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I love you, Miss. I love you, too

Teachers should not be afraid of saying they "love" the children they work with, according to two of Scotland's most influential figures in young people's lives.

Margaret Doran, Glasgow City Council's head of education and social work, and Kathleen Marshall, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, argued that love was an important factor in working successfully with children. They made their comments at a leadership event for primary school heads last week, creating a talking point that dominated the coffee breaks and split delegates into two clear camps.

Some were uncomfortable with talking about love for pupils, believing it could be misinterpreted. Others believed that the best teachers would inevitably love their children and should not be ashamed to say so.

Schools that were genuinely inclusive, Ms Doran said, were "the ones that absolutely love the kids; it's an unconditional love, and it's special".

Mrs Marshall reinforced the message, pointing to the testimonies of children leaving care, who said that love - along with support and guidance - was what they needed from the adults who worked with them.

Ms Doran, who has more of a reputation among headteachers for "tough love", recalled that, while head of schools in Stirling in 1996, she had argued for the inclusion of the word "love" in a statement of values to be run past the authority's secondary heads. It caused discomfort among male heads who feared falling foul of child protection laws.

But Ms Doran said it was a "magical" experience to enter a classroom where a teacher "absolutely loves" her pupils. "When I had children, I realised I understood the children in my school better."

Mrs Marshall spoke about a colleague who believed that professionals' discomfort about articulating love for children in their care stemmed from a "poverty of the English language. Love is a very challenging word. It's something children want, but which we are reluctant to articulate - even if we express it in our actions. I understand why some people are startled, but we shouldn't be afraid to use the word 'love' in appropriate contexts."

Fiona O'Donnell, a researcher with event organisers MacKay Hannah, welcomed the comments. She was previously employed by a children's charity and told The TESS about a challenging boy with whom she had worked for most of one school year. At the end of the year, the primary pupil became emotional at the prospect of not seeing her again and said: "I love you, Fiona."

Ms O'Donnell was on the point of telling the boy she loved him, but was worried she might get into trouble. In the end, she did, because she felt it was in a "healthy, normal and professional" context. She also told her manager, who was "happy with what we said to each other".

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