Dear Michael Gove,
I am co-director of one of the UK's most in-demand self-esteem education programmes: the Body Gossip Campaign. Presently we visit approximately four schools or colleges each week during term time.
We are living in a world where one in 10 young people will develop an eating disorder before they reach the age of 25 (with 1.6 million currently officially diagnosed in the UK and millions more hiding their symptoms and suffering in silence); where in a typical British classroom three children are currently self-harming; where body-image related bullying has led to three high-profile teenage suicides since the beginning of 2013; where 30 per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls aged 11-19 cite their relationship with their body their "number one worry" and emotionally-motivated obesity is spiralling. Thankfully lots of wonderful teachers have shrewdly identified the need for a class like ours.
To date we have worked with 25,000 UK teenagers, male and female, in state and independent education. We use a combination of first hand testimonial, psychology, media literacy and political awareness to make our students realise they are both valuable and valued.
We give our students the tools they need to navigate the worlds of internet, media, fashion, beauty, food and exercise on their own terms and are the catalyst which often allows them to become healthy, happy and to fulfil their potential.
We're helping young people approach their education, social life and future with confidence and we're doing it with the one hour of a student's entire education schools can spare from their academic timetables.
To achieve your goal of raising academic standards, you as Education Secretary have deemed it necessary to place more emphasis on core, traditional academic subjects, completely remove the budget for Personal, Health and Social Education in state schools, refuse to raise the amount of time spent in physical education to a minimum of two hours per week and cut huge swathes of vocational qualifications from the curriculum.
Whilst I cannot condone the way in which your policies have in my opinion ostracised those young people whose talents fall outside the traditionally academic, I am actually writing to outline how our classes and other expertly delivered emotional education can and are assisting you in your agenda.
I agree entirely that British children deserve the best possible education and should be encouraged towards the highest academic standards they are capable of. However, academic and emotional education are not mutually exclusive and they are not opposed to one another. They must, crucially, work in tandem if young people are to truly benefit from an excellent school experience.
The best maths and English in the world won't help a student pass their exams if they are occupied by:
- Being pregnant at fifteen
- Are sexually confused
- If they have an STI
- If they are taking drugs or binge drinking
- If they have an eating disorder
- If they are self-harming
- If they have a pornography addiction
- If they are being bullied, either in person or via the internet
- If they are suffering from depression
- If they have a mental illness and are misunderstood
- Or if they are simply crippled by self-loathing
You have often spoken about the need for the issues listed above to be addressed at home. The fact is, we cannot control what happens behind the closed doors of every British household, but you are in the privileged position of having influence over what happens in every British school.
The world is not as it was when you or I were at school. It has never been more difficult, more fraught, pressured and frightening to be a teenager. At school, young people are developing health issues - both mental and physical - which go on to cost the NHS billions of pounds every year.
They need our intervention and they need our help - help delivered by the very best experts in the field and the most empowered teachers - who need up to date teaching guidance to cover these difficult topics with confidence.
Over 60 per cent of the Body Gossip Campaign's work presently comes from independent schools. These are educational institutions you have recognised as producing the highest exam grades. Could this be because they also have the money at their disposal to run the most robust, thorough and imaginative PSHE programmes? Could the fact that they also tend to devote a lot of time and money to sports programmes for their students also play a part?
All schools should have the opportunity to properly nurture their students' emotional and mental wellbeing, either via updated teaching guidance written by experts in partnership with Government or by inviting outside assistance from organisations like mine.
I am writing to you, Mr Gove, to beg you not to let the partisan rhetoric that has blighted Tory politics of late filter down to the sphere of young people's education.
Please stop presenting the situation as a battle between those committed to academic excellence and those with a desire to incorporate lessons relating to the realities of modern life. There is no battle. The future of our young people is too important to create bogus divisions within the education sector for your own political gain.
Natasha Devon BA Hons
Co-Director of the Body Gossip Campaign
Creator of the Body Gossip Education Programme
IF YOU AGREE WITH THE CONTENTS OF THIS LETTER YOU CAN SIGN OUR PETITION AT WWW.BODYGOSSIP.ORG