As teachers we spend our lives counting down in half terms, I just spent mine taking in the tourist sites of Bangkok with my two and half year old.
I wondered what he will remember of the hair-raising ride in a tuk-tuk, the noisy taxi boat along Bangkok’s klongs, the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood and how much of these memories he will carry forward as happy ones.
School holidays are supposed to be halcyon days filled with great memories, days out and time spent with family and friends. I often found as Head of Year, my busiest time would coincide with the holidays. Here’s some of the signs to look for.
In the run up to holidays, pupils who seem anxious or out of character. D began to hang around after school, it became later and later. He said he was just waiting for friends but could never say exactly who or where they were. D would be pop up in unusual places, expecting to be caught and told off. He enjoyed detentions, he would sit there and chat to whoever if he was able to get away with it. The odd behaviour went on. In the end we made a referral to the EWO who did a home visit, she said that as far she could tell no one lived there. It transpired that D had been living on his own whilst mum ‘had popped out’, she had actually moved in with her boyfriend and left D in the care of Dad who worked away from home. The attention seeking behaviours, were a cry for help, a child’s way of saying look at me, I need to be noticed. The words ‘help’ may never leave their mouths but as professionals we need to be mindful of any character changes that take place. D’s anxiety was obviously heightened as the holidays approached.
An experienced Head of Year can usually pinpoint the pressure points for different families. Finances are often a source for family fissures. School provides stability for children especially those on low income. For some families, the cost of feeding and heating their home during an October or February half term can almost double.
For families entitled to school meals during term time, there is no such support during the holidays. Pressures such as these can contribute to a meltdown which can result in a school, having to make a referral to social care.
I have thankfully only dealt with a few cases of sexual abuse, there are no words to describe the process. All bar one disclosure occurred before or after a major holiday. X was always a fiery character, she could flare up at any moment and usually with peers who she found to be ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’. The issues were usually trivial, X was a smart girl who didn’t pander to any nonsense especially from girls who she perceived to ‘have it all’ or at the very least ‘nothing to whine about’. We spent many an hour discussing the pros and cons of hitting this one or smacking that one; to her credit, X never did and as the years progressed she became calmer but all her melt downs occurred around holiday time. One day, I leveled with her and asked her outright why she hated home so much. The tears flowed, we cried together, I put my arms around her (like they tell you not to do and I always did) and we began the agonising process of a CP (Child Protection) referral.
X’s story always makes me wonder how many more children and young people live in fear of the holidays, how many call school their safe space and dread going home. The charity, Kidscape estimates that 25% of young people are victims of sexual abuse. Disheartening and frightening to think that a quarter of your cohort could be suffering in silence and you only know about 1%.
So whilst students are swapping stories about Mallorca, and sharing their Instagram snaps, look for the ones whose story is yet to be told.