Education Quandary

As a primary head, I'm sick of all the talk of parent power. Shouldn't we be debating parental responsibility?
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Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

One of the most disheartening things about visiting schools is seeing how much time and effort is wasted because pupils aren't able, or willing, to take what's on offer. It's like a draughty house in which half the heating escapes through doors and windows.

Schools can only do so much. They have pupils for a limited number of hours, and no control over what happens to them outside. So, yes: not only should we debate parental responsibility, we must. Because it is only when parents back schools up that children have any hope of making the most of their education.

But please, let's do it without blame. Most parents want the best for their children, and it is not their fault that society neither encourages nor supports them in this - and often actively undermines them. We need to acknowledge all the effort that it takes to rear a good child, and to look creatively at how to build a culture that honours it.

Do we have a coherent national policy towards parents? Are working hours family-friendly enough? How do we make fathers want to be there for their children? What about the scourge of drink and drugs? What messages are put out on television? In magazines? How can we encourage stable homes? And what about communal spaces: could schools do more to welcome parents in? Could supermarkets stock books helpful to parents? Could malls offer drop-in centres where advice is on offer? Could we even try to hitch celebrity power to the parenting cause?

After all, we parents are no different from pupils in school. Give us praise, respect and encouragement, and we will try the best we can. But give us finger-wagging and accusations, and we will give up at the first hurdle.

Readers' advice

You are absolutely right; we should be talking about parental responsibility. As a secondary-school teacher, I am often told by parents that it is my fault that I don't make their children listen, or do their homework. It never seems to occur to them that these offspring are idle little sods who have never been taught respect for others, or to do what they are told. Or that they themselves should do anything about it. When I have suggested it, they have looked at me blankly. It's a pass-the-buck culture.
Mike Wingate, Suffolk

There is plenty you could do as a head to encourage your parents. Presumably, you have a home-school contract? But what do you do to build on this? In the best schools, parents are made to feel important and welcome. They are encouraged to get involved and feel a part of the community.
Elsie Courtenham, Bristol

That's right, bash the parents. So much easier than ensuring that your teachers are up to scratch, your lessons interesting, and there's no bullying. When my daughters were at school, any complaint we made was turned back on us. We were told that we were fussy parents and didn't have the whole story. We were never listened to or believed. The school was always right. Just how are parents meant to exercise their responsibilities?
Sarah Klugman, London N12

Next week's quandary

A new Academy is being talked about for our area, but some local parents are objecting to it. I thought that it would help the area, but they say that it will cream off all the best pupils and make it harder for other schools to do well. They are pressing us to join their campaign, but we don't know whether we should.

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by 6 June, at 'The Independent', Education, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Include details of your address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser