One Kind Word is the theme of this year’s anti-bullying week. At Magdalen College School we have not opted to go the whole hog and encourage the wearing of odd socks (though, heaven knows, many pupils do this inadvertently on a daily basis!) – instead, we are challenging pupils to think about what kind words they use with each other and to keep a tab of their daily acts of kindness.
In an academic school, it is all too easy to allow the rewards system to recognise good work above all else, so teachers are being reminded to reward acts of kindness, too: the boy who alerted staff on year 7’s residential trip to the home-sickness of one of his room-mates, or the pupil who volunteered to carry the books of a boy with a broken wrist.
This week sees Year 7 and Year 8 Welfare Committees meet with their Heads of Year. These are termly meetings, separate from the regular School Councils: the focus is on wellbeing, year group interactions and whole-school pastoral themes rather than the length of the tuck shop queue or the broken shower rail in the changing rooms.
Because this is national anti-bullying week, the committees will be picking up on conversations already underway in tutor groups about the importance of kindness and about being an upstander, not a bystander. Short videos have been circulated to act as prompts and pupils will be asked to reflect on how they can uphold these aims, especially as the weather turns, exams start to bite and tiredness kicks in.
All this comes on the back of a whole-school review, where every pupil has been asked to ‘score’ their awareness of and experiences surrounding ten protected characteristics advertised last year and discussed in tutor time and assemblies. We took the decision to add ‘body image’ to the nine characteristics legally protected by the 2010 Equality Act, not least because, in these younger year groups especially, exposure to some of the others (maternity, gender – we are single-sex up to the Sixth Form) is fairly limited. By contrast, ‘body image’ (derogatory comments about someone’s height or weight or hair colour) is a much more likely target of unpleasantness in boys of this age. The results are broadly encouraging, with pupils in all years showing increased awareness of the issues and a growing confidence in knowing how to address them.
The next step is to dig deeper to explore how much of this is experienced face-to-face and how much in an online setting – we all know that, despite the nominal 16+ age requirement, WhatsApp groups proliferate, even in Year 7. Another challenge is that adults hardly set a good example in respectful use of such forums: boys need only have a passing interest in the national news to come across reports of racist abuse of footballers or the personal abuse of politicians - often, by other politicians… But as Gandhi famously said, we need to be the change we want to see, and we hope that these discussions will make for more enlightened leaders in the future as well as improving the daily experience of pupils at MCS.
Rob Hemingway, Head of Lower School, Magdalen College School