August 30, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
Back in 2008, the school I taught at got inspected by Ofsted. One of the most shocking statistics that came out of this was from the student survey, in which 71% of the pupils said that they felt safer at school than they did at home. Now, we would like to think that this view was testament to the school’s excellent pastoral support, and I believe some of it was. But most of it was an insight into how important schools are in providing a safe environment for young people.
That is why the onset of holidays, particularly summer holidays, brings on so much anxiety for many young people. The lack of boundaries, for them as well as other young people in their areas, makes them feel less safe. Boredom can set in too, which can result in some rather unsavoury activities. Add into that the problem for pupils on free school meals of hunger that can set in when their families are no longer supported in feeding their children by the state and one begins to understand why many of our children are worried about long holidays and glad when school starts again.
A mistake it often made that young people today don’t want to be disciplined. Poppycock. From the start of my time as a teacher I have done a ‘classroom contract’ with my pupils, in which they get to give me 5 expectations they have of me, as well as 5 expectations I should have of them, and I get to give them 5 expectations I have of them too. You would have thought many of the pupils, particularly the more, let us say ‘boisterous’ ones, would want me to be lackadaisical with rules and give no homework and just do fun lessons. But I was shocked from the start to find that the number one item on their list, regardless of gender, age or background, was ‘strict’.
Baffled by this, I asked some experienced colleagues why, and they said that it was because a strict teacher provides a safe environment with boundaries in which a child isn’t going to get stuff thrown at them, or ‘cussed’ at, and also that they will be more likely to learn something during their time in class. Believe it or not, children may seem to enjoy a chaotic classroom environment, but when they look back on it, they resent it, because they know their time was wasted, but also because the lack of boundaries made them feel uncared for and less safe.
I tell this story because I want to point out that whilst there are many of us to toddle off on foreign holidays of a summer, or who get to take part in wondrous activities throughout, there are many who don’t get to do that. They are many for whom Summer is one long stretch of boredom and danger. This is why many governments have toyed with reducing the length of the summer holiday. I still think it was no surprise that the 2011 London riots involved so many young people when they started two weeks into the summer holiday, when boredom was added on top of whatever anger there was.
There does need to be more thought put into this. How do we provide a safer environment for our children during the long summer holiday? Should we be investing in more council provided activity clubs? Should we be investing in more people to go into the places where young people with little to do during those six weeks and provide activities? There is no simple answer, but let’s stop pretending that these long summer holidays are good for everyone, because for some they are not.