Children as young as four can learn about serious mental illness including schizophrenia and psychosis.


A new book launched last month aims to explain serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to children as young as four.  The story Pretend Friends, written by Alice Hoyle, illustrated by Lauren Reis,  and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, uses the analogy of imaginary friends to explore the differences between childhood imaginary companions, and adults who hear voices or have other hallucinations or delusions as a result of mental illness. The author is donating all royalties to the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

One reader, Joe Hayman CEO of the PSHE association, stated “One of the most important books I’ve read in some time” and described the story as a ” must-read – brilliantly-presented, touching, poignant, insightful and very important”. Another reader with lived experience of schizophrenia, Katy Gray said ” I love the idea of introducing young children to the concept of severe mental illnesses, to help them learn not to be afraid of adults living with one. Hopefully if children can learn about mental health at a young age, they will grow up into understanding adults, less likely to have stigmatising beliefs about mental illness.”

Some parents might be concerned that children don’t need to learn about serious mental illness, in case it upsets or scares them, but as the author points out “One in hundred people will experience schizophrenia or psychosis, therefore there are children in families who will have friends or relatives living with such conditions, who are desperately searching for a tool to help them facillitate the conversation with their children. In a world where mental health stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help and recovery, then it is important to educate the younger generation about mental illness and mental health stigma so that they grow up into supportive accepting adults.”

She went on to state “The story has been very carefully written to be a gentle non-scary introduction to serious mental illness. The main character Little Bea finds out about how we can support adults living with mental illnesses in their recovery, but it is also made clear that she is not expected to try and make things better. This was very important so that a child reading would not feel worried or upset or that they needed to take on caring responsibilities if they found out someone close to their family was hearing voices. That job is for adults not children.”

Nigel Campbell, Associate Director of Communications for Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We’re delighted to have linked up with Alice for the launch of Pretend Friends, and we’re very grateful for her generosity in donating the royalties to Rethink Mental Illness.

“Mental illness affects every family in some way, but it can be difficult for parents to know how to talk about it with their children. There is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around conditions like schizophrenia and psychosis, which makes them even harder to discuss.

“The book is a really imaginative and fun resource, which will help children understand what life is like for people who are experiencing symptoms like hearing voices, or seeing things that aren’t there. As they get older, hopefully it will help children become more aware and accepting of others who are affected by mental illness.”

The story is available now from JKPFoyle’s or Amazon or in all other good bookshops with all royalties going towards Rethink Mental Illness.  Let us know what you think about using story books to talk about mental illness with children in the comments below.

Sunday Morning Live- The story so far- Updated 1st Nov

On the 16th October the BBC show Sunday Morning Live featured a “discussion” on sex education.  I appeared via webcam on this show and following my appearance I blogged an immediate reflection (here) .

On the 17th October I posted further clarification (here).  Many people were motivated to complain to the BBC and people shared sample letters that I posted here.

19th October- The BBC responded initially to one of the complaint letters (scroll to bottom of post here

20th Oct-

24th October- PSHE Association also responds “Our statement on the “BBC Sunday Morning Live Discussion”

25th October- The BBC responds further to complaints

26th October-  I responded via this blogpost to set things straight about how and why I was asked to appear.

28th October TES publish On the Naughty Step conduct that deserves a ticking off.

Watch this space for further developments.

The BBC responds to a Sunday Morning Live complaint letter- updated with latest reponses- plus some Questions

****** LATEST RESPONSE*********25th October- The BBC has responded further to complaints with this same letter being forwarded to me by several people. (scroll down to see initial response from 19th Oct). Interesting they only responded to complaints once the show was no longer available on iPlayer. A tactic to try reduce any further complaints?

Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Sunday Morning Live’ broadcast on BBC One on 16 October.

I understand that you were unhappy with the comments made about teachers and sex education during the introduction to this edition of the programme by Lynette Burrows, which you found offensive and inaccurate. I note that you feel these comments do not reflect the broad range of opinion of parents or students, and felt the assertions were not challenged sufficiently enough.

Whilst I appreciate your concerns, ‘Sunday Morning Live’ is a topical, religious and ethical debate show which often provides a space for debates on controversial topics. In particular our ‘Sunday Stand’ gives an opportunity for people with a non-mainstream viewpoint to set out their case, as was the case with Lynette Burrows. Lynette’s outspoken personal view was a preface to the subsequent debate during which the studio panellists, Rabbi Romain and other guests appearing via webcam robustly challenged Lynnette’s views. Studio guests are chosen for their ability to contribute on a variety of subjects, and expert comment is always provided via web cam – as it was in this case by Alice Hoyle.

