Hayley is a Ghost

Dear The John of Gaunt School,

Posted on: May 31, 2011

I’ve been writing this letter to you for four years even though you probably don’t remember me. I got my education from you and I was what you would call a ‘socially awkward’ student who didn’t really know how to fit in with others. I was a bit on the quiet side and I didn’t really have a fashion sense and I lived quite far away from everyone else so I didn’t hang around with them out of school and this was generally a disadvantage because it made me a target for ridicule.

I’ve always been the sort of person who doesn’t like to be an easy target so I did what anyone with common sense would do, and I removed myself from those sorts of horrible situations by skipping school, like, quite a lot of the time. I’ve walked past the school since and I’ve seen that you now lock the gates that lead out of the school which is great, but back when I was a student you made it so easy to skip classes. Who in their right mind would honestly sit in a class where they were going to be picked on by those around them? Who would subject themselves to that when they could just teach themselves at home what they had missed in that lesson? It’s a no brainer, really.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about was how you reacted to me removing myself from the hostile environment that you subjected me to on a daily basis. Can you remember how you made me attend those “special classes” once a week with all the other students who also didn’t fit in very well? I’d love to know why you did that because nobody ever told me what the purpose was.

We’d all sit around in a room while we were supposed to be in our other lessons and we would talk about why we didn’t fit in, and we would write our positive and negative traits on a big board and we would be encouraged to focus on our positive traits and aims (something that doesn’t work, by the way). We even once made a poster about ‘why I don’t fit in’ which was a real kick to the ego and to celebrate the end of the school year we were all allowed to go to McDonald’s for lunch.

I’ve been writing this letter for a long time and I started one afternoon when I was thinking back to those classes you made me sit in and it suddenly dawned on me exactly what the school was doing. You were actually punishing me and the others for being weird and that is inexcusable. I honestly feel that you should be ashamed because rather than punishing the students who made our lives at school hell because we didn’t fit in, you segregated us for not fitting in and effectively isolated us from the rest of our classes even further by doing so.

I am actually puzzled as to why you did that and what you aimed to achieve. It was as though you were demonstrating that being considered ‘weird’ was a bad thing and that we, the weird ones, needed a special extra-curricular class so that we could be taught why people thought we were weird and how not to be weird.

I have some news for you, and you might want to sit down for this because I have a feeling it is going to blow your tiny little minds – being weird is fine, and you know what? Those people in my special class weren’t weird – they were being who they are and there is nothing wrong with that. I still see some of them from time to time when I’m out and about and they are the only people from my time at school who still say hello to me and whom I have respect for and say hello back.

One of them, Carl, actually came out as gay shortly after we all left school. He didn’t come out as gay at school because he was taught that being different was wrong. For so long I resigned to the fact that I was different and weird and I came to the conclusion that I was proud to be weird until one day my mother heard me say that and sternly told me that I was not weird, I was normal and that nobody had the right to tell me I wasn’t normal.

I hate to tell you this, John of Gaunt School, but it’s actually your idea of what is normal that is weird. YOU are the weirdos. Not me and my special class graduates.

I will never forgive you for what you did to us.

Hayley Stevens,


16 Responses to "Dear The John of Gaunt School,"

Hi Hayley – who have you sent this to ?

You should sent any complaint like this not just to the current Head, but also to the Chair of Governors and the Chair of the LEA (if it’s still an LEA administered school).

I suspect that you may just receive a standard brush-off letter (standards have improved, the school now has such and such a pastoral policy and grades are now the best that they’ve ever been).

I haven’t sent it to anybody yet, but I might do as you say. I’m not expecting an answer, I just want them to know how they made me feel. Thank you for the tip 🙂

If they offered an opportunity to go in and discuss the issues – would you go ?

Sure, especially as my younger cousin attended the school briefly earlier this year and was badly bullied. I’d love to see what procedures they have in place these days.

It’s shocking, depressing, and infuriating that they did that to students, though not the least bit surprising. This letter will likely be inspirational for many others who went through the same or similar experiences. Well done.

I sympathise with you here.

I also went to some ‘special classes’ but not horrible ones like those you describe here. For a little while we actually had a headteacher who wanted to encourage the highest achievers and if the curriculum was going too slowly, we had the option of a bit of extra maths/english if we wanted. It was short-lived, but the idea was decent.

Anyway, the rest of the time I had the piss ripped out of me for just that reason, being ‘brainy’ or a ‘boffin’ or whatever the insult of the day was. It was horrible at the time. I’m actually writing about my own school experience at the moment but for a different reason so I’ll let you know about that..!

Anyway, I remember being distinctly annoyed that I, such a well-behaved student, was never rewarded for my good behaviour really, whereas if one of the tearaways who usually spent their time kicking it out of other pupils, stealing things, burning things – managed to go ONE DAY without doing something TOO horrific, they got some sweets or something.

Now, from my grown-up perspective, I can understand (sort of) this kind of mentality; reward the good when it happens to crop up, and if people are good every day, you can’t really shower them with praise in front of all the nasty children, it’ll just make them even worse (and probably earn us even more beatings, verbal or otherwise!).

