Many children 'do not know how to hold a knife and fork'

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The Independent Online

Plans to introduce more "parent power" into schools have been likened to "putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar" by the leader of the country's biggest headteachers' union.

Plans to introduce more "parent power" into schools have been likened to "putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar" by the leader of the country's biggest headteachers' union.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told the annual conference in Telford yesterday that the Government's drive was in danger of sending out the wrong message - "one that has parent power, not parental responsibility, written all over it."

Teachers' biggest problem was parents who brought their children into school for the first time at the age of four lacking basic social skills, he said. "Many of the children are not toilet trained - they don't know how to hold a knife and fork. Teachers and support staff have got to spend their time sorting them out, which diverts them from their prime job."

Mr Hart, in his farewell address to the union after serving 27 years as its general secretary, said there should be a "minimum standard" which all headteachers were entitled to expect from pupils and parents.

He added that "giving more power to parents who lacked responsibility is like putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar". Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has made "parent power" the main theme of her tenure of office and has said she wants schools to listen to parents.

But Mr Hart argued that the number of parents on school governing bodies should be reduced. At present, a third of the body - sometimes 20-strong - is made up of parents.

"I would assert that parent governors do not always speak for all parents," he said.

He suggested that governing bodies should be slimmed down to just 11 - with only one parents' representative. Parents could instead elect their own advisory bodies to liaise with the school.

"Surely the right message would be to emphasise the benefits of school-parent partnerships and the appropriate balance between parental rights and responsibilities," he argued.

He said all parents could sign a code of conduct which committed them and their children to show respect for teachers and support staff, allow fellow pupils to learn free from disruption and obey school rules.

He said government plans to introduce personalised learning were a "given" that could be supported "providing parents do not suddenly expect unsourced one-to-one or small group tuition".

He said consulting parents over healthy school meals was "sensible, providing they do not think they can control this".

The conference was also told the association had dealt with more than 50 complaints of assault and abuse by parents against headteachers.

"Violence is unacceptable," Mr Hart said. "Often threats extend to our members' place of residence, and their families, with the police having to be called in." In one case a mother had telephoned a headteacher's home and made a death threat.

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