Ed Finch, teacher, Larkrise primary school, Oxford
There’s another general election coming and I am sick to my stomach at the thought of how I’ll discuss that in class or in assembly. How can I present, in a balanced and non-judgmental way, the appalling invective that has been normalised these last few weeks? How can I suggest to pupils that adults who posture, threaten, lie and break the law are worthy of our respect?
We are required to teach “British values” – values such as democracy, pride in diversity, respect for the rule of law. How can we present any of these with a straight face?
Our school is diverse in every sense. Children from every part of the globe learn together, and our staff are multicultural too. For many of them, this is a scary time. Will they be permitted to remain in the UK? Even if they are permitted to remain, is this still a country in which they feel welcome and safe?
Conversation in the staff room is strained. We tread carefully, not knowing where people’s worries lie. More than one staff member has told me of cruel words in the street.
Some children are anxious – just yesterday I had to have a calming conversation with a six-year-old child who had misunderstood the judgment of the supreme court to mean that Brexit was going ahead immediately. Like the rest of us, I’m confused, angry and anxious, too, and it took a good deal of my skills gained from decades in the classroom to put on my reassuring face and convince her all would be well.
As a teacher trying to mould young people who feel safe and empowered to be active citizens of the future, the changes to our political life make me feel helpless in a way I have never felt before.
Kevin Patel, deputy headteacher of Harrow high school: ‘There is a need for young people to see that democracy can work, that they are part of the political process.’
Kevin Patel, deputy headteacher, Harrow high school
My school is very diverse and there are lots of students from Europe, particularly eastern Europe. They have come here for a better life and now they feel uncertain about whether they can stay and what fees they will be charged for university if they do. As a result, there is a growing sense among the GCSE and A-level students that they will go back to their native country, instead of attending university here.
Motivation has dropped off among some of these students over the past year and their grades are falling too. They don’t seem to care as much about their schoolwork.
Colleagues from Europe, meanwhile, feel very worried. The nation is divided and it’s hard for us, as teachers, to remain impartial.
We are living in such a time of political turmoil that at the end of the last academic year we decided to start discussing topical issues on a weekly basis. We are careful to show students both sides of a political argument. Then we vote as a school.
I hope that by proactively giving students space and time to debate politics we will make sure things don’t spill out into the playground. Clearly, there is a need for young people to see that democracy can work, that they are part of the political process. I want to make sure that when our students become voters they will feel they can shape their own destiny.
Anthony White, headteacher, Pound Hill junior school, Crawley: ‘Our country’s leaders demand of us to teach tolerance and respect, but they are not demonstrating those values themselves.’
Anthony White, headteacher, Pound Hill junior school, Crawley
Ever since the referendum result, levels of anger about Brexit have slowly been building among parents and, consequently, their children. After the March date for leaving the EU passed, we noticed some people – particularly from white, British families – starting to demonstrate that anger more often inside school.
For example, we’ve had more parents coming into school and shouting at me and my staff when they get frustrated. There have also been times parents have shouted at children in the playground who have upset their own child. There’s been no chance to say: let’s discuss this and find out what happened. There’s just been immediate anger and a conviction that they’re right. We see that in school now with the children as well. They can’t listen to each other. Everything is black and white. There’s no grey. We witness a lot more physical violence from children. There is more aggression and confrontation, and less tolerance.
Sometimes our students see people shouting on the TV about Brexit. They don’t understand it and they feel anxious. It’s difficult for us, as teachers, to unpick what is happening and explain it. We have had some challenging conversations with children who feel worried about losing their European friends.
Our country’s leaders demand of us, in schools, to teach our children tolerance, respect and British values. But they are not demonstrating those values themselves. We live in a much more angry society now and I think parents are taking out their frustrations about the government on public servants like us. They are using us as a punchbag.