All the people who knew Natasha Macbryde best – family, friends, classmates, and even parents of classmates – say Natasha Macbryde was ‘bullied to death.’ But no-one will be surprised to see that Royal Grammar School is reluctant to believe them. Ignoring the impossible problem staring everyone in the face seems to have become standard procedure for schools.
Royal Grammar School in Tything has questioned the truth of the bullying claims (claims which are all over Facebook, claims which are coming from the dead girl’s father, and even claims from parents of other pupils at the school) on the basis that Royal Grammar School have a ‘strong anti-bullying policy.’ They are naive at best if they don’t know that in practice there no such thing.
No-one is saying schools like Royal Grammar School should be held totally accountable, legally or even morally, for what happens to children on their property, and under their care – although in most other situations where an adult is entirely responsible for a child, it probably wouldn’t be considered as ridiculous an idea as it somehow sounds when we talk about schools. After all, in the workplace, adults are expected to take legal responsibility for the safety of their employees (other adults) to an extent. The reason it becomes impractical with schools, of course, is that most people know the impossible, uncomfortable truth: that there isn’t much that any school can do about bullying.
So no, of course they can’t seriously be expected to actually stop it happening. But the least schools could do is be honest about that impossible, uncomfortable truth. When 13 year old Kelly Yeoman killed herself because of bullying in 1997, her sister Sarah claimed that “the teachers would just say ‘Sit down Kelly, don’t be a tittle-tattle’” if her sister tried to report any abuse. After Thomas Thompson, aged 11, killed himself because of bullying, his headmaster Martin Pope argued that there were “no reports” of any bullying in his school. Holly Stuckey killed herself this year, and despite writing a suicide note which stated that bullying was the reason she committed suicide, and despite other parents at the school coming forward since her death to claim their own kids were also experiencing abuse, the school simply insisted: “We employ a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.” Perhaps Kelly Yeoman, Thomas Thompson, Holly Stuckey, and the seemingly endless list of similar cases were all mistaken or lying about what was happening to them. Or perhaps all our schools are in denial about what is and isn’t within their control – and what happens on their property, under their control, on under their noses.
Is it fair to treat deaths like these as if they were caused by some kind of negligence on the part of the school? No. Should schools like Royal Grammar School in Tything be more concerned with preventing assault and harassment (and isn’t it funny how calling things what they actually are can suddenly change how seriously we take them?) than they are with their own immediate reputation? Yes, of course they should. If they won’t be honest about the scale of the problem in order to actually try and start addressing it, then perhaps they could just do it out of respect for kids like Natasha Macbryde and their families.