We’d also like to point out that Alice was told precisely what Lynette was going to say on the programme and therefore she had ample time to prepare her own response to it.

Nevertheless, we’re guided by the feedback we receive and I can assure you I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to all BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Mark Roberts

BBC Complaints

I have written a response to this but firstly I have some questions I’d appreciate readers thoughts on:

1) The letter clearly shows that if the guests were expected to challenge Burrows on this then they (The BBC) had no intention of doing so!? They knew full well what she was going to say but instead of actually taking the time to formulate an effective response to her polemic (which they obviously had a lot more time to do) they decide instead to leave it up to guests to do who they have never met or spoken to for longer than 20minutes in advance of the show! I find that seriously scary- that the BBC were willing to let such vile notions be made public without actually having any intention of properly refuting them.

2) They were actually relying on guests to challenge Burrows horrific viewpoint on the show without actually informing them properly of this?! -For the record I had been read a brief extract of her polemic transcript in advance but had been very clear with them that while I was more than happy to be on the show to discuss sex education from my position as a professional, I was not interested in getting into any ad hominem attacks as that is just something I won’t respond to, or felt I was there to do. This was made extremely clear to them from the outset and the researcher had reassured me that I would not be put in that position, and that I didn’t have to respond directly to her polemic.

3) Don’t the BBC have a duty of care towards people it invites onto its shows? The BBC know I am heavily pregnant, they also knew I that I was not going to be good at aggressively arguing debates because quite simply I don’t have the personality for it (too polite for my own good!)- I honestly couldn’t have been more clear with them about that. Yet they still put me onto the show (and now lucky me is dealing with all the horrible fallout from it- not a position I ever expected to find myself in). I wish I had withdrawn when I had wanted to but the BBC researcher persuaded me to stay on the show with lots of false reassurances. 😦 This whole situation is actually causing me a lot of stress and I am finding it a very upsetting position to be in, especially now the BBC appear to be trying to shift the blame for its own failings onto me! Thanks.

First reply: 19th October:

A science teacher colleague of mine sent in a complaint letter (unfortunately has no copy of the letter she sent otherwise I would blog it too). She has received this in response:

So any comments? Where do we take this from here? Personally I don’t think that’s good enough.

Thank you for your comments with regard to ‘Sunday Morning Live’ broadcast on BBC One on 16 October.

I understand you felt a guest’s opinions were appalling and she should not have been given so much airtime.

We make no editorial comment or judgement on the views expressed by contributors to our programmes, and our aim is simply to provide enough information for viewers to make up their own minds.

This may include hearing opinions which some people may personally disagree with but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

It is also not always possible or practical to reflect all the different opinions on this subject within individual programmes. Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends in their subject area. We don’t seek to denigrate any view, or to promote any view. We seek rather to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience.

I do understand you feel very strongly about this, so I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Mark Madden

BBC Complaints

Sample complaint letters to BBC Sunday Morning Live and complaint link-updated


A lot of people have been writing complaint letters to the BBC (thankyou!) so I thought it might be useful to provide sample letters plus where to send it to so more people can send a letter if they wish without too much effort.

Letter A is  adapted from the one @Proftentacles sent and posted on comments to my initial post in response to the show.

Letter B- Written by Science Teacher @Morphosaurus (also check out her fab blog post about the show)

Please feel free to copy/edit the letters and complaints can be sent here.  

Letter A

To whom it may concern,

I was thoroughly appalled by the amount of airtime given to Lynette Burrows and the fact that she was allowed, on national television, to liken teaching Sex and Relationships educators (which basically includes anyone who teaches Science or PSHE) to paedophilia.  (Her exact quotes were: this sort of education that is obsessed with destroying childhood innocence in a way that is reminiscent of paedophilia” and “To me, anyone who wants to talk “dirty” to little children is a danger to them” and “How are they [children] to know the difference between a stranger in the classroom showing dirty pictures and a dirty old man in the park showing the same pictures who is in fact a predator”)

The fact that the presenter did not challenge this view, or ask her on what she was basing her accusation was inexcusable. The fact that an SRE teacher was then given practically no time to discuss the matter, instead giving extra airtime to an unqualified person from the ‘Campaign for Real Education’ to suggest that teaching homosexuality in a non-judgemental way was immoral merely compounded the error.

