When Asha was 8, I saw her eating from the dining room bin.
I went straight to the school's child protection lead. Every time we noted a new concern, social services were called. At that point, they were being phoned weekly, but somehow Asha never made “the threshold”.
We gave her breakfast when she arrived at school, made sure that she brushed her teeth and sent her to class. But *Asha was hungry even after her free school lunch and so we tried to ensure that she went through the queue last and got a larger portion.
Unfortunately, none of that happens during the school holidays. Asha will be a teenager now and I haven’t seen her in years, but I still think about her a great deal. Does she have enough to eat? Is someone looking after her properly? Has a predator noticed how easily she trusts people when they show her even a little kindness?
In every school, there will be a handful of children that staff worry about during the long break. For these pupils, the summer holidays can be harder than school. It’s not always about poor parenting, it’s not always about poverty, but these are two aggravating factors.
'Six weeks alone'
Asha isn't the only pupil who sticks in my mind. I also often think about *Dalton, whose dad was already at work before he woke up. Dalton would dress himself, come to school early and hang around for as long as he could before walking home to an empty house. His dad didn't get home until past 9pm and, as it was just the two of them, Dalton spent those evenings alone.
And during the summer he spent six weeks alone. His dad had a great job and he loved his son a great deal. To make up for the long hours he worked, he bought Dalton anything he wanted – except someone to talk to.
Some children are resilient creatures, who can happily survive a long summer without much parental interest or input. Others barely make it through an Inset day or the weekend. For those of us prone to worrying, there is little difference at the back of our minds.
And then there will be the children who never popped up on your radar, who you later learn are having a terrible time. A grandparent diagnosed with a terminal illness who loses the battle very quickly; a car accident that devastates a family; marital break-ups and siblings running away from home.
There is no warning for these incidents. And I do not have an answer to the problem. But the sad fact is, something bad will always be happening to some student – which is why I can rarely rest easy.
* The names of the pupils referred to in this article have been changed to protect their anonymity
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers' Roundtable and head of Q3 Academy Tipton. She tweets at @keziah70