The headmaster of Ruthin School in Denbighshire, North Wales, has upset parents and students with his statement referring to relationships in school. In a leaked e-mail, 45 year-old Toby Belfield wrote to the school’s staff that romantic relationships will no longer be tolerated – pupils that are currently dating should start looking for other schools for next year.
More details in his email included the punishments for being in a relationship: anyone in year 11 or the lower sixth form will be expelled if found to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and he threatened to give bad references for university. According to Belfield, romantic relationships should wait until university and not start in high school. Even though he was in a relationship in school himself, he states that times have changed and nowadays the competition to get into a top university is worse than ever, and pupils in his school should sort out their priorities.
The headmaster has a history of bizarre behaviour: in 2015 students protested that the Welsh language was ‘forced upon them’, and in February last year he expelled students for minor mistakes who had already paid the annual fee of £34,500. He made further harsh comments about ‘pathetic students pretending to be ill’ and complained about the too short skirts some girls wore to school. This may go back to the overflow of students that the school has had. Parents and media have been outraged by his educational strategy and Belfield has been increasingly approached for comment by the press.
He explained to the Daily Post that students would not be immediately expelled, but will be given an opportunity to rethink their current relationship, hoping they will put their education first. He still defended his opinion that a romantic relationship in school is unnecessary and damaging for the educational development of teenagers. Experts have found as many disadvantages as benefits from relationships – both in school and at university. It allegedly helps the development of social skills, interdependence, empathy and sensitivity in a person. However the role of the parents, especially in their children’s first relationships, is essential to avoid unhealthy relationships or a teenage pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are indeed many disadvantages of relationships, such as poor academic performance, low educational aspirations and depression. Most school relationships end up failing when the time to go to university comes, making them somehow unnecessary.
Ironically in university, many students choose to stay single because it would distract them from their educational and individual goals, together with personal reasons. However a recent statistic shows that 1 in 5 students find their ‘real love’ at university, and states that university is the ideal place to find someone with the same educational background and the common interest in a subject – making university perhaps indeed a better time to let a relationship happen instead of high school.
This however does not represent the reality in UK education, as 2/3 of high school students are dating someone. What upsets parents is that though Belfield may have a point, he does not have the right to interfere in the private lives of his students who should be able to learn from their own decisions. Parents want Belfield to be dismissed and many of his students are already threating to leave the institution.