This was a horribly misinformed piece of programming that did not reflect the beliefs or needs of the vast majority of parents or students. I expect better from the BBC, of all organisations. The fact that non professionals were given more airtime than professionals to discuss a matter is a horrible case of imbalance in your coverage of a very delicate issue.

Opinion is not the same as expertise, and this programme gave way too much prominence to those who shouted the loudest.  This program was in no way interested in reporting the actual facts, or informing public debate, instead it gave a strong platform to someone to express an abhorrent viewpoint and then didn’t even challenge her on it, or pick apart the issues raised which is extremely negligent of the BBC.

Yours faithfully


Letter B-

On SML this morning, Lynette Burrows was allowed, unchallenged, to accuse sex and relationship educators of paedophilia. The programme was biased toward the conservative end of the spectrum, and the professionals were unable to have their say.

The accusation of paedophilia is a very serious allegation, suggesting that members of the teaching profession are engaging in criminal activity such as child abuse.

I, and many other teachers (I teach biology, which necessarily contains some aspects of SRE), have found this profoundly insulting and offensive – such an allegation, if levelled at a named teacher, would be career-ending.

On this matter alone, the BBC must issue a full apology for failing to challenge Ms Burrows.

The BBC also prides itself on being fair and balanced in its reporting. You gave very little airtime to Alice Hoyle, the sole SRE teacher asked for an opinion, and instead filled the show with ultra-conservative opinions.

You have a public service remit, and you cannot remain impartial as a broadcaster if you allow non-professionals equal or more airtime than professionals. Ms Hoyle had a wealth of data and scientific studies, which she was not allowed to cite.

Honestly, nothing more than a full apology for such an atrocious, biased, hate-filled and slanderous commentary will suffice.

A better option would be the agreement to make an educated and unbiased documentary about what SRE actually entails, in addition to this apology.



Finally I haven’t actually written a formal complaint yet. Partly because am a bit shellshocked by the whole experience and waiting to see what happens when the dust settles but  I have had  some thoughts on my own complaint which can be found here.

A clarification on “dirty pictures & paedophiles” and the great big sex and relationships education “debate”

So obviously yesterday’s polemic from Lynette Burrows on BBC Sunday Morning Live* included her making statements such as “this sort of education that is obsessed with destroying childhood innocence in a way that is reminiscent of paedophilia” and “To me, anyone who wants to talk “dirty” to little children is a danger to them” and “How are they [children] to know the difference between a stranger in the classroom showing dirty pictures and a dirty old man in the park showing the same pictures who is in fact a predator”

These disgusting statements giving the idea that sex and relationship education included dirty pictures and that was akin to paedophilia was something I had to address and clarify in this post.

Firstly I am not exactly sure what was meant by “dirty pictures”.  If she meant pornography then I can assure you that would be illegal to show to anyone under the age of 18 and no teacher in their right mind would ever think of doing such a thing and if they ever did then they absolutely need to be dealt with accordingly. (more on the law here).

Unfortunately the anti-sex education lobby often seize upon specific teaching materials and vilify them across the media as proof of the “terrible dangerous explicit nature of sex and relationships education” what they never point out is that many many schools don’t actually use those specific resources or will only use them after careful negotiation between the parent and school (and often at a later age than suggested).  In one case a resource was torn apart in the media for being very explicit for students when it was never actually written for students- it was written for practitioners!

If by “dirty pictures” Lynette Burrows meant diagrams about reproduction then yes these are used- but I am not entirely sure what is “dirty” about teaching about the parts and functions of your own body.  In science (I am also a fully qualified science teacher with a large part of my degree being reproductive physiology so it’s something I am really passionate about) I use age appropriate diagrams of the male and female reproductive tracts, both external and internal depending on the age and stage of the group. Boys and girls approaching puberty (which remember is happening at a younger and younger age) need to to be taught how to keep their bodies clean and what to do if they think something is wrong (eg. thrush or balanitis) .  Girls need to  know where to put a tampon if they choose to use them and where a baby comes out of. I’m often very surprised how so many females (adults included :o) who don’t realise women have three holes or the amount of Y7’s (11-12 year olds) boys and girls who think a baby comes out of your bum! I totally agree this information can and absolutely should be imparted at home as well but given the amount of misconceptions I encounter covering this topic then it really isn’t being done very well at all in many cases.  (Parents reading this wanting support for how to talk to your children about body parts- I suggest you book yourself on your nearest Speakeasy course and read this).

