I was shocked to hear on the radio a few months ago that eating disorders are on the rise in private schools. But when I look back on my experience in my own private school, it suddenly doesn’t seem that shocking after all, just incredibly sad.
My private school was all-girls, I should add first. And because it was private, the girls were from mostly incredibly wealthy families, and with that incredible wealth came a despicable attitude. As the school was small, with classes consisting of approximately sixteen students, the girls had a habit of merging into smaller groups and some of those smaller groups became relatively vicious. The bitchiness was something students had to encounter on a daily basis with it verging on bullying.
Ironically, the girls themselves weren’t the problem in my school. The bullying was something you simply learnt to deal with and eventually ignore if you chose to be passive, as I did. The teachers were the key problem: the bullying took place right under their noses, and not once did they make a substantial effort to stop it, nor did they attempt to help the victims. Instead, they ignored the issues, placing more emphasis on how long your skirt was as opposed to how badly you were suffering as a result of humiliating bullying.
I think that is one of the biggest failures as a school. To accept that there is bullying taking place, and to acknowledge that children are visibly distressed by this abuse yet choosing to act in an insultingly nonchalant manner. The well-being of your students is at risk, yet you choose to let verbal abuse take place? Then what right do you have to be a teacher? How can you demand respect from your students, when you cannot respect their fears, concerns and mental health?
I was brought up in a household where respect was a fundamental value. Respect authoritative members of the public and respect your elders no matter what. However, it has occurred to me over the past few months that respect works both ways. I had no obligation to respect the teachers if they do not respect my well-being, but I chose to stay quiet, allow them to punish me for “acts of disrespect” they created themselves etc. I chose to stay quiet as I was only there to get the best education I could. My parents made huge sacrifices to put me into that school, and it’s saddening to think that I still suffered psychologically, at the hands of those who were employed to help me, support me and educate me to the best of their abilities.
However, I think the main issue here is that children are overworked to the extent that they are obsessed with perfection. To ensure that the reputation of the school does not come into question, students are forced to work at their highest level possible. Any work of a lower standard is condemned as “not being good enough” and unfortunately in my school, I was once even asked what I was doing at the school. This fear of not being good enough and the constant fear of failure is what is damaging the students of today: the pressure they are being put under to do well is far too excessive. Growing up, your childhood should not be spent worrying over deadlines, a C- in an exam, or if you cannot use a calculator to answer a mathematics question. Teenage years are supposed to be the best years of your life!
It needs to be said that some of my friends also attended private schools across England; they didn’t have the same experience as I did. Some had a wonderful secondary school experience, so I am in no way labeling all private schools as malicious, a waste of time or damaging to your child’s health. But please bear in mind both sides to a story: consider everything before you decide to put your child into a school. The teachers will not always look out for them as you do.
I have attached an interesting link which talks more of the eating disorders taking place in independent schools: