An Open Letter to the Secretary of State for Education.
I am Co-Director of the UK’s most in-demand self-esteem education programme.
In a world where one in ten young people will develop an eating disorder before they reach the age of twenty five (with 1.6 million currently officially diagnosed and millions more hiding their symptoms and suffering in silence); where in a typical British classroom three children are currently self-harming; where body-image related bullying has led to three high-profile teenage suicides since the beginning of 2013; where 30% of boys and 70% of girls aged 11-19 cite their relationship with their body their “number one worry” and emotionally-motivated obesity is spiralling, the wonderful teachers we have worked with have shrewdly identified the need for a class like ours.
We have worked with more than 30,000 UK teenagers to date, male and female, in State and Independent education. We use a combination of first hand testimonial, psychology and media literacy to make our students realise they are both valuable and valued. We give them the tools they need to navigate the worlds of internet, media, fashion, beauty, food and exercise and are the catalyst which often allows them to become healthy, happy and to fulfil their potential. We’re helping young people approach their education, social life and future with confidence and we’re doing it with the one hour of a student’s entire education schools can spare from their academic timetables.
Last week, a spokesperson from your department spoke of classes containing “bogus pop psychology based on self-image” which are “no substitute for the real facts of education”. This suggests your team believe that our agenda is at odds with your own, which you have always maintained is to raise academic standards in this country. To achieve your goals, you as Secretary for Education have deemed it necessary to place more emphasis on core, traditional academic subjects, completely remove the budget for Personal, Health and Social Education in state schools, refuse to raise the amount of time spent in physical education to a minimum of two hours per week and cut huge swathes of vocational qualifications from the curriculum.
Whilst I cannot condone the way in which your policies have in my opinion ostracised those young people whose talents fall outside the traditionally academic, I am actually writing to outline how our classes and other expertly delivered PSHE can and are assisting you in your agenda. I agree entirely that British children deserve the best possible education and should be encouraged towards the highest academic standards they are capable of. However, academic and emotional education are not mutually exclusive and they are not opposed to one another. They must, crucially, work in tandem if young people are to truly benefit from an excellent school experience.
The best maths and English in the world won’t help a student pass their exams if they are occupied by –
Being pregnant at fifteen
Are sexually confused
If they have an STI
If they are taking drugs or binge drinking
If they have an eating disorder
If they are self-harming
If they have a pornography addiction
If they are being bullied, either in person or via the internet
If they are suffering from depression
If they have a mental illness and are misunderstood
Or if they are simply crippled by self-loathing.
You have often spoken about the need for the issues listed above to be addressed at home. The fact is, we cannot control what happens between the closed doors of every British household, but you are in the privileged position of having influence over what happens in every British school.
The world is not as it was when you, or even I was at school. It has never been more difficult, more fraught, pressured and frightening to be a teenager. At school, young people are developing health issues – both mental and physical - which go on to cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. They need our intervention and they need our help – help delivered by the very best experts in the field, not in-house teachers who are already stretched to capacity. For this to happen schools need a budget – an investment from you which will be paid back to the taxpayer a hundred times over in the future.
Over 60% of our business presently comes from Independent schools, despite 93% of British children being in educated in State schools. You have recognised Independent Schools as producing the highest exam grades. Could this be because they also have the money at their disposal to run the most robust, thorough and imaginative PSHE programmes? Could the fact that they also tend to devote a lot of time and money to sports and arts programmes for their students also play a part?
I am writing to you to beg you not to let the partisan rhetoric that has blighted Tory politics of late filter down to the sphere of young people’s education. Please stop presenting the situation as a battle between those committed to academic excellence and those with a desire to incorporate lessons relating to the realities of modern life. There is no battle. The future of our young people is too important to create bogus divisions within the education sector for your own political gain.
Natasha Devon BA Hons
Co-Director of the Body Gossip Campaign
Creator of the Body Gossip Education Programme
See the letter on the Telegraph website.