Schools pick up pieces after 'self-indulgent' parents split

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The Independent Online

The headmaster of a leading independent school has attacked "self-indulgent'' parents who rush into divorce, putting their emotional needs ahead of those of their children.

Graham Able, master of Dulwich College and chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, told his association's annual meeting in Dublin that schools were having to pick up the pieces from broken marriages by offering counselling to pupils.

"The need for high-quality pastoral care has, sadly, never been more crucial than it is today, and unless society can start to reverse selfish and self-indulgent attitudes this trend will continue,'' he said.

Mr Able said that too many parents were more interested in their individual rights than their duties "to one another, to society at large and especially to our children". He added: "While there are many examples of single and divorced parents who give excellent support to their children, we all know those growing up under the same roof as their mother and father are much less likely to require additional pastoral care at school than those who do not enjoy that advantage."

Mr Able said that the problem was more acute amongst adolescent boys, who suffered fromhaving absent fathers. "It would be refreshing if society and the legal system concentrated rather more on the duties of parents to their children rather than their rights to self-gratification no matter what the cost to others,'' he said.

He said that the problem with the legal system was that it was "adversarial'', with separate lawyers representing each parent. "There is not usually a solicitor appointed to look after the needs of the children,'' he said. "Children can suffer in their work, in their behaviour and find it more difficult to relate to other children and to adults."

Mr Able also warned of the dangers of taking a soft line on drugs, referring to the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a category C drug from January.

He said: "I find it worrying that there are many advocates for legalising so-called soft drugs in the UK when recent research amongst young people in Victoria [Australia] clearly shows a strong link between regular cannabis use and the increased rate of suicide in teenage boys. Surely it is our responsibility to safeguard the lives of young people, not leave them further exposed to known dangers.''

Mr Able also indicated that independent schools were likely to stop publishing exam league tables next year.

He said that there was "widespread concern'' that the tables were leading to some pupils being barred from sixth forms in state and private schools. Heads were refusing to allow them to continue with their studies in case they jeopardised their places in the tables, he said.

"Of course, heads and principals should be above such practices and I hope our members are, but there are enormous pressures on many schools to 'improve their league position' and inevitably there are those which have taken short cuts, to the disadvantage of some of their pupils," he said.

Private schools would still have to give their results to the Government for publication in its performance table.

However Mr Able said: "I've never thought it was part of a Government's responsibility to publish school league tables. It is reasonable to make all schools publish their results - but the two things are quite different.''