In terms of images I use I also use lots of scientific images such as:

(source) which I think is a stunning visualisation of the sperm meeting the egg and clarifies the size differential between the two (can anyone see anything “dirty” in that? because I really really can’t!). We also might look at fetal development in the womb and use ultrasound pictures or photography to explore that in the science aspect of Sex and relationships education. Again I can’t see anything “dirty” about such images.

The “dirty pictures” I personally refuse to use are graphic upsetting images of aborted second or third trimester foetuses (as this is a tactic used by some anti-choice groups to scare young people and affect pregnancy decision making and is unfair as the vast majority of abortions are carried out in the first trimester- only a small proportion of abortions are carried out later – for more information on Best practice in Abortion Education please see Education for Choice’s wonderful toolkit– they state in their best practice checklist that schools should”

"Avoid inappropriate images, particularly those
used out of context; that may be distressing or
upsetting; or which are designed to provoke
feelings of guilt and shame."

(For more background on this see herehere and here)

Also the other “dirty pictures” I now refuse to use are those of disease ridden STI genitals.  This is because it is an inaccurate scare tactic that may do more harm than good- for example the pictures used are often extreme examples so someone who is sexually active may think they are fine if their symptoms don’t match those they saw in their sex education lesson. Also many STI’s are symptomless so what we actually need to be reinforcing is that if you are sexually active- using condoms and regular testing is the best way to protect yourself from STI’s.  Bishtraining has some more fab ideas on how to cover STI’s in sex and relationship education lessons here.

Unfortunately I know that many schools do use use such pictures as part of their sex and relationship education lessons, and this is something that does need addressing.  It was interesting how Ms. Burrows presented her case as in “sex and relationship education in this country is proven NOT to work” when actually the case in this country is that it has never been given the chance to work properly.  There are pockets of excellent practice and then there are lots of schools doing their best with little or no support, and there are lots of schools not bothering at all because they are too scared to tackle it.

Most of us working in SRE have questions/concerns about what is taught in places. It doesn’t mean we think it is failing, it just means we always want to do better.  There are some excellent examples of evidenced based sex education practice such as SRE Project but likewise we know that there are identified issues with SRE and its a shame that in the government changeover some of the suggested solutions to the issue were not acted upon. (So please contribute to the current PSHE review and help contribute to making SRE better)

It’s such a shame we always end up going round and round in these circular  pantomime style debates (with obligatory big bad wolf!) where we  lose the chance to have a sensible discussion about where things are going well or badly, and how we can improve. It also means we can’t address the very real concerns parents have because things are set up in a right/wrong fight club style format.  I was really disappointed that as the only sex educator on the show I wasn’t given the time or real opportunity to respond to comments and misunderstandings about sex education.   This style of debate isn’t helpful and doesn’t help things move forward.  (It is such a shame when here is a lovely example of how both sides of a debate could work together for the greater good.).

Civilised discussions on this issue are both important and possible, after all I think all of us have a common ground that we want our young people to grow up safe and happy and have respectful loving relationships.  From personal experience many parents who come to me wanting to withdraw their child from sex education (panicking about what they read in the media) often actually choose to keep their child in the classes once they have been reassured about the aims and content of the curriculum, and they are more than happy for me to teach their child those things.

Now onto this disgusting vile notion linking paedophiles with  young people’s sex educators.   Absolutely foul.  Let’s be very very clear here- if Ms. Burrows has a serious allegation against a particular educator then she absolutely needs to report her concerns to the police and have them investigate it properly, (as should anyone suspecting abusive situations).  The fact she never has makes me think that this is a smear tactic to put more teachers off delivering this very important subject.  (As an aside I think it interesting she also advocates smacking children– which many people including the NSPCC constitute as child abuse).

Teaching children to know the parts of their body actually reduces not encourages abuse. I know of a horrible case where the abuser referred to his penis as a lollipop- because no-one would really worry about a child talking about sucking or licking a lollipop 😦 . This is when NOT teaching children about their own body is really really dangerous.  Teaching children about good touch and bad touch and that no-one should touch your body without your consent and being able to name parts of the body is essential to reduce abuse and lets remember that the vast majority of child sexual abuse occurs by someone the child knows- it is much much less likely to be the random paedophile in the park, or the “stranger in the classroom” .  For the record all teachers in UK schools are fully CRB checked and all sex education teachers should always follow professional teaching standards and following their school’s sex and relationships education policy (that should be published to all parents and carers) as well as the schools child protection procedures.

