'Teach parents to resist demands for latest clothes'

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Mothers and fathers need to be taught to resist their children's pressure to buy fashionable items and clothes, delegates to the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Torquay heard yesterday.

"There is a culture of being 'cool'," Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the NUT, said. "It is leading to less respect in society and less respect for learning.

"What is right and what is cool is coming into school well prepared to write, prepared to learn and prepared to make the most of all the opportunities that a school can offer."

Delegates warned that youngsters were under relentless pressure to buy the latest fashion accessories.

A motion debated by the union said the "all-pervasive culture of cool" was "hugely undermining to positive pupil attitudes both in and out of school". It urged ministers to set up good parenting classes "instead of blaming parents for poor pupil behaviour". There should be special classes to help them cope with the teenage years.

Nigel Baker, a teacher from Birmingham, said parents needed advice to resist the demands of growing commercial pressures. "Parents aren't born, they're made," he said. "Parents didn't even have L-plates, they're just supposed to innately know what to do."

He said the classes should not be stigmatised as being for parents who could not cope, but offer advice to all parents. "Parents, like teachers, don't always know best," he added.

"But parents are the biggest single influence in a child's life - they're 10 times more important than teachers. It is time we offered them advice and stopped blaming them. We, as parents, need to be told we don't need to buy Nike trainers at £90 a time when we can get the same quality for £25.

"We need to show that working hard at school is actually a good thing." It should be seen as "cool".

Jan Neilsen, from Wandsworth, south London, said parenting classes often led to a culture of blame being linked to poorer families. She criticised Tony Blair's "respect" agenda for creating an image of "reckless and feckless" parents. She said it would be better to target parents "who spend £20,000 a year to send their children away to some strange Gothic mansion" so they could learn to become "captains of industry" and earn "fat-cat pay rises".

Delegates backed a move committing the union to campaign for the Government to allocate resources to parenting classes.