Friday, 18 May 2018

Students or Prisoners?

*Trigger warning for those with mental health struggles and thoughts of suicide*

When I woke up this morning, I saw an article about students taking GCSEs that distressed me: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/may/17/stress-and-serious-anxiety-how-the-new-gcse-is-affecting-mental-health. Essentially, it explains how GCSEs have become so difficult, and so much importance has been placed on them, that students as young as 15 or 16 are having serious mental health issues, some feeling so desperate that they have tried to take their own life. It seems ridiculous and extremely saddening that young people have been pushed to these extremes before their lives have even really begun, because they are led to believe that if they do not pass these difficult exams, they will have no future.

When did education in this country become about putting students through some kind of mental abuse? Of course it may differ from school to school, but this article reveals that high levels of stress and anxiety are being felt all over the country. Teachers are left in heart-breaking positions, where they admit they are lying to their students about good outcomes of the exams, because this new set of examinations has left everyone doubtful that students will get the grades they want, or at least will be happy with. If students can no longer trust in their intellectual ability and the hard work they have done to get them through the exams, then what is the point? It seems like a trap, where high marks are impossible. If this is the case, then students may become even more disheartened by the results of exams that seem to be no real indication of their skills and abilities. So again, what is the point? Are these new exams just setting students up to make them feel like failures?

Perhaps the most upsetting part of the article, is when a student from Dorset reveals that his school has posters 'warning that if you get grades 1-4 you’re likely to end up cleaning or working in a shop, whereas if you get 8s and 9s you’ll be off to university to enjoy “a great lifestyle”.' This just shows how education has degraded in its attempt to become more beneficial. GCSEs do not even determine whether you get into university or not - Higher Education institutions accept A level grades or equivalent qualifications. It is emotional and mental abuse to put so much pressure on such young students, and quite frankly, this school is a disgrace to the education system and deserves to be shamed for such lack of care for the welfare of its students, practically encouraging distress in its students, and probably only because the school is trying to get to the top of the league table.

Although this example exceeds the others, the article makes it clear that a lot of schools are lacking the focus on welfare that is needed with these increased amounts of stress and unhappy students. From my own sixth form experience, where I took the International Baccalaureate and daily saw my school friends fall apart because of the stress of work, I know that schools are extremely deficient in this area, often not having a single member of staff who is trained in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It was pleasing to see that one school ran yoga sessions and provided support for their students, but even this is not enough to counteract the extreme stress that these exams have caused. Something needs to change, whether it is the format of the exams, or the content of the syllabus. What makes it even more ridiculous, is that in the grand scheme of things, these are minor qualifications. I know for a fact that these students will go through harder trials and qualifications, and look back on their GCSE experience and marvel at how unnecessary all of that emotional torture was.

The Department of Education states that 'In order for pupils to be successful, rigorous examinations are vital. They are not, however, intended to cause significant anxiety. Good leaders know that positive mental wellbeing helps pupils fulfil their potential and make that part of their overall school ethos.' Yet, in what way do these incessant exams, with such a huge amount of content that has meant study leave has had to be cancelled, promote mental wellbeing?

Why have we forgotten that education should be about enjoyment? Students should feel satisfied and interested in the knowledge and skills that they are gaining, not that it is never enough. This is even more important now that students have to remain in education until they are 18, as we want them to remain in education also because they want to, not feel as though they are being forced or trapped. Education should be about happiness of the students, and helping them to grow into healthy, positive and confident people, who know that they can achieve anything they put their mind to, not breaking them down to the point that they have no self belief and feel like they are worthless.

To all those taking these GCSEs, they do not represent who you are. Results do not define you. You are so much better than these ridiculous examinations that are imposed by people who have no idea because they do not actually have to experience them. This is just one moment in your life that you will move past and will be easily forgotten, so please look after yourselves, because you are way more important than a few exam papers.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Fact or Fiction: Edit

*Trigger warning for those who struggle with mental health and self-harm*

Following on from my discussion about the insensitivity of the media in handling Avicii's death, I was shocked to find this was taken to a whole new level in The Daily Mail's snapchat story from the last day or so. Without thought, the tabloid openly stated that Avicii had bled to death from 'cutting himself.' This article has supposedly been informed by TMZ (http://www.tmz.com/2018/05/01/avicii-dj-suicide-glass-cut-bottle-death), who have 'learned' this information, though give no indication where from.

Not only does this potentially breach the privacy of Avicii's family who may have wanted to keep such details away from the public, but this could be a huge trigger for fans and readers suffering with similar mental health issues. Unsurprisingly, in The Daily Mail article, apart from a link to a helpline at the end of the article, there is no consideration for the problems and dangerous thoughts this could evoke in others, who in extreme cases could possibly attempt to imitate the scenario. TMZ are even worse, because they do not even have these links or advice to those who may be triggered by such information. Neither article have a trigger warning which should be placed before the article begins.

