16 year old Joshua shared his personal experience of bullying at the Working Together to Reduce Bullying Conference.
Joshua described how his perception of school was that it was a prison. He attended a "high achieving", 2000 student, state comprehensive school that regularly receives excellent OFSTED reports. Joshua felt that because he was a bit different (he has Aspergers Syndrome, dyslexia and dyspraxia) he became a prime target for being bullied. The bullying was so extreme and damaging that he became depressed, had very low self esteem, contemplated suicide and eventually was signed off school by CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service). Joshua was unable to return to the school even to sit his exams, so ended up taking them in a SCC office. Joshua told the conference how the school had been totally unable to meet his special needs. He would like to attend a 6th Form College to take A'Levels but (quite understandably) wonders whether any College would be able to give him the support he needs.
The conference heard how Joshua was tripped up, punched and kicked - even when teachers were looking. More upsettingly the offenders were not punished. Even in the library his bullies would sneak up behind him and read aloud the book he was reading or the work he was completing. The teachers did not want to know about Joshua's problems - they did not want to take on the extra work of having to differentiate (change) lessons to adapt to his special needs, or to deal with the regular class time bullying. Joshua was told that the bullying was "his fault", and that he should have been grateful to attend such an excellent school. When Joshua and his parents complained, the school instead of being horrified at what had happened, said that they themselves were hurt at being accused of not providing help and support.
Joshua bravely told the conference about the impact of the bullying. He felt worthless, he had low self esteem, he felt depressed, even suicidal. He became phobic and even now 18 months later suffers from terrible nightmares reliving his school experience. He suffers from panic attacks and has been mentally scared.
Joshua is angry about what has happened to him - his powerful story shows just how damaging bullying can be. He wants his story to be told so that other students might be saved from suffering in the same way. He suggested some things that would have helped him:
Joshua made a direct plea to the conference - that everyone there had a responsibility to go away and take action to make sure that other students are not suffering at the hands of bullies. Joshua felt that he stood out because he was a bit different, and that there is a real need for vulnerable students to be protected in mainstream schools.
Joshua's powerful and personal story had a great impact on everyone attending the conference - during the question and answer session afterwards Joshua was asked whether he felt mainstream school was the best place for young people with Aspergers. His reply was that currently it was clearly not the right place, but that it should be. If Joshua had been able to repeat his school years he would have wanted to go to a private school with smaller class sizes where bullying was not tolerated; or to a special unit within a mainstream setting, where there were opportunities to mix but students were given help within the unit to achieve their educational targets with the right support and help. Following another question Joshua again confirmed that having an independent advocate or complaints system would be really helpful. During the question and answer session the conference also heard from a SEN worker who had been at the school Joshua had attended and witnessed bullying at first hand but had been powerless to provide him with adequate help and support. If anyone present at the conference had felt that Joshua's story was a "one off" incident and that they could complacently feel that serious long term bullying is not going on in Surrey schools then they were wrong.
Joshua remained at the conference during the lunch hour and answered questions from many of the delegates. Everyone present was moved by his very personal account and by his bravery in standing up and telling everyone what he had suffered. His story gave the conference a huge incentive to try and find better ways of working together to protect other young people like Joshua.
Written by Joanna Hay for the UrcountyURsay.net website. July 2006