I have been thinking a lot about the role of schools recently, and I have come to a very firm conclusion. All schools need to educate and to communicate, but this role should not be restricted to communicating and educating within the environs of a particular school; as schools, we need to speak out, more widely, because we have expertise that is needed to help change the world for our children and their future, and that means galvanising people to help make a difference.
We also need to do this because parents – not just the parents of pupils in our own school, but all parents â-genuinely need guidance in how to help bring up their children, and it is the moral responsibility of schools to share what we know and to lead. Parents are often very alone in their roles, buffeted by advice but not really given much help and support. Meanwhile, their children are under huge pressures – they are seduced at an early age by our highly commercialised and sexualised culture, they are dazzled by the glamour of celebrity, and they are brainwashed into believing that banality and idleness are going to make them happy.
I feel very strongly about and have campaigned against the premature sexualisation of our young children in these unprecedented times we live in, where children are bombarded by thousands of potentially damaging media and marketing images a day. Our children – and by this I mean all our children, as I genuinely believe that we have a collective responsibility as a society to help raise every child – are swamped by these media messages about how they should appear and how they should act. It is very true for girls, but also true for boys. It starts very young, before children even get to school – just look at how the sinister US toddler pageant cult is starting to gain popularity over here, with ‘contestants’ as young as 18 months – with (poorly guided) parents saying (and probably believing) that it gives their child confidence to appear in them.
We need the courage to help give parents the courage to stand up for what they believe and know is right – appropriate boundaries, and strong values – so that they can protect their children and – crucially – know from what they should be protecting their children .
Schools need to be leading those messages.