There is no positive value in releasing this information, and needless to say, consideration of the effects this kind of writing could have should come before the rush to be the first newspaper to make such a huge announcement, which in turn becomes incredibly dangerous.

The online mental health platform The Mighty have participated in a valuable discussion about this: https://themighty.com/2018/05/avicii-suicide-tmz-methods/

Friday, 27 April 2018

Fact or Fiction?

The recent death of Avicii has brought my attention to how misleading the news and tabloids can be. At this point, Avicii's family have released a statement saying that he 'could not go on any longer', hinting that he might have taken his life, though as far as I can tell, this has not been confirmed. It has astonished me how the media have handled Avicii's death, seeming to disregard any kind of sensitivity and respect to Avicii and his family by making assumptions that practically constitute malicious gossip.

The first article I saw was from the Daily Mail. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5643773/Aviciis-completely-devastated-family-arrive-Oman.html?ITO=1490) Simply from looking at the subtitles, the newspaper has already made assumptions and encouraged others to think that Avicii's death was due to 'excessive drinking' and 'alcohol related issues', potentially tarnishing Avicii's memory without even waiting to hear for accurate information about his death. This article mentions drinking multiples times, especially in the inclusion of a picture of Avicii the day before his death, drawing attention to how he is 'holding a drink.' The article seems to assume that the drink is alcoholic, and again connote that Avicii's death is alcohol related when there is no such information on the matter. Newspapers are supposed to be objective, yet this is very clearly not, failing to consider the serious nature of deeper mental health issues and physical struggles, and disrespecting Avicii's memory by giving a negative rather than sensitive portrayal of him.

A more recent article by the Daily Mail is also offensive in other ways (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-5664275/Avicii-dead-28-Pictures-unveiled-Oman-farmhouse-Swedish-DJ-believed-died.html?ITO=1490). It shows readers pictures of the house where Avicii's body was found as well as the hospital he was taken to, and ridiculously a picture of a wall behind which the property is situated. This is a prime example of tabloid gossip, a splurging of information just to be the first newspaper to say something without thinking of the way that this will be perceived by readers, but more importantly, the family of Avicii.

The Daily Mail is by no means the only newspaper to blame. The Sun's snapchat story this morning was particularly shocking, seeming to state as fact that Avicii left a suicide note, an assumption based on the statement by Avicii's family. Other articles from newspapers such as the Birmingham Mail (https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/showbiz-tv/aviciis-family-hint-suicide-note-14582741) also talk about a suicide note, again taking their assumptions as accurate when no such information has been explicitly proved. This reiterates that newspapers are actually not objective, and I would argue that instead of presenting the public with facts and useful information, they attempt to begin a train of gossiping about untrue and insensitive content, with no consideration for standards of confidentiality and privacy that should always be maintained in the media.

However, not all newspapers follow this bad example. For an objective article about Avicii's death, I would recommend The Independent's article (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/avicii-cause-of-death-tim-bergling-family-a8323966.html). It handles intimate and personal information such as Avicii's struggles within the music business with discretion and respect, only using information that was already public and has been officially released by Avicii's family, and presenting this in a formal manner without any hint of subjective opinion.

With an event as serious as death, sensitivity is all the more important in the media, as we have to remember that there are fans and family members who are grieving, and don't deserve to have the memory of their loved one damaged by meaningless reporting, and over-examination or inaccurate assumptions.

It shouldn't matter what the cause of death is because it is not the place of the media to make judgements. Death alone is catastrophic enough, and newspapers and tabloids should be acknowledging and mourning the passing of a music legend, treating the event with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Shoes or Skills?

Recently, my friend went to a talk to prepare for a practice interview, and was told by a female member of staff whose job it is to help students with careers that she had to wear high-heeled shoes to the interview. When she arrived (in the heels), she was then told by another careers professional to change her accent, because her Yorkshire dialect would apparently prevent people from taking her seriously. Unsurprisingly, she was shocked by both comments, as was I. But most of all, this got me thinking, what makes us employable?

Is it what we wear? We are always told that when going for a job interview, we should dress smartly to give the best first impression, for instance wearing a suit. Yet, quite a lot of these jobs don't even involve wearing clothes like this day to day, so why is it so important that we wear them at interview? Does getting a job rely on how we look and what we wear on one day? I am not saying that applicants should turn up to an interview in a tracksuit and trainers, as I respect there is a strong element of professionalism needed to get a job, and this can be communicated through the clothes that we wear. Furthermore, a lot of jobs have a smart dress code, which makes it appropriate to prove in an interview that you can present a professional image. However, I would question the justification for not hiring someone because they didn't wear an item of clothing for an interview that they would never have to wear again if they got the job. Why should women be hired based on whether they are wearing a specific piece of footwear?