So while I agree that these ‘special classes’ of yours sound like a total waste of time and a generally nasty and scarring experience for you – punishing the bullies consistently doesn’t always work.
They’ve usually got crap going on at home, and while that’s no consolation for those of us who were victims of their consequent lashing-out, it’s a sad fact and one that teachers often have to recognise (and it’s even sadder when they don’t, actually).

This does link in to bits of my upcoming post quite well, so I’ll link you in.

I agree that there is more to bullying than just someone choosing to be nasty and that there are underlying reasons people choose to victimise others, when I speak of punishment I meant more for individual actions like beating somebody up or ruining their work on purpose or shouting things at them in the classroom. That often goes unpunished and that sets a bad example. I think that just as victims of bullying need to be worked with on a personal level in a proactive way, so do those who bully others to work out the underlying reasons it happens.

I guess it just felt like that didn’t happen even though I’m sure it did.

Then definitely rewrite it and frame it as a formal complaint to the Head, Chair of Governors and the Chair of the LEA.

For what it’s worth – its my opinion that it reads as a very personal document and doesn’t contain many specifics that need to be responded to.

You’d need to identify

1) what the school should have done – specific actions
2) why they should have done it – legal framework, duty of care etc
3) how they should have known that they did it – monitoring, reporting and recording (check to see if this isn’t already a requirement and/or already being done)
4) what damage was caused by them not doing it – specific instances of harm caused
5) what actions you expect the school to take.

IANAL, just a bloke who (a) used to be bullied (b) did a bit of bullying (c) was a parent of children who were ‘weird’ (SEN and special diets) and (d) was a school governor

Very brave hayley. This school let you down , and I say this as a teacher (albeit primary). Bullies should get punished. Sadly they often don’t. As a teacher it makes me mad when the naughty kids get a reward for half a day if not being evil, when the good ones get nothing. As for putting those who are “different” in segregation – insane !

I agree with Paul. Add somemore specifiv details, get your friends who also suffered to add a bit, if they can, and make sure they ca nver hurt anyone else like they hurt you.

This was a brave letter.Thank you for speaking out againstinjustice, and also give your mother a hug, because her reaction was awesome.

Great letter… made me cry because I remembered how my school segregated us as well. And how all those kids felt too, and the kids in your class and other classes all over… You really should send this, to SOMEBODY, it is so well written, and you speak for a lot of people all over the world.

Terrific piece. For years before I was blind, I was called: freak (junior high), stoner (high school), punk (college+ and the only time that I was “cool” in New York at CBGB), nerd, weirdo, geek and now that I’m blind, I’m a blink. While all harsh treatment that one gets is terrible, those of us with major disabilities need to actually hear people say things like, “I would rather be dead than be blind like you,” and, “Don’t you wish your mother had an abortion?” Yes, people on buses and subways tell me that they would rather die than be like me. It must suck to be like them and be so entirely ignorant but even accepting that these people are stupid doesn’t make the feeling one gets when told that they are worse than dead.

I don’t know how bullying is in the UK but I’d assume it’s the same as here. There was a terrific book called, “Not Our Boys” (author forgotten) that describes how a bunch of the popular kids raped and beat up a developmentally disabled girl. The story shows how hard it was to even get these “good kids” investigated. I think one problem is that high school teachers identify with the popular students and reward them for their torments of the kids like us.

Bullying is a popular topic on BBC’s “Ouch Talk Show” which is all about disability.

Happy Hacking,

PS: Thanks for this heart felt post. I wasn’t expecting to be thinking of this stuff today.

Sometimes this kind of incompetent mishandling comes from a good place, where people are sincerely trying to do right but just don’t know what to do to help. But sometimes it’s disingenuous for them to claim that, because their efforts to handle things and tidy away difficult people aren’t really motivated by compassion or altruism at all.

And it sounds like you got lumped with one of the latter cases. I’m sorry. I can empathise with the outsider experience to an extent, but I think I was lucky with most of my school contemporaries. Even if I didn’t get on with (almost) any of them, I was never so ostracised or isolated that it became a major problem requiring any damaging intervention like yanking me even further out of normalcy and into a special zone with all the other pathologised weirdos.

As much as I might have wanted to fit in more, I don’t remember ever being told, directly or implicitly, by any figure of authority, that I was in the wrong for not conforming enough. So I guess I got away pretty lightly, because for a school to attempt to oppress diversity for the sake of harmonious uniformity is inexcusable.

Thanks for writing this. Adding some more honesty about this kind of thing to the world is always good.

I was also told by my cousin who went to the same school that he was told to “try and blend in” when he reported problems, and my brother who got bullied at school AND on the way to school got told “walk a different way to school then”. It’s so frustrating.

Definitely add that when you submit it as a formal complaint.

[…] until I started typing this paragraph – Hayley Stevens posted an open letter recently about not fitting in, which is worth reading. I should try and write about the thoughts it induces in me at greater […]

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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