Tomorrow our children will return to school pale, anxious, tired. They will be longing to return to their ordinary school routine. Christmas, long-awaited and now a distant memory, will have brought trauma and uncertainty to some of our children and their families. Families that will have been torn apart again this Christmas by rising debt, depression and dependency. We are bracing ourselves.
Ours is a medium-sized primary school, serving a large proportion of a disadvantaged community. This time last year my office became inundated with anxious parents and children who had woken up at the beginning of 2012 to face rising debts, un-meetable payday loan deadlines and relationships strained and torn apart under the weight of it all. Children, who had been besides themselves with anticipation when we had last seen them, found themselves berated for not exhibiting enough gratitude for their Christmas gifts, for falling out with their siblings, or having grown too much to fit their uniform, found themselves blamed for the latest round of arguments or parental breakdown. Parents, who had attempted suicide, returned to drug dependency, lost their jobs, hadn’t any idea where to turn next.
Not all of our families are unemployed. Many work unbelievably hard, but find their jobs too poorly-paid to support their families. Recently, schools like mine have become family support units, social care workers, relationship counsellors, behaviour support experts, play therapists, mental health specialists, health workers and police support officers. We were becoming used to this; hardened even. But finding ourselves more recently the dolers-out of charity…..of Christmas food parcels, of free uniform, of breakfasts, of shoes, plimsolls, of financial assistance for trips time and time again, brings home the cruel hardship so many families are facing all year round.
My school lies deep in the heart of West Oxfordshire. People find this difficult to believe.