On Monday Feb 25th I gave a talk to a group of 80 teachers, nurses and other representatives of boarding schools across the UK.
Schools are there to educate and help our children to grow and become good citizens and expand their potential - did I miss anything out here?
But kids come along with issues which seriously affect their ability to be present and learn. Eating disorders are more likely to hit in adolescence just at the time when they are facing their exams and the culmination of their years of preparation.
It's clear from the voices in the room that an eating disorder has serious effects. It affects the child, their class mates, their teachers and their brothers and sisters. Schools are ill-equpped to deal with the fall out of an eating disorder and schools are not supposed to be hospitals or treatment centres. When I was growing up, matron was only supposed to bandage a wounded leg or a bump on the head, not to counsel us for "stuff". What are they to do?
I heard some stories about young boys who are drinking protein shakes and exercising excessively to the point where they can hardly stand up. I heard stories about young girls who are making themselves sick and refusing to discuss this with their teacher. I heard stories about kids who are very thin, pretending that they are eating when they are not, and insisting that nothing is wrong with them at all.
Can a school do anything to prevent eating disorders? I am not really sure that they can. Well- meaning education describing eating disorders can do more harm than good. I think that some of you will disagree with me. Anorexia begins, they say, at birth.
Some things might be useful like body image work and media awareness training, emotional reslience work should begin when kids are very young.
And eating disorders are severe, sometimes chronic mental health conditions. They emerge because of slight or serious emotional deficits which can be healed in time with the right treatment. They are not just a silly phase.
Schools should not be trying to treat an eating disorder on their own. A young person with a problem needs urgent long term expert help. A school should be part of a treatment plan that has been designed and written down by someone else.
At any one time, EVERY school will have some pupils with dangerous eating practices. This is never going to change. A teacher or parent who is concerned can access help and information on our website http://eating-disorders.org.uk or call us on 0845 838 2040