Teachers and parents: enemies or allies?
I am hoping that one result of cuts in government expenditure will be a reduction in the amount of information and guidance that parents receive from schools about how to educate and bring up our children.
We are now only one month into the new school term, and a recent (admittedly unscientific) survey of a few parents has revealed the following information/advice has already been sent home in primary school book-bags: leaflets promoting the advantages of school meals for the purposes of ‘healthy eating’; detailing the school curriculum for the next term – with recommended websites and explaining how to read to your child; meetings about how to do the homework with your children; and ‘how to support your child’s maths and literacy at home’; newsletters detailing the schools involvement in promoting the environment and admonishing parents for parking outside school, ‘when the money spent on parking fines would be better spent on our children’; notices not to use our mobile phone when collecting children as we should be spending this time ‘talking to our children, not our friends’, to name but a few.
Why is it that schools feel the need to devote so much energy to involving parents in their child’s education, at the same time as involving themselves in things that were traditionally seen as private matters for parents? Partly this is a result of The 2004 Children’s Act, which put the responsibility for children’s happiness and well-being with teachers. Ofsted have since made the effectiveness of the school’s engagement with parents and carers” one of its judgements, with guidance in 2009 stating that schools would be evaluated on “the extent to which the school enables parents and carers to support, and make decisions about, their own children’s learning, well-being and development” (from Ofsted And Parents – Guidance, Teaching Times website www.teachingtimes.com/articles/ofsted-parents-guidance.html). But schools are not just responding to a legal and inspection framework. Many educators have bought into the idea that a child’s home-life – and specifically the extent to which parents are engaged in their child’s education – has a significant impact on how well children will do at school. This has allowed schools to devolve responsibility for educational attainment from themselves and onto parents, at the same time as following the parents into family life.
Many surveys do indeed indicate a strong correlation between a child’s home-life and their educational attainment. This probably doesn’t come as any great revelation to most of us. It would seem to be common sense that educated parents, lots of books in the house, and a high value placed on education by parents would lead children to take their own education seriously and do well. But there was once a view of education that believed good schools and good teachers could raise a child’s educational aspiration beyond what they experienced at home. It was thought children and young people could be inspired by great literature, history and science – knowledge that would give them an insight into worlds beyond their own. Today, this would probably be called naïve, but it is far preferable to the current view that leads teachers to devote their time to teaching young people to be ‘good citizens’ who know how to recycle; and teach parents how to help their children with maths.
One of the consequences of promoting parental involvement in their child’s learning and schools involvement in well-being, is that the independence and authority of both teachers and parents is called into question: So, at one of the aforementioned meetings on ‘how to support your child with maths’ my friend was told by the teacher that 75% of a child’s learning takes place in the home. How this statistic has been arrived at – particularly when it was maths that was under consideration – is hard to fathom. But the use of it, while intended to put pressure on parents to take direct responsibility for their child’s achievement in maths, clearly also raises the question: So what’s so special about the teacher? Teaching as a profession with specialist knowledge and a particular role in relation to young people is undermined in the eyes of the parents, a view that many children will pick up on. But the undermining of the teachers authority in this way does not result in an enhanced authority for the parent. After being told off for ‘inappropriate use of the mobile phone’ parents find themselves lectured to by their children about the pros and cons of eating their dinner in relation to how ‘healthy’ it is, following their lesson on healthy eating that day at school.
Parents and teachers are not enemies. But we do need to remind ourselves that above all children need authoritative and independent adults in their life. Maybe the best way to achieve this would be for teachers to reclaim their authority as professionals with specialist knowledge and understanding to inspire the next generation. Parents need to be trusted to get on with the job of bringing up our children and looking after their wellbeing.
Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.
Sally Millard is an opinionated mother of two. She is producing the session “Teachers and parents: enemies or allies?” at the Battle of Ideas festival on Sunday 31 October.
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