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Rehema talks about how her daughter Inaya was bullied when she moved to an English school Rehema and her daughter, Inaya moved to London from France in 2005 when she was 13 years old. To help her settle in, the school employed a French-speaking volunteer learning assistant. Reassured by the school’s willingness to help her daughter, Rehema thought things were going well until she realised that her daughter was being bullied at school by a group of girls. She said:
“For some reason, a group of girls decided she was not cool to hang around with... To this day, I don’t know why. There might be a lot of reasons for this. Also, I don’t think I paid enough attention to her as I was busy trying to adjust to a new life.
She was trying to get used to her new environment and would be really quiet anyway These girls would say she was pretentious and full of herself. Her shyness was misinterpreted…”
Rehema said it was perhaps a lot of changes for her daughter to deal with: a new language to learn, a new school and having to make new friends. “London may have been very daunting for her as we used to live in a small town where everyone knew everyone”.
“The school thought that she was just not making an effort to settle in. Even the teacher would joke about how she was keeping herself to herself. It got out of hand very quickly. At one point, she was being called a “bounty” (white in the inside, black on the outside).This group of girls initiated a competition about how many jokes they could do with the word bounty in it. No one in her classroom was talking to her really”.
Rehema said that not knowing how school systems work and not being confident enough to talk to the school in English did not help either. When she realised things had gone too far, she contacted the tutor and the head teacher.
“It was a shock to me because even the school would not see what was happening. Or rather, they probably saw what was happening but didn’t take it seriously. Or maybe they had seen it before: a new girl not fitting in. The onus was on my daughter to change and do something. It fits all the stereotypes of the tormented teenager… “
The school attempted to deal with it by making sure girls were punished, by using mediation where someone from outside the school came in to try and help sort things through with the girls and trying to restore Inaya’s self confidence. But the damage was already done and, after this, things got more subtle and hidden.
“Inaya did not even feel she could complain to her tutor because from day one he had been part of this. I think that him joking about my daughter in class had in some ways opened the door to the bullying.”
In the end, Rehema got her daughter home-schooled and then registered into another school. Through this process, Rehema learnt a lot about the education system:
“It took about two years to get her to socially enjoy school again. Now she is fine and has a group of friends in a new school…she is not that new girl anymore. If I’d known what I know now about the school’s ways of working, and that it takes perseverance and stubbornness to get things done, things would have perhaps been different”.
Jacob has a learning disability, and was bullied by another boy who had special needs too. Luckily, Jacob’s mum spotted the signs very early and alerted the school, who acted very quickly to stop the bullying.
“My child Jacob was being picked on by another boy. Jacob has a learning disability. He was being picked on by a boy who also has special needs but he is higher functioning than Jacob. Jacob was upset saying he never wanted to go to school again. He was finding it difficult to go to sleep at night and was very difficult to get out of the home in the morning.
However, the teaching staff were absolutely brilliant about it. I wrote my concerns in his communication book. The teachers looked out for any incidents and noticed this boy tripping up Jacob. They immediately removed this boy and made him play in the infants’ playground as a punishment, they also withdrew his golden time. They spoke to this boy about his behaviour and how he should behave.
They also spoke to Jacob about the incident and re-assured him to go to them for help in the future over subsequent issues and, to me, the most useful thing they did over the next couple of weeks was to ensure that Jacob’s self-esteem was not damaged in any way. They made sure they praised him for all the good things he did. The communication between home and school was brilliant over this time so that we could also praise him and build up his self-esteem and confidence.
We need to ensure that bullying issues are not just about anti-bullying, disability awareness etc. We need to ensure that children and young people with additional needs are helped to be resilient individuals, skills which will prepare them for adulthood as well as keeping them as confident and secure as possible within their childhood.
I have spoken to many parents who have not had the positive experience I have when their child is bullied at school. At least two, I know have been told by the headteacher, “There is no bullying in my school” and parents’ concerns are often not taken seriously enough.
Jacob is now very happy and settled at school again and I commend the actions taken by his school. He does attend a mainstream school where there is a special unit within it and he has the support from a special needs’ teacher which I am sure has helped the situation enormously!