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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 13:57 GMT
Bullied girls who skip school
girl at home
Report warns of "hidden" problem
Researchers say girls are more at risk of becoming excluded from school than official figures suggest.

They say the problem is that the focus has tended to be on under-achieving and disruptive boys - with girls' problems, especially with bullying, going unnoticed.

At Bexleyheath School in Kent the head teacher, Malcolm Noble, believes the report is a "timely reminder" for schools and policy makers that girls have problems too.

He has firsthand experience of the sort of girl who is at risk.

He had taught a girl who had made a very good start at his school but had then experienced bullying.

Not a statistic

"She is a child who is well supported by her parents and has made some progress in her first three years, up to the age of 14 - but now is under-achieving, is truanting from school, is showing every signs of disaffection.

"But what she's not doing is causing trouble in class.

"She is not going to be permanently excluded from school or anything like that," Mr Noble told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Because she was reacting by staying away - excluding herself, as the research report puts it - she was unlikely to do as well as she could in her GCSE exams.

"But she won't appear in any statistics."

That was a cost to the country, he said - but one that wasn't getting the same attention as boys who were perhaps aggressive, had been excluded, and were very visible on the streets.

Alternative

This is something that Dr Carrie Herbert is passionate about.

"The government concentrates on children who are dangerous, rude, who pull knives or throw chairs, she told BBC News Online.

"Kids who sit at the back of the class and cry, then fade away ... those are the ones I pick up."

Dr Herbert runs the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Cambridge, an independent charity which she set up in her own house five years ago to provide a safe haven for teenage girls and boys who have been victimised or ostracised.

In demand

"The person who is doing the bad behaviour has child psychologists, pupil referral units, one-to-one teaching, probably lots of attention from the head teacher before they get excluded.

"My kids disappear off the register. The parents are left with a terrible situation on their hands. I don't think the government are taking it at all seriously."

Red Balloon's fees are paid by the local education authorities - primarily Cambridgeshire and Suffolk - which refer children to it.

It has only 12 places so routinely has to turn children away. One father has just booked a place for his daughter for next September - the girl is currently not at school.

Dr Herbert compares the centre to an intensive care unit.

After a time, perhaps a few weeks or a term or two, the children want to return to mainstream schooling - some even go back to their previous schools.

Dr Herbert believes there is probably scope for similar centres in any town, for children who have got to the end of their tether, who say "I'm not going to school any more because they are going to get me, they make my life hell".

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 ON THIS STORY
Head teacher Malcolm Noble
"Report is a timely reminder"
See also:

09 Jan 02 | Education
05 Nov 01 | Education
16 Nov 01 | Education
25 Sep 01 | Scotland
04 May 01 | Education
11 Apr 01 | Education
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