The Guardian report on a study of school surroundings made interesting reading last week. The study has apparently found that walking or travelling through an area of decay and deprivation on the way to school negatively affects the behaviour and possibly the learning of children.
Not really very surprising, I guess. But I do think it is important that such studies are carried out. It has long seemed to me that schools are seen as little islands of their own and that it is down to the individuals in carry out policies and meet targets set by people who have long-since been into schools themselves. For example, it is seen that the number of young people with obesity and type 2 diabetes are rising, so schools must teach more about health, nutrition and exercise. Then no-one backs this up by providing excellent sports’ clubs and facilities for young people, banning advertising of junk food to children and improving food standards. When it is noted that levels of depression and mental health issues amongst the young are rising, then well-being gets put on schools’ agendas. But does anyone look at some of the reasons behind the depression, such as viciously aggressive marketing to children, size 0 celebrities, abusive parents and poverty?
I’m not saying this is wrong. I think it is fabulous when schools are concerned about the ‘whole child’. I also think that flagging up the well-being of students is long overdue. But I also think that schools alone cannot deal with it, and that policy makers simple must look at the bigger picture.
In the case of the study mentioned above, I am sure that schools in deprived and run-down areas can provide a safe, clean and stimulating environment and instil in their students that education is a means to avoid the poverty that surrounds them. I am equally sure that in many cases schools are safe-havens in which children are given hope for their future. I bet there are many head teachers who, rather than accepting the litter and graffiti and lack of play areas, are involved in trying to improve the local area.
But I also think that policy makers, once again, need to look at the bigger picture and see that, yes, schools are hugely important in improving the life chances of young people, but that they will be able to do this better if they are backed by public policy that addresses poverty, that rejuvenates towns and that looks beyond schools as the sole solution to so many of society’s problems.