

We may not like this fact but adults who are sexually attracted to children often present to the world as very nice people, real pillars of the community, churchgoers, priests, sons, lovers, brothers and husbands. Not monsters.

Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, OBE, KCSG, was born in Leeds on October 31, 1926, the youngest of seven.

The family lived in the same house for 60 years then he moved to Roundhay Park, Leeds where he died last year.

He was remarkably fit for his years; completing 216 marathons. He loved to tell people that running had turned him into a sex symbol.

That jokey persona was his most precious weapon. Everyone fell for the loveable rogue on the surface.

His very respectability was what made him so difficult to catch. And, believe me, most paedophiles are not caught.

The BBC top brass, like Director General, George Entwistle, is agonising about how they should have known what Savile was doing; that they should have stopped it. Maybe so but, often sexual abuse takes place in the home and not even the mother knows what is going on.

Most of us want to protect children from abuse. It is therefore about time we learned as a nation to tackle the problem effectively.

Treatment is what paedophiles need. And I mean harsh lessons learned through confrontation with victims, through being forced to see how much children suffer at the hands of perverts.

We also need to learn that paedophiles lie about what they have done. Telling lies is their area of expertise.

Unfortunately, child sexual abuse depends for its continued survival on denial. And child molesters will go to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact they have abused children.

What was clear from the Panorama programme is that many people had suspicions – some even saw Sir Jimmy in action with young girls.

It is unforgivable when an authority with the clout of the BBC fails to take action after children have claimed – as adults now in the documentary – that they were abused.

By failing to act, those producers/colleagues have, effectively, condoned the abuse.

So many of the women interviewed said they wanted to report Savile but knew they would not be believed as children – because they were in institutions, because they came from broken, abusive homes.

Imagine that for a moment.

Imagine the devastation of a child who has plucked up the courage to “tell” and nobody does anything to help them. The child is disbelieved.

Yet statistics show that children rarely lie about sexual abuse.

Child molesters, on the other hand, lie about it all the time.

 

Article focus: Jimmy Savile scandal

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Political correctness in children’s books

Re political correctness in children's books: image of Noddy and Big Ears

Political Correctness Gone Daft

It seems people can do, more or less, what they like with the work of deceased authors.

Just look what happened to Noddy once the PC lobby got hold of him. Prudes are dangerous people. They interpret literature according to their own prejudices.

When, as a child, I saw pictures of Noddy and Big Ears in bed together, I thought they were asleep. I never once thought: ‘Oh look, they’re at it again, old Wooden Leg and the Weird, Red-cheeked, 100-year-old Brownie. What a pair of perverts’.

It takes an adult to think like that.

Noddy, in his beautiful red shoes with their camp blue bows, big jingling hat and tears which plopped endlessly down his little wooden cheeks, was my childhood hero.

Yet, as an adult, I have heard him described as racist – because of the golliwogs, ageist because of his treatment of Big Ears, even a pervert because of his obsession with spanking.

So, the books were changed.

In my day, Noddy would say to Tessie Bear: ‘I’m driving my car to Mr Straw’s farm and I expect he’ll be doing a bit of spanking, so you can’t come.’

OK, it does sound odd now, but the point is it didn’t when I was a child. Children take things at face value.

Tessie Bear, by the way, was a simpering moron of a girl who would not have been able to stomach the sight of her precious Noddy being beaten to a wooden pulp with a slipper.

Twerps also managed to ruin Bill and Ben, the Flower Pot Men by computerising them. The original Teletubbies, Bill and Ben only ever spoke when the gardener went for his lunch. And Little Weeee – eeed watched for him coming back.

What on earth will the TV producers do to George when they portray her as an adult in the Famous Five? No doubt they’ll be terrified of upsetting minority groups.

Smarmy Julian, his brother Dick, irritating sister Ann, cousin George and Timmy the dog, are just some of the creations of Enid Blyton, an author vilified and praised in equal measure, but read by millions of children the world over, nevertheless.

George was a good match for the boys, who, incidentally, were rather wet, weren’t they? Always dressed in neat little shorts and freshly pressed shirts, they did nothing but zoom off on their bikes to solve idiotic mysteries.

George was certainly a feminist, if not a rabid lesbian.

They enjoyed themselves, had an innocence about them. They had a childhood.

I wish they would leave these characters alone. They are a piece of our history and should remain an inviolate childhood memory.

 

Article focus: political correctness in children’s books

Photo: creative commons

 

 

 

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Stranger danger

Stranger danger? Picture of April Jones

April Jones

Stranger danger paranoia – the real risk to childhood

In spite of our intense fear of ‘stranger danger’, most assaults on children are carried out in the home by fathers, brothers, uncles – relatives who daily betray the trust of youngsters they’re supposed to love.

