Schools are struggling to cope with a generation of children so poorly raised by their parents that the verbal and behavioural skills of the nation's five-year-olds are at an all time low, the Government's Chief Inspector of Schools said yesterday.
David Bell, the head of Ofsted, blamed a lack of discipline and care at home for giving youngsters a "disrupted and dishevelled" upbringing that has left many unable to speak properly or hold a knife and fork by the time they start school.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph coinciding with the start of the new term, Mr Bell said the failure by parents had led to a rise in badly behaved children who posed an "almost intractable" challenge that schools alone could not be expected to cope with.
"It is difficult to get hard statistical evidence on what is happening across the country, but if you talk to a lot of primary head teachers, as I do, they will say that youngsters appear less prepared for school than they have ever been before," he said.
"For many young people, school is the most stable part of what can be quite disrupted and dishevelled lives. This should worry us because if children don't all start at broadly the same point, we should not be surprised if the gap widens as they go through the education system."
Mr Bell also raised concerns about the tendency of many parents to sit their children in front of the television, rather than talking or playing with them. "There is evidence that children's verbal skills are lacking," he said.
"We should encourage parents to talk to their children and give them a whole range of stimulating things to do and not just assume that the television, or whatever, will do all that for them."
Without the support and motivation of their parents, children would drift off the rails despite a rise in teaching standards. "If children are not encouraged to turn up regularly at school, if casual non-attendance is condoned at home, that makes it difficult for school. If there is a sense that the standard of behaviour set by the school is not supported at home, that makes it difficult."
Monica Galt, the head teacher of King's Road primary school in Manchester, appeared to endorse his comments. "It's not just verbal skills, they seem to have no notion of danger or idea how to sit still. Many can't fasten buttons or use a knife and fork," she said.
"We start them with spoons and wean them on to other cutlery. Some children have never sat at a table because their parents let them eat their tea sitting on the floor in front of the television."
David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Too many are starting school without basic social skills and simply do not know how to communicate.
"This puts enormous pressure on teachers."Reuse content