Letter from the Mulberry Bush School

Since 1948 the Mulberry Bush School in Oxfordshire has provided specialist therapeutic care, treatment and education to severely emotionally troubled and traumatised children aged 5-12, from all over the United Kingdom.

Due to adverse experiences in their earliest years of development, the children communicate these distressing experiences and their emotional pain through chaotic and challenging behaviors. As a result of these behaviors, they have often been excluded from mainstream schools, or found it very difficult to live within a family setting.

The aim of the school, whenever possible, is to reintegrate the child back into family, school and community life.

In early 2006 senior managers and the trustees wondered how after nearly 60 years of development, our work could be communicated to the general public to promote the school, and to create a debate which would deepen understanding within our society about the reality of the lives, and the care and management of our most damaged and disaffected children. One of our patrons, filmmaker and criminologist Roger Graef, persuaded us that a documentary film would be the most powerful vehicle for this work.

Robert and Tim Robert and Tim. Courtesy of Women Make Movies

Between September 2006 and April 2007, award-winning filmmaker Kim Longinotto and sound recordist Mary Milton were given access to the daily life of the Mulberry Bush School. At first the staff found being observed by the camera intrusive and exposing. After some initial excitement the children seemed to accept Kim and Mary's presence to the point where they became almost invisible. The closeness and intimacy of the relationships caught on the camera -- without interrupting those interactions -- is testimony to this process.

As a school we took a risk with the process, we did not have any final control or influence over the editing or the content of the film. The daily work provided the context, the rest was down to Kim's interpretation of what she saw, and what she decided to record through the lens of the camera. The film is an extension of Kim's own interests, an expression of her inter-subjective experience. Critics have, and might say, that the film concentrates too much on behavior management. Indeed there are many more positive experiences which happen in the course of each day that could paint a picture of a task without pain and raw emotion: the school through rose-tinted spectacles.

But our work is about real people with real feelings struggling with real emotional pain in amplified "parenting" dilemmas. The film captures the minute-by-minute issue of staff grappling with the question: "What is in the best interests of this child in the here and now?" In this way it is a warts and all view of the work of the school. The strongest critics of the film have been the staff themselves, and as hindsight is always such a critical teacher, many have said, "I wish I had managed the incident another way" or "This was about my need not the child's."

Experiential learning is painful, and creating trusting relationships with children who do not trust adults is equally difficult and painful. I believe that this film shows an exercise in the management of trust. I trust that the audience will have a view about the care of the 70,000 children in the U.K. care system, a number that grows at the rate of about 1,000 per year, and might ask themselves "What can I do?" or "What can our society do?" to improve the lives of so many children.

-- John Diamond, CEO of Mulberry Bush School

To learn more about the Mulberry Bush School, please enter a question below or visit the Mulberry Bush School's website. The Mulberry Bush School is non-government maintained special school with charitable status. Find out how you can support the school.