Only a handful of children are abducted by strangers every year in Britain. The figure has never really altered. However, in this paedophile-obsessed century, an adult is always on hand, ready to curb a child’s freedom and, yes, that adult is caring and watchful but desperate to keep their young under their loving, if demented, parental gaze.

We are gradually moving towards an age where there will be no childhood. We are about to abolish it forever, because we reckon it presents too many dangers.

Perspective

During the so-called happiest years, children vanish, children are run over, children die on school trips and a few are abducted. Since 5-year-old April Jones went missing, the ensuing publicity has meant parents’ fears have been multiplied a million times over.

Even though one missing child is too many, the likelihood of it happening is as rare as it always was. Sadly, our response is to keep our children under lock and key, in a prison of our own making. We punish them for being children and wanting adventure.

Statistics reveal how paranoid we have become. In 1970, up to 80 percent of seven year olds in the UK travelled to school in the company of other children, unsupervised, but, by 1990 that figure had dropped to fewer than 10 percent.

Forty years ago we walked to school. Now, no matter how many times researchers tell us that driving children to school is making them fat, we carry on doing it anyway, in the belief that it will keep them safe. Thousands of children are killed or injured on the roads in this country, yet, remember, it is the GOOD parents who drive their kids to school.

Confused? You should be.

Parents try desperately hard to shield their children from the possibility, however remote, of being abducted, molested or run over. Not surprisingly, children are paying a very high price for all this supervision. We now have children reared on mindless videos and pap TV, the tellytubby generation, who, if they leave the house at all, it’s only to go and buy a fizzy drink and hamburgers to accompany a DVD.

There are no bicycle rides to the seaside, no picnics in the woods, no camping in the garden – not without adults present anyway.

The fact is children need risk in their lives in order to grow up. They can never be 100 percent safe. How can they protect themselves from weirdos in chat rooms on the Internet or drug pushers in clubs in big cities if they have never learned how to assess risk and cope with trouble?

Let’s be blunt: the possibility of your child being snatched is about the same as the possibility of you winning the Lottery.

The chances of it happening are one in a million, but then, when you see the hell little April’s family are going through, you begin to wonder whether that finger could one day hideously turn and point at you – and you panic.

Unfortunately, the only person who suffers as a result of your panic is the child you so desperately want to protect.

 Article focus: stranger danger

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CHILDREN FIRST

Campaign to help children of alcoholics

Children 1st logo

Help Children 1st help the children of alcoholics

There are always people ready to protect children from unsuitable adults; from paedophiles, child abuctors and the like. Yet, when it comes to parents who drink to excess there is no one to protect the offspring.

New research shows that Scotland’s love affair with drink has trickled down the generations – to devastating effect. Grandad used to take a bucket. Dad always had a skinful on a Friday night. Now it is the turn of the next generation.

The charity Children 1st has revealed that one in ten Scottish children is being adversely affected by their parents’ drinking. That makes a staggering 93,000 kids.

Parents sit at home, swilling wine out of glasses the size of buckets. They slur their words, they have accidents, they swear, they are irresponsible. Occasionally, they are violent.

Children 1st’s summer campaign: Wish I Wasn’t Here aims to highlight the impact of alcohol-fuelled violence on kids. It features dramatic postcards from children whose holiday memories are fraught.

Children of alcoholics suffer a great deal of hidden harm, such as poverty, ill health, neglect, abuse of various kinds. Newborn babies come into the world with booze coursing through their veins, playing havoc with their tiny bodies.

My mother, who I wrote about in my book Mother’s Ruin, was a briliant, compassionate doctor who fell under alcohol’s powerful spell. Whenever she emerged from our posh Edinburgh house, her bag bulging with empties, our neighbours would look away in disgust, as they did when she returned with something respectable like  a can of soup – on top of six rattling bottles of vodka.

I turned into a child detective, adept at pouring half the contents down the sink, replenishing the bottle with water, praying she wouldn’t notice.

There were bottles everywhere in our house: in the wardrobes, inside boots and shoes, in the cistern. We children never dared ask friends round. She was far too unpredictable. Would she suddenly appear without clothes on? Would she fall? Once she fell downstairs and was blocking the front door when we arrived home from school. We thought she was dead, but she was just drunk.

We lived like that for years.

So many of us know exactly when children are suffering in this way yet choose to turn a blind eye to what is going on, ensuring that thousands of children miss out on their childhoods.

Life with an alcoholic parent is a nightmare from which many don’t recover.

That’s why we should all support Children 1st’s Wish I Wasn’t Here campaign.