Amid these necessarily “anti-social” times, we have undergone a brutal social awakening. The shocking deaths of two unconnected people have brought to the surface a torrent of emotion and shone a spotlight on issues which affect society, and with it, all schools – issues such as mutual respect, inclusion and social responsibility.
In the crucial years when young people are finding out who they are and what they believe in – questions of identity, alienation, injustice and a heartfelt desire for change have risen to the top of a very public consciousness.
At Putney High School this term, the launch of the It Starts with Me programme has been extremely timely – a holistic and proactive approach to helping our young people gain a more confident understanding of both themselves, their peers and the diverse society in which they’re growing up. The social issues that have arisen over the last year are not something for “someone else” to solve, and crucially, It Starts with Me is about replacing complacency and any tendency towards simply virtue signalling, with a sense of shared responsibility.
The teenage years can be an anxious and uncertain time as boys and girls grapple with identity, puberty and their growing awareness of their place in the world. 24-hour news, tv and advertising, coupled with the all-pervasive social media do not help to reduce the pressure and we are increasingly seeing the dangers these channels bring to teenagers’ perceptions not only of themselves but of others, including the way they treat the opposite sex. Add to that the pressures of a pandemic and there has been plenty of time for these stresses to multiply, and for agitation to mount.
When I speak to the girls at my school, who are I am pleased to say, a generally down-to-earth, self-aware and considerate bunch, they have strong views about the kind of society they want to live in. We do everything we can to support them as they grow into kind, considerate and thoughtful adults who undoubtedly want to bring change. We tell them that it’s one thing to protest, but talking about something and doing something about it are fundamentally different things. So we encourage our students to be active in combatting social stereotypes and to foster inclusive relationships in their daily lives, but to respond to challenging issues in a collaborative and considered way.