A huge huge amount of the work I do is about supporting young people to recognise negative or abusive relationships and supporting them to seek help and avoid dangerous situations.  Unfortunately sexual bullying, sexual assaults and rapes are happening to our young people and it is so so important to address these issues with young people as part of sex and relationships education.  In fact part of my previous work involved supporting  girls who had been gang raped (which I worry is becoming an increasing problem in inner city schools)- trying to support them to rebuild their lives.

So don’t you dare try and liken me to an abuser for working so so hard to stop this exact issue.

(*Please see here for link to iPlayer of the BBC sunday morning live episode and my initial response- which was written in haste straight after the show and is a bit jumbly so a bit embarrassed that over 2000 of you read it! But many thanks for all the RT’s and wonderful support :)),

Thanks also to @DrPetra for her wise advice on this post as well as her support! Thanks to @Edforchoice and @bishtraining too. 🙂

BBC Sunday Morning Live- Some things I wanted to point out!

The program is now live in Iplayer- see Here.

Okay so my bit was ultra short and they never came back to me with some of the questions they were saying they were going to ask me (about teaching homosexuality and abortion)

So I decided to add a speedy response my rants here.

Firstly most importantly- the notion that anyone who talks about sex education to children is corrupting them and is some kind of pedophile- well that is just a vile vile disgusting thing to say and it is exactly the reason so many wonderful professional teachers avoid this topic in the classroom. I do my job because I believe in young people’s rights to know and understand their bodies as they develop at an age appropriate level so they can stay safe, and have informed happy relationships when they are ready for them. Equating me to a paedophile is actually the most foul, upsetting and disgusting thing that has ever been said to me. 😦

Secondly they didn’t actually clarify properly what sex and relationships education actually is. Sex & Relationships Education is part biology (how your body works) which is the statutory bit, part relationships (the non statutory bit) and part the actual “sex” bit- contraception, STI’s, etc (some of which is still science by the way) which schools are expected to provide but parents have a right to withdraw from all except the science although less than 1% actually do. If you have any more questions about this please do ask me.

As I managed to say in my piece the majority of parents (84%) want schools to teach sex and relationships education, many parents also want help from schools with how to tackle the issue at home. Parents like her are in a very small minority and have the right to withdraw their children from sex and relationships education. It is actually such a shame that the media continue to give the minority of parents airtime also propagating myths about what SRE actually is, whilst not listening to the majority- this means Sex and Relationships Education is always the political hot potato and the government is never going to sort it out properly.

I’m glad I managed to get in my point about “Young people are demanding and deserve better sex and relationships education”. but I need to put this bit in bold: Why are we not listening to them? They want it from both their parents and schools.

I was disappointed Ms. Burrows negated my viewpoint as a parent. I am a parent and a sex educator- the two are both incredibly important to me. My point about my toddler knowing there is a baby in mummy’s tummy was actually trying to highlight that Sex Education should ALWAYS be age appropriate- lead by the stage and development of the child or young person, that can and should happen at both home and school. My daughters won’t want to always talk to me about sex (although I hope I bring them up to feel they can approach me) and I want them to have a safe adult that they can go to to ask the questions they don’t feel able to ask me.

Here are some other points I wanted to make:

  • Sex Education should never just be at school or just be at home. It has to be both. Schools and parents need to work closely together to develop the best Sex&relationships for the young people in their care.
  • Many studies into sex education actually found that when done properly it actually delays first sex and supports young people developing better more respectful relationships with each other and reduces abuse.
Finally they mentioned homosexuality and it being wrong to discuss in schools (and had the production team said they were going to ask me about what age I would teach about that) so I am going to clarify what I would have said here.
“Let’s clarify talking about different relationships including different sexual orientations is very very different to talking about sexual activity. Teaching children and young people not to stigmatise and discriminate against anyone, including on the basis of who they fall in love with is extremely important and should happen from a young age. At least 5-7% of the worlds population identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender- but note actual figures may be higher due to issues with data collection and individuals not being out) and we have a responsibility to develop a more tolerant society for everyone’s benefit (this is a core value of education- it isn’t just a specific sex education thing). That aspect is NOT about teaching about sexual activity to primary school children or going against anyone’s religious beliefs at all”
Here are some links I was tweeting earlier to help you:
For help with teaching about abortion follow @edforchoice on twitter and their website is here.
For help with dealing with homophobia and discussing sexual orientation follow @stonewalluk @diversityRM and @Sowhatsquad