10. Secret Friends
Updated: Jan 21, 2020
According to our audit, the threat of physical bullying was the major concern of two thirds of Eydon Vale's younger pupils. The parents constantly complained but the previous Head had done little to help. As Ofsted found, communication between them and the school had been dire. One of Rhiannon Starr's boldest initiatives as Acting Head was to call a parents’ forum. Over a hundred attended. Her predecessor had been pilloried, and she was often interrupted by angry parents.
A second forum was slated for the end of January. A last minute family illness prevented Miss Starr from attending and the Chair of Trustees arrived late. So, I began by summarising the system of rules, rewards and sanctions that had been agreed at the start of term. “I have spent the last three and a half weeks observing how these have been working out in practice. I’ve visited every classroom at least twice a week and am on duty every break and lunchtime. From all I can gather, the two biggest problems are noise and bullying.”
This seemed to satisfy most in the audience. There were nods and smiles. However, one parent asked me how I was going to deal with gang-related revenge attacks. “There’s no point telling my son to go to his teacher. If the bullies found out that he’d reported them, they’d get their own back after school. If one of his friends went to the Head on his behalf, he, too, would be beaten up.”
“Yes, I agree,” I replied. “The bullies are winning at the moment. The victims are so scared, they daren’t open their mouths. Violence has spread like a terrible new virus. We need to find a way of tracing both victim and perpetrator. In order to stop it, we need immunity for pupils who break the code of silence. So, I want your help in setting up a new ‘secret friend’ strategy. I’d like to invite all parents of victims to phone me. I just need the pupil’s name and class, and I will do the rest.
“I will arrange for a secret friend to look out for them. It will be someone from his or her class who has the same lessons. The secret friend has to be safe in the knowledge that neither the victim nor the bullies will ever find out who they are. He or she won’t be a real friend – just a witness. All that we require of secret friends is that they give me a witness statement. They won’t sign it with their name, just a number. If the bully had broken the law, the case would be referred to police and they’ve agreed to accept the number. In all other instances, the matter will be dealt with internally by the Trustees.”
Most parents seemed happy, but a few were unimpressed. There were mutters of “Grass”. One called out, “That’s bang out of order. You jist want to turn the kids into a bunch of spies. It’ll just be like East Germany here, man. Why can’t we tell you who the bag ‘eds are and you jist shot ‘em out?”
“I get your point about informants. The German secret police employed networks of spies to keep an eye on their school or district. They would relay every bit of tittle-tattle to the authorities. No one felt safe. The secret friend has only one other pupil to oversee for a single, time-limited period. If the evidence stands up and the instigator is caught, that’s the end of the commitment. Does that answer your question?”