As trainee teachers I think we all aspire to make a positive contribution to children’s lives. We want children to learn from us, make progress and be inspired by our outstanding teaching! But, perhaps most importantly, we want children in our classrooms to be happy and safe.
The lecture explored what it means for children to be happy and safe in the world today. Starting with the Every Child Matters (2003) document, although not used today its practices and strategies have not changed. The list of the five outcomes from this document was a springboard for action that needed to be taken to ensure the safeguarding and well-being of children today. These are:
- Be healthy
- Stay safe
- Enjoy and achieve
- Make a positive contribution
- Achieve economic well-being.
The government’s aim was to achieve these outcomes by setting up and using support systems, extended school programmes, children’s trusts and funding and multi-agency teams. We are all too aware of high profile cases where it seemed that appropriate action was not taken when it should have been. In the recent case of Daniel Pelka; agencies, the police, hospitals and schools came under fire for not hearing Daniel’s voice and for missing opportunities for intervention. Whilst we would want to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, is it realistic to think that it won’t? In my opinion, in high profile cases like this, there will always be a need to place the blame within the appropriate authorities for not acting quickly enough. However, by highlighting these cases there is a stronger emphasis on agencies working together on case studies so that they are not waiting for something to go wrong before responding to it.
Another issue that was highlighted within the lecture was: what makes children happy? Ofsted had conducted a survey entitled Measuring Happiness (2012). From this they asked children what makes them happy, highlighting these responses:
- Being safe
- Being well looked after
- Being treated with respect and fairness
- Being able to make own decisions
However, the other side of the coin was less appealing. The Good Childhood Report, 2012 concluded that 10% (or half a million children) are struggling with their lives. With 10% of these children having mental health issues and the number of children being ‘dissatisfied’ is on the increase. This was a sobering thought for all of us in the lecture and led onto the next challenge: what can we do?
As teachers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe environment for children and maintain good and positive relationships with them. We should encourage children to express and discuss how they are feeling and we need to be role models in promoting this in the classroom. Perhaps the most important message is to listen to and look out for changes in behaviour and think about what could be causing this. This could, arguably, be the hardest part of our job as teachers. It is hard to hear stories in the news about children being neglected or abused, but it is even harder hearing stories about a child in your classroom. In the last school I worked in, I heard stories about children’s living conditions that I, perhaps naively, would have expected in third world countries, but not here. It made me realise the importance of resilience in the classroom, not to ignore it, but to embrace it as part of the make-up of the children’s lives. Children are incredibly resilient and although I may not have agreed with a lot of what was happening in their home lives, the fact that they felt that they could come to school and talk about it was a true testament to how the school made these children feel and encouraged them to talk and listen to others in need.
Writing this blog post I have noticed a recurrent theme, and that is the need for children to be heard. In the Daniel Pelka case it was felt that his voice was not heard. The reports and surveys that have been conducted are all about listening to children and are not about us making assumptions about their lives. The role of teachers within the classroom is to encourage children’s voices, no matter who they are or where they have come from. This will encourage good and positive relationships within the classroom and will encourage children to become effective communicators. These voices are worth listening to.