Education Quandary

'As a divorced father whose children live with their mother, I never know what is going on at their school, and I'm worried that my son is in trouble'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Parental support is the single most important thing that any child needs to do well at school. With it, they can ride out problems and make the most of what is on offer; without it, they will flounder, no matter how good their school. Which is why it is such a wicked loss when concerned parents find that they can't contribute as much as they would like to.

The charity Parentline Plus often deals with separated parents, and suggests the following practical steps:

* School: Contact the school and ask for duplicates of any letters or newsletters relevant to your children. Find out what themes and topics your children are covering this term and talk with them about them. Know your children's teachers' names. Find out when parents' evenings are, and if relations with your ex are antagonistic, ask the school for a separate appointment. If you can drop off or pick up your children from school, use this chance to talk to teachers and admire work up in the classroom.

* Your children: Chat with them about school and what is going on there - if you start with good communications now, it will be easier to keep channels open as they become teenagers. Keep in touch by computer, phone and visits, and remember that e-mail is good for homework help.

* Your ex: Try to work towards being good co-parents; bear in mind how much of a supportive unit you will be for your children if you work together; if relations are bad, find help with mediation through organisations such as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass); Relate; and National Family Mediation (NFM). Keep communications open by always telling your ex if you are planning to contact the school.

Parentline Plus (0808 800 22 22; parentsupport@parentlineplus.org.uk)

'Help Your Child Succeed At School', by Hilary Wilce (Piatkus, £8.99), amplifies the advice given in this column

Readers' advice

This father must remember that he is divorced from his ex-wife, not his children. Unless a court has ordered otherwise, he should continue to exercise his parental responsibility. Assuming that he has tried and failed to discuss concerns with their mother, he should approach the school direct for information and to offer assistance in resolving any difficulties. The head teacher should be aware that a person with parental responsibility is entitled to copies of school reports and information about open evenings and so on. As a matter of courtesy, he should let his ex-wife know what he is doing.
Helen Gore, Essex

I was in a similar position until I got things on to a better footing with my ex-wife. We had a bitter break-up, but we didn't want to pass our problems on to our children, so now I go with her to parents' evenings and we do discuss most school problems together.
Geoff Wylek, Swindon

If you think your son is going astray, make an appointment to talk to his teacher. Also, could you make time to volunteer in school? Boys need men to show them how to discipline themselves and harness aggression, but many are children of single mothers, and primary schools are often women-only zones. I teach in one, and by the time many boys leave, they are already going in the wrong direction.
Glenda Attford, London SE1

Next week's quandary

How do I choose which university to go to? By course or institution? I've had three offers, two from top places I'd be proud to go to. The third is from a less prestigious place, but its course looks most interesting and is said to be good.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 7 February, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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