The obvious answer is that they shouldn't. What should make you employable are your attributes and skills, which are what actually qualify you for a job. As a third year student, I am looking for a job myself, and I find it hard enough to get employers to take my passion and enthusiasm seriously in my chosen field without having to worry about whether an employer will hire me if I don't wear high-heeled shoes to an interview. In addition to this, I think it is important to acknowledge that it is unfair how recruiters have such high expectations of applicants but there is no consideration of how companies should meet certain standards for applicants. There are so many times that I have encountered spelling mistakes, bad syntax and deception in job advertisements, and I think it is astonishing how these employers then expect the best presentation from their applicants when they cannot do this themselves.

Referring back to when my friend was told to change her accent, this instruction to change for one day seems even more ridiculous - if employers were in fact opposed to her accent, and by changing it for the interview she was employed, is she supposed to fake her accent at work every day for the rest of her career? By altering your appearance and way you present yourself, this is not a realistic representation of who you are, and perhaps more of a reason not to recruit you rather than supposedly making you more employable.

An interview should be somewhere where you can be yourself, and you are employable because of who you are, not who you pretend to be. Otherwise, what is the point of doing a degree to gain knowledge and skills if this is not going to be enough purely because of the way you look or sound? If you wear a pair of flats, this does not in any way affect your skills or make you any worse at a job than another person in high-heels, and a good employer will acknowledge this.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Lecturer Lectures

Today I stumbled upon an article for The Telegraph, where a lecturer slates modern students for using 'Extenuating Circumstances' as a 'sick note', or in other words, an excuse which is not justified. Here is the link to the aforementioned article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/09/fellow-lecturers-wont-say-public-students-today-moaning-illiterate/

I cannot explain the anger and disappointment that I felt when reading this article. It is unacceptable that an educational 'professional' should disrespect students in such a way.

I would venture to guess that Mr Fischer has not experienced any of these circumstances that he condemns as not 'reasonable', namely 'Asperger's, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia.' I come to this judgement, because if he did know anything about how they affect a person's ability to function daily, let alone handle high pressure situations such as exams, then he would not make such a controversial comment. I accept that I may be a little biased in this view, as I myself am a recipient of special considerations due to anxiety and depression, and in my first year I was granted deferrals of exams because of bereavement. However, one thing I want to make very clear, is that I have never used my disability to manipulate my deadlines or results, contrary to Mr Fischer's allegation 'students who had some "disorder" [were] extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.' To an extent, I agree with Mr Fischer here, as I do not feel that my problems are serious enough that they affect the majority of my work, and my command of English. Yet, his flippant referral to 'some "disorder"' really does show off a great ignorance. Whilst I accept my problems are not as debilitating, this may not be the same for others. It may be true that anxiety or depression may not affect one's ability to write a sentence, but it affects what that sentence may be, and Mr Fischer especially should know, as a lecturer of English, that what you say is of vital importance. A mental disorder can severely affect a person's way of thinking, for example blocking creative flow, and what is produced from this state may be completely different to what would be written when of a clear head.

Perhaps even more disturbing is Mr Fischer's dismissal of universities as institutions that should offer support for their students. He claims 'it's their job to set a high standard, and it's the students' to reach it, whatever their difficulties.' Universities are extremely high pressure environments, and have no structure to support that is ridiculous. In fact, it may be important to consider whether these disorders that he dismisses may be a result of the stress caused by university rather than excuses.

I can understand Mr Fischer's frustration to an extent, where he feels that students are given an easier ride when they are undeserving. Whilst I know people who do definitely deserve extenuating circumstances, I also know people who have been granted allowances when they should not have. However, I still think that Mr Fischer's argument is very small-minded, and his anger is misdirected.  He seems to idolise the past as a time where 'reasonable adjustment' was minimal, assuming that this was a result of better guidelines and better students. Despite clearly identifying changes in the system, he seems to ignore other factors. For example, how many more students now attend university, and how so many more people have the confidence to apply. Perhaps the reason why a disorder like autism was not previously accepted as extenuating circumstances, was that those who have autism never felt like they would have the chance to go to university. As well as this, in the past, a lot of mental illnesses were not named or properly diagnosed, and this lack of awareness could also easily account for their absence from 'reasonable adjustment.'

Either way, times are changing. Instead of berating students for increasingly using extenuating circumstances, we should be cheering their efforts to continue with their studies despite whatever problems they are facing. The fact that more people have the confidence in themselves to attend university and get a degree is an amazing thing, and we should celebrate that.

I suggest Mr Fischer should focus on his teaching; the fact that his students don't know what makes up a sentence doesn't speak highly of his methods.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Too Hot to Trot?

