OPEN LETTER to Drew Povey, Headteacher on Channel 4’s “Educating Greater Manchester”
I GET it. You’ve got a mega to-do list for running what was once one of the country’s worst performing secondary schools. And I understand that talking to a teenage girl about the nudes she sent and are now circulating among your pupils is probably something you really don’t want to do.
So, I commend you for attempting to tackle it. It’s clear that you are bloody good at what you do and I, like so many others who watch the show, have a massive, new found respect for the teaching profession.
But it was a real gut-wrenching moment when I watched you discuss with your young, impressionable pupil Lelo, clearly full of potential, how she had “degraded herself” and should feel “ashamed”. You dropped the ball on this one and I think it’s really important to talk about why.
I obviously need to state that it’s possible we didn’t get to see the full conversation – ten, one-hour episodes to show all the challenges you face during a school year isn’t a lot of time. But for all the young people and parents watching, I wish those who edited the scene where you spoke to Lelo about what had happened, thought more about the example you’d be setting.
Not once did you mention that a crime had been committed here – one serious enough to carry up to a two-year jail sentence. The boy who shared these images without Lelo’s consent online broke the law. What Lelo needed to know, and as you were the one to confront her about it, it was your responsibility to make her understand, that she was in fact the victim here.
This is not just an issue for naive teenagers taking selfies in their bedrooms to send to someone they fancy. A McAfee study (in the US) found that 36% of people have sent or intend to send intimate content to their partners, and that one in ten ex-partners threatened to expose risqué photos online – a threat carried out 60% of the time.
Something that is becoming so quickly entrenched in our culture of sex and relationships – and engaged in by huge numbers of people – should not have been dismissed as the act of a silly school girl in the way it was here.
Yes, explain to Lelo that she should be careful who she shares these kinds of images with. And make it clear that at 15-years-old she is much too young to be engaging in sexual activity.
Tell her it’s unlikely at this age any relationship she has would involve the level of trust and maturity needed for this kind of sexual expression to be received in a safe and respectful way.
But please don’t teach her to feel ashamed of her body or how she chooses to use it. And make sure she knows who is really in the wrong here and that she is not powerless in this situation.
Earlier in the episode, Safeguarding Officer Miss Kay took a similar approach – encouraging Lelo to change the way she presents herself publicly because “there are weird men out there”.
The shot of Lelo after this conversation, sitting in the corner defeated and small, with her arms folded, saddened me because it won’t be the last time this beautiful young woman is told to hide herself, change herself, so that men won’t “think things” and presumably act upon these thoughts, whether she likes it or not.
I hope Lelo grows up feeling that her beautiful body is hers to do with what she wants. That she can choose to display it in anyway that makes her feel good and empowered, and that nobody has the right to touch it without her consent, or exploit it in anyway.
But sadly, Lelo is more likely to learn the ingrained lessons so many of us women do – that our bodies are prey for dangerous men and only we shoulder the responsibility to hide them from these predators.
I really hope that fantastic, life changing, schools like yours aren’t part of teaching our young women this because unfortunately, in this scenario, that is the only option your teachers gave this young woman – to take the blame, to hide, and feel acutely ashamed of herself and her body.
Because of something a man did.
EPISODE SIX of “Educating Greater Manchester” and the rest of the series may be viewed at: www.channel4.com/programmes/educating-greater-manchester/on-demand/61519-006
By Ceriann Rush