“A girl walks silently down a school corridor. A boy puts his hand up her skirt. She simply walks a bit quicker and hopes he’ll leave her alone. Why?
Because the ‘silent corridor’ policy means she is not allowed to speak.
While sexual assault is technically wrong, she will draw attention to herself if she dares to say “Get your hands off me” and she is too afraid of the consequences or getting into trouble for speaking if she does.”
This is just one of many realities that I fear will result from this newest plan for ‘silent corridors’.
I’m sure that the people who think this is a good idea would say “Well, that’s an exception… Of course it would be permissible for a child to speak up about being sexually assaulted at school.”
But this is not the point.
Sexual assault was wrong when it was institutionalised and happening on an epic scale, for decades, in children’s homes and churches.
Sexual assault was wrong when predators like Jimmy Saville used his celebrity status to prey on children in hospital.
The reason these crimes were allowed to happen, and to go on for as along as they did; devastating the lives of untold victims; is because a culture of silence was manifested in those environments…
Not just in the victims themselves, but plenty of adults who knew what was happening, and either didn’t see fit to, or didn’t feel able to speak up on the victims’ behalf.
And while, of course I’m not saying that these ‘silent corridors’ will take us back to this kind of institutionalised abuse, we must also acknowledge how much more at risk today’s children are in many ways.
Modern technology has opened untold opportunities for sexual grooming, child exploitation, county lines, cyber-abuse, trafficking and modern slavery.
Can you imagine if the government banned talking in the workplace, in shops, waiting rooms, or public spaces?
Would we accept that as a country?
Of course not.
But because we are talking about children, it is somehow acceptable to exert this kind of control because it can be called ‘behaviour reform’?
It can be made palatable, attractive even, to the public because the words ‘discipline and control’ are plastered across it.
Children can be labelled as behaviourally defective for ‘talking to each other’.
We can refute the fact that it’s not only perfectly normal, but developmentally essential for children to connect and socialise, more so now than ever following a year of social starvation.
We can turn a blind eye to demands being placed upon children which we would never accept ourselves as adults.
And then what happens?
What happens to those children already falling under the radar, those who don’t know that what’s happening to them is wrong, those who don’t know how to ask for help, those who don’t expect to be believed or taken seriously if they do?
What happens to our most vulnerable children when we cloak them in a culture of silence?
We ensure they become even more invisible, even less heard…
But at least they’ll have ‘order and discipline’ right? At least they’re ‘adhering to the behaviour policy?’, right?
They’re helping to put a big tick against a new government initiative.
Has someone already decided that the human sacrifice is worth it?
And how on earth are these strict measures on control helping young people learn anyway?
How can we possibly expect that productive, autonomous, independent adults will develop from disempowered and deliberately silenced children?
The following story is not my fear, it is the tragic reality…
The footpath on the Humber Bridge closed indefinitely this week. This is because of a sharp rise in suicides last month. Mostly by young people.
A Samaritan’s sign tied to the railings is not enough, is it?
Suicide is the extreme, but we all know that a mental ill-health crisis is growing exponentially in this country.
That substance misuse and self-injury-now being reported in early years settings-are rising dramatically in our young people.
How can we possibly create an ‘It’s good to talk’ culture in this country while we are simultaneously creating a ‘Don’t speak unless spoken to’ culture in schools?
I’m not saying that problems with behaviour don’t need addressing.
But behaviour is a form of communication, a symptom of a problem, rather that the problem itself…
At the very best, it’s the sign of a child whose needs aren’t being met, who doesn’t have the skills to manage what they are experiencing in that moment.
But so often, the way children behave-or not-simply tells a story; of mental ill-health, trauma, distress, neurodiversity, an ACE’s history…
If we’re going to change anything at policy level, let’s change that.
We must keep resisting this notion that ‘being young’ means you don’t deserve to be treated as a person with your own needs and rights.
Untold numbers already suffer in silence because they don’t know how to, or can’t get those needs met, or exercise those rights.
How much better protected would they be if we actively taught them that their voices matters, that people are listening to them?
Instead, policy is being used to silence children.
£10 million is being spent making our most vulnerable young people become even more vulnerable.
Let’s not do this to children. Instead of teaching them ‘not to talk’, let’s create policy that teaches them how to talk.
Let’s give every young person the chance to learn effective and appropriate ways of communicating, so we hear more from them, and less about them, only once they have disappeared into the shadowy underworld of exploitation, or thrown themselves to their deaths.