Why did some parents get sweaty about Christmas Sweater day?

If, in the name of science, you want to cause stress in the life of primary school parents there’s one sure fire way to do it.  Just change what the children have to wear in school on one day and then stand well back.

To amplify the effect, the following would be recommended for consideration:

  • be slightly unclear about the date for this variation in uniform
  • pick a time when parents are already emotionally roller-coastering along on their own journey towards a critical event over which they have little control
    • e.g. religious festivals, transitions across key stage or school, national charity events like Sports or Comic relief
  • include the information at the foot of a newsletter as part of a much longer list
    • also, use Comic Sans pt size 10 or another any off-beat font to dissuade reading
  • if asked, tell parents you told them already in this month’s newsletter, text, radio broadcast or personal address by the Head
    • this reinforces their sense of powerlessness to control even the most trivial variations in their life
  • forget that parents are only half-listening anyway
    • What was that last one again?

In short, for ‘pre-stressed parents’, finding a Christmas sweater for their child has the potential to festively and royally de-rail their normally stable emotional centre.

How can a sweater have such an effect?

Well along with applying one or more of the above top 5 tips, it’s probably worth stepping back a bit and looking at these two graphs about why people think they were bullied in 2016. Take a look at the top reason.

Schools are so nurturing, so accommodating and probably unlike any other setting a child will ever experience, aside from their own family unit, when it comes to putting their needs first.  Schools with the best intentions may quietly tell a parent;

“It doesn’t matter really – just something red would be fine!”  or,  “Just send them in with their usual one on and we can put some tinsel on it for them.”

In reality, most parents, having once been in primary school themselves, don’t hear these kind offers as intended.  They want their child to ‘fit’ or if they’re going to stand out it’ll be for having the most awesome sweater ever made.  Back in the day when primary parents were in school it is very possible that the top reason people thought they got bullied was no different to the 2016 survey.  Judging by appearance in today’s society has arguably never been more shamelessly normalised by popular media and at some time probably everyone has been guilty of doing it. Even us perfect people.

The instinct to protect offspring is hard coded and seemingly trivial things like Christmas Sweater day can be a trigger for this instinct to kick in.  People act out of character.

Should this kind of thing be kept out of school?

It’s a difficult question to answer but perhaps, in amongst everything else that school leaders and teachers bear in mind every second of every day for every child, by stepping back a bit and seeing where parents are journeying from and to we’ll all have an even more wonderful <insert religious festival or special event name here> time.

Wishing you all the best!

How difficult can it be to help an organisation with a possible safeguarding issue?

Today we picked up a public tweet on one of our social monitoring alerts from a female who tweeted that she was getting bullied at lunchtimes. Two clicks later and we pop a phone call in to the organisation to let someone in a pastoral role know in case this student, whose name we also gave based on their Twitter name, may need help. This isn’t a school we work with and it doesn’t happen often. From here on in I’ll write in first person as it happened.
I left my mobile number and details. I got a call back from a safeguarding person. Here’s how it went – slightly abridged but key phrases are accurate.
*start of call*
Them: Is this a sales pitch to get in to school?
Me: *blood simmers* Pardon? Goodness me. You must have had some very bad calls to say that. That’d be completely unethical and clearly you don’t know us or how we work with schools.
Them: Would you contact every school you come across about something like this even if you didn’t work with them?
Me: Well, we would certainly stop anyone crossing a road who hadn’t seen a car coming whether we knew them or not. All it took was two clicks to identify the organisation where this person said they attended. We have passed on a name and a public tweet for you to act on or ignore. It’s up to you really. We have no other agenda.
Them: I’m not confirming this student is one of ours. We take safeguarding very seriously and I’ve had the training so my guard is always up.
Me: I do understand safeguarding issues very well from our work with other schools.  Do you want the link to the tweet so you have that?
Them: No. We have our own team who do all that.
Me: Very good.
[professional pleasantries]
*end of call*
Obviously this stings particularly badly at my personal integrity and core values and I just have to acknowledge that.   Many things whirled in my head during and after this call though.  If I’d been a person of disrepute would I have contacted the organisation to first check the female was a student, left my cross-checkable details etc? I genuinely don’t know.  People can be cunning can’t they.
What I do know though is that the tweet & it’s contents appeared to hold no interest (I’m sure it was checked out ultimately) and the notion of someone, particularly from a company, offering information with no other agenda than ‘to help’ just did not compute for the other person.  What that speaks worse of I’m again unsure.
I’ve never told anyone about this before but it’s relevant here so I will. I did once, I believe, stop a young lady from being killed on a zebra crossing by blasting my car horn to make her stop dead in her tracks as another car, that I’d seen approaching in my rear view mirror but she hadn’t, shot through on the inside lane. I still run this like a mini-movie years later with surprising frequency.  Today felt a bit like that, except that there seemed to be someone else there who instead believed the car horn was probably a wound down window or open door.
Safeguarding is important. It’s critical and you’re probably here reading this with a good understanding of the gravity of some scenarios schools face each week. However, today gave cause for some personal reflection.
  • Would I blast my car horn at a zebra crossing again?
    Yes. Though there’s no guarantee the person will stop.
  • Would I call a learning organisation to pass on some information that could affect the welfare of a student – even though they haven’t paid us to?
    Yes.  I believe so.
  • Do I need a brew and to get on with my paid work now?
    Yes. Definitely.


Vague descriptions of entities and individuals only used to protect identity

Photo use under: Open Government Licence v3.0

Schools, Trains and Change Management

Today I was travelling back by train from a meeting in Manchester. Hot choc in hand I arrived at the platform and found that the train I was to catch had been cancelled.  No worries. Trainline App to hand (I wasn’t alone – another guy also had this) I worked out what I needed in no time. No worries.

In front of me was a chap who looked confused.  He asked another guy what was happening with the trains and he replied to say he had an app that said the next train was due shortly, quick change then onward no worries.  Chap was pleased to help and confused guy glad of the info and he hung around phone app guy in some sort of subconscious thankyou mode.

The platform soon filled with lots of other people.  One threesome couldn’t see their train on the departure board so they went off to seek a train person to ask.  There was shoulder shrugging and frowning in equal measure.

Finally the train arrived, we all piled in for one stop then piled out again at the next station to change.  The app people, including myself, stepped straight onto the connecting train on platform 3 quite confidently.  Elsewhere other voices could be heard asking the same question.

Is this the train for Preston?  Is it?  You think so?  Yeh I’m pretty sure it is.  According to this app it is yes.  Noone seems to know for sure.  You’d think they’d put someone on here to ask wouldn’t you?

Complete strangers reaching out for the right information and reassurance but sadly both were in short supply.  People were resigned to their fate now.  Doors shut and necks continued to crane looking for signs and confirmation that they were headed in the right direction.  Like a slightly smug individual I opened my laptop on a free table and got working.

Why the train story?  For me it illustrates what happens when there’s an enforced change and people have to divert from their usual trajectory.  Some people are in the know and can crack on.  Some people are good at finding out the answers and seek either authority or peers.  Passengers with access to the latest info at the point where it’s needed are able to cope with the change and even become useful to those who are less connected.

When social media is used proactively, responsively and strategically by schools to the benefit of their community it’s magical and empowering and it’s precisely why we do it; we’ve called it ‘improving the parent journey’.

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