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Trick or Treat?

by Terry Freedman on October 31, 2017

Halloween can mask some frightful truths about students

You can tell we’re heading for Halloween by the masks, pumpkins and other paraphernalia on sale in supermarkets at the moment. But what is Halloween really all about?

Believe it or not, Halloween originated in Britain. The idea of it was that people would offer to pay for the souls of the dead in exchange for sweetmeats known as ‘soul cakes’. The dressing up part was to do with the fact that people believed that dressing up as their departed loved ones would confer some protection against evil spirits.

Everything changes over time, and unfortunately not always for the better. The version in use today was imported into America in the early decades of the 20th century. It is in effect a kind of low-level protection racket: give us sweets or we will play a horrible prank on you, such as leaping out from the bushes dressed as a zombie.

Unfortunately, Halloween provides some kids with an excuse for antisocial behaviour. Interestingly, researchers in the USA found that if children were left alone to help themselves to sweets and money, those who were unidentified stole much more than those who were known. This phenomenon seemed to be related to the tendency of children to follow a leader. (See Trick or treating this Halloween? Know your group behaviour.)

This sort of thing is not unknown to teachers, of course, and has implications beyond special occasions like Halloween. Keeping track of pupils’ behaviour in school gives you a much better chance of identifying the natural leaders and working with them to keep them on the straight and narrow before they lead others astray. That’s where software like Groupcall’s Emerge comes in, as it can help keep track of good and poor behaviour as well as absenteeism, lateness and falling grades.

When it comes to Halloween specifically, schools might consider taking the kind of proactive approach that the police in Staffordshire have taken. They have produced a flier advising children of good practice for their own safety, and also not to frighten elderly residents. Perhaps producing a poster and fliers could even be a job for your school’s pupil champions.

The advice on the flier is very good, and could be adopted as part of the school’s Safeguarding strategy. You could even use Groupcall Messenger to pass on the advice to parents. For example, the advice to never enter someone’s house may seem obvious to adults, but not necessarily to children.

Another action a school can take is to warn students that several police forces treat antisocial behaviour on occasions like Halloween and Bonfire Night as a crime. Acquiring a criminal record can seriously harm a student’s prospects in life, even if the punishment they receive is relatively light. For example, it is worth telling students that many employers won’t take on someone with a criminal record, and that many countries will deny them a visa to enter.

The message for Halloween, then, is really quite simple: stay safe, have a bit of fun, but respect other people’s rights not to be scared out of their wits — or worse.

Topics: Child safety