Yet another example where a school are more concerned about 'reputation' rather than the mental and physical health of their students.

http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/20/defiant-pupils-sent-home-for-refusing-to-wear-blazers-in-30c-heat-6721439/

The school pass off the exclusions given to the students by saying that it was for 'defiant' behaviour, but in this case, the students are being defiant against rules which are potentially endangering their health. Why shouldn't others be 'defiant' if what they are doing is fighting back against pointless rules that have negative results. There is absolutely no reason why these rules should be imposed in the first place - what does it matter if a student doesn't wear their blazer around the school? Even for the purposes of the institution's reputation it is pointless, as no members of the public would see them. I'm sure a school would argue that prospective students and their parents may be looking around. But I imagine they would rather see calm and happy students at ease rather than students appearing uncomfortable and ill, and I know that I would be both shocked and angry that a school was treating their pupils in such a way.

Attitudes of schools need to change. They need to see past their concerns of ranking and 'reputation' and realise a good school is one with happy students who feel that they are supported and respected in their learning.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Commend or Command?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that one of my friends had shared this article with a heart emoji, implying that she was moved by its content.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/headteacher-praises-courageous-boy-who-10408089

I agree that the main message of the piece is incredibly important - people should be able to wear whatever they want, no matter what their gender or sexuality, and uniform can often be a barrier to this. But unfortunately, in this particular instance, the message is hidden beneath a school's selfish focus on reputation and thus a lack of understanding of what today's society is all about (freedom to be whoever you want, however you want).

Whilst it is great that this boy was commended for wearing a skirt to school - though as the article goes on, this becomes more questionable and more likely to be an excuse after the event to save face - it should not be a revolutionary event. The fact that people still think it is shows how we all have a long way to go before people really can be who they want without judgement or standards. It is sad that the boy felt the need to take trousers along with him in case he needed to change because of comments from his teachers or peers. Society often prides itself on its modern acceptance of how people choose to identify, but perhaps this is all talk.

Or perhaps this issue is much more contained. I know from experience that universities offer the open space, free of judgement, that schools do not. It doesn't matter how you look, or how you identify, you always know that you are of value whoever you are. So why are schools so different? The answer is: they don't have to be, they choose to be. This is something I am very passionate about. There is no way that a school or educational institution can make any attempt to teach their students about how appearances do not matter, when they are enforcing the opposite message in their dress codes. Uniforms are an oppressive form that contain identity and dictate who and what it is 'acceptable' to be. The boy thought he was breaking the rules when he wore a skirt to school - this thought should not have even been put in his head. Of course, schools may try and fob this off by claiming that their rules are gender-neutral, and that it is not specified that boys cannot wear skirts, and thus should not feel that they are not allowed. But then why did he feel he was doing something wrong? Having a dress code is telling people what they 'should' look like, when in reality they should be able to dress however they please. Whilst it is true that not all schools do have uniforms, there are likely to be rules of some kind dictating how their pupils should dress, which again questions how they can promote free identity when they are restricting it.

What is most disturbing about this article, is how the claims of commending the boy seem to come from this specific school in an effort to save their reputation. It is mentioned that the boy changed his trousers during the day, implying that this was an action forced upon him by the staff. But here is the comment from the head-teacher that is incredibly shocking:

'This school has worked very hard to gain a reputation as a school that supports student individuality and by people posting statements on social media that are completely false, my reputation nearly went up in smoke.'

Not only does this perfectly summarise the ignorance of schools in thinking they promote 'individuality', but confirms that their only real concern is their status and reputation. Personally, I think this headmaster's comments are despicable, and quite frankly, the school's reputation should 'go up in smoke,' if they even had one for promoting individuality, which it appears they does not. It should not take negative comments for the school to embrace, and for some reason feel the need to publicise, the expression of a person's identity. All it does, is highlight how they were not given the chance to do so in the first place. So long as schools have a uniform or dress policy, they are not promoting freedom of identity, but are potentially damaging their students by telling them how they 'should' be. The entire concept of 'what is acceptable' is incredibly dangerous, and seems to impose rules on identity and appearance that should not be present.

I come back to my original point; I agree that a boy wearing a skirt to school is commendable, but portraying it as a wondrous occurrence only cements the incorrect idea that it is an anomaly, and potentially then is not right. No one considers women wearing trousers as out of the ordinary, so there is no reason why men wearing skirts should be either. If I walked into university tomorrow, and a male student walked past in a skirt, I wouldn't bat an eyelid, but more importantly, I know that no one else would either. We all know that a person's appearance is a way of expressing who they are, and what it is to be comfortable in their own skin. Of course, appearances are only one part of our identity, yet it is perhaps the part that many feel the most pressure to be content with.

So how do schools reckon they can encourage their students to be whoever they want, and that identity is a free choice, when imposing a set of 'rules' to restrict it, and creating false ideas of 'what is acceptable?'

Answer: they won't.