October 20, 2021
Deciding What’s Best
By Dr Kathy Weston
‘Tis the season of mellow fruitfulness and… prospective school tours. Over the last year, they have typically been held online, but many schools are reactivating tours in person. My youngest was roped into showing interested parents around his school last weekend. “What questions did parents ask you?”, I enquired. “Whether I liked it here”, he replied. “Did the children ask you questions?”, I added. “Yes! They asked about the food and football”. So, what questions should parents be asking? And, how can children judge whether or not a school is really for them?
Attending a school tour certainly makes for a very nice day out. It is fun to see around the school, view the facilities, see the classrooms in action and talk to pupils and staff, but what can this experience really tell you about the place? Our children will spend the most formative years of their life in this important environment, which comes with its own rules, relationships, culture and expectations.
So what do you want for your child? I think we can all agree that, first and foremost, every loving parent wants their child to be happy, and to be in an environment where they are able to fulfil their academic, musical and sporting potential, whilst being enabled to pursue their interests, passions and hobbies. We want our children to be appreciated and liked by staff and to eventually find their friendship ‘tribe’. How can we possibly discover a match between this environment and what is best for our child?
How should we judge a school? Some argue that finding a school for your child is a little like buying a house, you ‘just know’ when it is right. However, I think that there are some criteria that are worthy of serious consideration.
School communities have been through a major resilience test over the course of the last eighteen months. Remote learning and the mental health of children and young people were suddenly at the forefront of school priorities. If I was choosing a school for my child right now, I would like to know how the school community fared during this time. Did children feel that they were well supported? Was the remote learning provision effective? I know many schools that went above and beyond for their pupils and families. I think you can have confidence in a school that delivered care and quality during its most challenging period.
If you do visit a school, stop and chat to current parents and pupils about what it was like to be part of that school community during lockdown. Ask about the quality of pastoral care and talk to staff about how it was for them. Ask what worked well and what the #covidkeeps might be for the school community moving forward. Mental health and wellbeing will always be a priority ahead of teaching and learning in the best of schools, but the quality of teaching should be next on your priority list. Talk to staff about why they love to teach, what brought them into teaching and whether or not the school invests in their continuous professional development.
The pupil-staff relationship is critical to children’s academic success and children’s emotional wellbeing. Where you can, observe how everyone gets along, talk to current and past pupils about the approachability of staff and seek out examples of how struggling students are supported.
No one knows a school as well as those who have just left. Seek out alumni for a hand-on-heart account of the school culture, which we know from research, accounts for 30-50% of pupils’ mental health outcomes. Each conversation you have is like a jigsaw piece that helps shape an impression of the kind of environment your child may step into.
Children should absolutely be part of this selection process. Take into account their thoughts, feelings and impressions. If you have their ‘buy in’ from the start, they are much more likely to be motivated to make the most of their school experience.
As a parent, you never know what is round the corner and which new fad is waiting to reel our children in. Trying to stay ahead of the game, in this case, Squid Game, is tricky to do.
If you haven’t heard of Squid Game, I salute you. For the rest of us, Squid Game may well be the subject of family chat as we carefully ‘decide what’s best’ and weigh up whether or not to let our children watch it. For those of us with young children, the decision should be an easy one. It is rated 15, so why would we allow primary-age children to see it? It attracted that rating due to its “violence, sexual content, language, and references to suicide and self-harm”. Even as an adult, I found the violence so gratuitous and shocking that, at times, it had me pulling up the duvet around my face and clasping my hands around my mouth in horror.
The show’s title promises innocuous and playful content, yet viewers are subject to brutal violence; infantilised, gamified and wrapped up in just enough cartoonish colour to attract children. Excerpts of the show, and clips relating to it can also be found on YouTube, TikTok and mini games based on the series are found on Roblox, a favoured game amongst younger children, so they may also have viewed excerpts from it inadvertently.
The trouble with programmes like Squid Game or Seven Deadly Sins, another popular choice on Netflix for tweens (although rated 15+), is that they look and feel cartoonish, yet they contain messaging that requires critical digestion. In Seven Deadly Sins, the male protagonist routinely grabs the female character’s breasts, squeezing them whenever he feels like it. One can imagine that some young viewers might find this act comedic, when it is presented so innocuously.
Some argue that there can be value in using programmes like Squid Game as springboards for intellectual discussion about poverty, morality, inequality and the perils of gambling. But the likelihood is that these chats don’t happen and our children are left to unpick what they view, with peers or through play.
Every parent has to make their own mind up about what’s best for their children, but remember that whatever we allow or disallow, sends a message about the degree to which we believe they should be discerning about their digital diet.
It has been a rather interesting half term hasn’t it? I don’t think any household has avoided illness, winter bugs and the constant merry-go-round of LFTs!
The half term holiday gives us all the chance of a circuit break from routine and the chance to inject some fun into family life. With the onset of any school holiday, keep your expectations realistic and dream up one or two little enjoyment and relaxation goals that are achievable and guaranteed to put a smile on children’s faces!
Are you a Tooled Up member?
It’s crucial to have open and frequent conversations with your child about their digital diet. Luckily for parents in Tooled Up schools, we have come up with 50 questions designed to kickstart these important chats. Dipping into them from time to time is a great investment in their digital resilience. If you are heading to the cinema over half term, don’t forget to take a look at our fantastic and fun James Bond resources, written by Dr Ian Kinane, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Roehampton. Check out his list of five things you need to know before you see No Time to Die and test your knowledge with his challenging James Bond Quiz.
Our Mental Health Education Week, exclusively for our Tooled Up community, is drawing closer. Get ready for a week of evening webinars starting on November 15th, all of which are open for registration now! Find out about anger management strategies with Dr Anna Colton, self-harm with national expert, Professor Ellen Townsend, the importance of sleep for mental health with Joanna Kippax of Wye Sleep, OCD and anxiety with psychiatrist, Dr Anna Conway Morris and the role of clinical psychologists in supporting young people’s mental health with Dr Tamsyn Noble. Tickets are on a first come, first served basis. Make sure you don’t miss out by booking your place now!