Fear in the corridors: Pupils and parents speak out about the ‘growing’ problem of bullying at Scarborough's Graham School
“A place where children feel safe and are able to learn” is the definition of school most parents would give. But, according to some families, Graham School is not meeting that expectation.
Ofsted’s latest inspection in 2017, two years before the Scarborough secondary school became an academy, found “weaknesses in the management of behaviour across the school”.
Three years on, some parents whose children have been bullied say that little or nothing has changed and say that, if anything, things have got worse.
One parent took to Facebook to voice his concerns and ask if anyone else had encountered similar experiences – and around 180 comments backed his fears, many reporting their own bullying problems.
While Graham School insists the welfare and safety of pupils is “paramount” and vows to make “ongoing improvements”, these parents and children feel it’s time to speak out.
'Our child won't be going back'
The parents of a 14-year-old girl, who has been targeted by a bully for the past three years, have taken the decision to take her out. What started with name-calling in Year 7 progressively escalated to physical violence which led to an unprovoked assault on her way back from school just a few weeks ago.
“He ran behind me and started punching me over the head, he punched me eight times,” she said. Her mum added: “A lady who was passing by reported it to the police and she too was verbally assaulted.”
Following several meetings requesting robust measures to be put in place to deal with the bully and safeguard their daughter, the parents say school staff agreed to only exclude the boy in question for two days. They also allegedly said they would inform his parents and give him “a rigid telling off”.
“Two days is like a holiday for him,” said the girl’s mum. “It’s like saying if you attack a pupil you’re only going to get two days off. What kind of message does that send to the other bullies?
“Our worry is, what’s going to happen next? Is it going to involve a knife or a bottle over her head?”
As the pair feel the school failed to reassure them that a similar incident won’t happen again, they say their daughter won’t be going back.
'My daughter was frightened to death'
The mum of a 12-year-old girl also resorted to withdrawing her child from Graham due to the impact of bullying on her mental health. Incidents began a few weeks after she started Year 7.
“She was coming home, locking herself in her bedroom and I thought maybe she’s finding it hard to transition from primary to high school because she’s a bit shy. But she kept saying ‘It’s nasty, I don’t like it, they’re picking on me because of my weight’,” her mum said.
According to the child, bullies made her a physical target, pushing her in the corridors, pulling her hair and even spitting in her food. She had become “scared” to go to school and had developed issues with anxiety.
Her mum said: “She texted me one day that she was sitting in the toilets and I said ‘what are you doing in the toilets?’ and she said ‘Just hiding from everyone, mum’. It was heartbreaking. I thought that’s it, enough’s enough.
“As a parent I was like ‘Am I taking it a bit too far?’ but I got no reassurances at all and my daughter was frightened to death. You can’t have your children like that.”
'I rang school 38 times'
A boy with special needs was pulled out after just seven weeks after being targeted by other kids.
The 12-year-old, who now attends a different school, was being kicked and punched every day at dinnertime and breaks. In the seven weeks he was there, his mum rang the school to report the bullying a total of 38 times.
She said: “They just dismiss you. You leave messages and they don’t call back, you go in to speak to them and nothing happens.
“After [my son] left they rang me for six weeks asking me why he wasn’t going into school. They didn’t even notice he’d left.” Crucial in the decision to take her son out was the fact a member of staff turned up to a meeting ill-prepared about her son’s situation and his special needs, she said.
“I think management is so bad that it would take a miracle to turn [the school] around. Some of the kids are just past the point of discipline.”
Graham School: ‘We’ve focused heavily on behaviour management’
The Scarborough News approached Graham School for a response. Although our request for a face-to-face interview was declined, the school agreed to send a statement.
In it, Helen Dowds, Executive Principal at Graham School, said: “At Graham School we take all instances of bullying seriously and all reported issues are dealt with according to the school’s policies. We work closely with parents and other external agencies and encourage open lines of communication with all parties. If sanctions for inappropriate behaviour are necessary, they are always exercised in line with the school behaviour policy and DfE guidance.
“Since joining the Hope Learning Trust last year, we have focused heavily on behaviour management within school as well as ensuring that our teaching and learning strategies are of the highest quality. During the last year, we have also worked hard to develop a strong support network in school which consists of Directors of Progress (Heads of Year) and an extensive pastoral support team operating in a number of roles.
“The welfare and safety of our young people is paramount and as such, we are liaising closely with Andrew Wilson, the Trust’s Director of Behaviour, Welfare and Safeguarding, who will support our ongoing work. We are committed to continuing to make ongoing improvements within the school and hope that we can work with students, parents and the community to make positive changes as quickly as possible.
“One of Graham’s partner schools, Vale of York Academy (previously Canon Lee School) in Clifton, York, was taken over by the Hope Learning Trust in April 2017 after Ofsted had placed the school in special measures the previous year.
“The Trust and the school team have worked tirelessly to take the school on a journey of improvement. In November 2019 the school was judged ‘Good’ by Ofsted.
“Graham School has similar challenges to those we faced with Vale of York, but as a Trust we are confident that we can make improvements through a partnership approach, and always by putting students’ safety and wellbeing at the heart of our activities.”