It’s very rare. Happily, it’s almost unheard of – but if you child isn’t being treated fairly, then it can be very distressing for everyone who’s involved. If someone in a position of responsibility isn’t behaving appropriately, it’s very hard for a child to understand. So how can you be sure what’s happening, what can you do about it?
The difference between discipline and bullying
As a parent, you know your child very well. You’re in a good place to spot the signs of something being not quite right at school, but it’s not always easy to tease the facts out from a youngster who’s upset about something – so do tread carefully.
The first thing to remember, is that while some children feel they’re being unfairly disciplined – being ‘picked on’ – actually, they’re getting the same treatment as everyone else, or what’s happening is appropriate to their own behaviour. However, there’s a disciplinary line that’s crossed when a teacher:
- makes mean-spirited comments about a child or your family,
- repeatedly singles them out when there is a problem with a group,
- punishes a child who’s done nothing wrong
- punishes a child inappropriately,
- or denies them the basics (toilet breaks, equipment, etc.) without a good reason.
Take a breath, take a step back from the situation, and look at things as impartially as you can. If your child is doing well in other subjects, and clearly has good relationships with other teachers, but get reports of bad behaviour from one adult at the school – this could point to a problem. It could also point to a dislike of a particular subject, so do be aware of what’s reasonable and what’s not! But if your child is showing aggressive behaviour, problems sleeping or low self-esteem and changes in appetite then it’s worth investigating further.
What can I do if a teacher is treating my child unfairly?
Children, although still learning right and wrong, have a very strong sense of fairness. If your child feels they’re being bullied, speak tactfully to their friends’ parents.
Unfortunately, children aren’t always reliable witnesses but they do share information. Find out if other children have had/are having problems with the same teacher – you may hear a completely different side to the story, or it might not be an isolated incident.
Most schools will expect you to talk to the teacher concerned first, for a view on your child’s behaviour in the classroom. That, too, may shed new light on a situation. But if you feel uncomfortable doing that, then make an appointment to speak with the head of the department the head teacher about your concerns:
- Stress the confidential nature of your concerns
- Be clear, cite specific examples and be as objective as you can
- Ask for an agreement about definite action – even if it’s just discreet observation
However, if you’re absolutely sure there’s a problem then, once you’ve taken those steps, you can make a written complaint to the school governors if there’s no improvement. If your child is in a state school, you can ask the governors to order an investigation, and if all else fails, you can contact The Secretary of State for Education.
Many parents opt to move their child to another school if a problem can’t be resolved amicably. And if you are concerned about the impact on your child, then it could be useful to contact an educational psychologist. As trained professionals, they’ll know the right questions to ask: your child may even be more comfortable speaking to a kindly stranger. It could be valuable proof that they don’t have behavioural problems or, if you need to understand the situation in detail before taking formal steps, it’s a good way to aid your case for action.