Pressure at school blamed for childhood suicide toll

Hundreds of young people a year commit suicide or deliberately harm themselves as a result of the pressures of family breakdown and stress at school, teachers' leaders warned yesterday.

Figures show that up to 800 people between the ages of 15 and 24 kill themselves, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers were told at their conference in Torquay. Others turn to self-harm or develop eating disorders.

A union survey revealed that 46 per cent of teachers reported incidents of pupils self-harming. Secondary school teachers also reported increasing evidence of anorexia among girls. One teacher from Berkshire told researchers: "Pupils cut their arms and even their stomachs. It's not just girls but boys, too. Some say that – if they hurt themselves in other ways – then they don't hurt so much from what's really causing the pain."

John Harkin, of Oakgrove College, Londonderry, warned that too many youngsters had TV sets in their bedrooms and were shutting themselves off from their families. "With the TV set in the bedroom comes isolation and a sense of loss of community," he added.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: " We believe that young people face intolerable strain from an education system which cannot stand failure."