Are we giving our pupils false hope?

Schools inspire pupils to aim high, but, asks this teacher, is it fair to teach them that anything is possible?


Are schools giving pupils false hope by encouraging them to believe that anything is possible, asks this secondary teacher

I lie awake at night feeling overwhelmed. It’s not the workload, it’s not the accountability, it’s not funding. It’s the overriding emotional pressure of ensuring that the children and staff I work with are happy and purposeful.

I work in the world of social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH), and it’s hugely conflicted. On a daily basis, we deal with the most vulnerable but also some of the most (undiscovered) cognitively able pupils. There’s a constant battle to repair damaged self-esteem and instil a sense of self-worth into kids who think so poorly of themselves.

Every single member of staff has to be “on” all the time, no matter how big or small their role. There is no hierarchy in terms of who can change a life: to maintain the levels of authenticity and drive that my staff display every day requires almost superhuman effort. My job is to make sure that they are recognised for their efforts, and to understand the people who will be formed because of their influence and graft.

Great expectations

Earlier on in my career, I often resorted to picking fault in the system around education, whether it was a national initiative or the local authority’s idea of adequate support. Now, I just feel upset and distressed that we don’t have a government with the foresight to understand how hard everyone works to try and steer the most vulnerable towards happy lives. How can it be that on 9 April only 15 MPs attended a debate on the future of mental health provision for young people?

Our school’s mission is to transform lives and to inspire futures, and I fundamentally believe that we do that. But I can’t help but feel that in some respects we create false hope for our boys, allowing them to believe that anything is possible and that, should they struggle, society will be there to aid and assist them. The reality is that it won’t, and I’m not sure it can.

We live in a society that is fortunate enough to have people who year-on-year put themselves forward to help and inspire children to create something magical for themselves. But, in the current political climate, we’re taken for granted. We’ve got a failing national agenda, limited resources and a never-ending reliance on people to fill in the gaps. It’s no longer a temporary situation, but standard practice. Our teachers are burning out and becoming disillusioned, and falsehoods are being created for generations to come.

Life can be tough

I worry that, despite all our efforts, the children who leave my care will have to realise that society is stretched and can’t possibly provide the love and care that we need on a lifelong basis.

We put resilience, grit, love and care at the heart of our curriculum, but we’re realistic about the fact that our pupils need to know that life can be tough. I just can’t help thinking that the landscape is making it tougher by the day: I don’t even know if the adults I trust the most are prepared for it, let alone society’s most needy. 

Every day, we work tirelessly to create a culture of warmth and aspiration, so that children enjoy learning how to be themselves. I really hope that’s enough to see them right – to make sure they have the requisite tools to navigate the world and learn from the people in our schools that being a good person leads to having a good life. I really hope that can still be true.

The author is a teacher in a secondary school

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