We know our rights, too ...

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The Independent Online
The most unpleasant consequence of the Government's carping about incompetent teachers is the pile of unjustified complaints that waste so much time during every headteacher's working week. Some are born of parents' impatience to exercise those "rights" which were so widely publicised in the Parents' Charter, others are far more malevolent in nature.

Take the case of the teacher in West Sussex whose lesson was being disrupted by an unruly 16-year-old. Eventually the teacher had no option but to remove him from the class. This was achieved fairly peacefully, with the teacher escorting the boy from the room with his hand to his back.

The boy immediately ran home and his parents went straight to the police station to press an assault charge. There was little chance of the charge sticking - fellow pupils gave truthful accounts of the restraint shown by the teacher.

Nevertheless, that teacher had five anxious months to wait before going through the ordeal of a court trial, where his every movement and utterance during the lesson was dissected.

Then there was the teacher who bravely stepped in to break up a serious playground brawl. The victim was kicking his beaten opponent, who lay defenceless on the ground. To prevent serious injury, the teacher grabbed the assailant by the collar and flung him to one side. The parents, rather than being thankful that their son was prevented from causing horrific damage with his kicking, put the incident through a full complaints procedure, demanding the teacher's dismissal. Again the teacher's actions were deemed perfectly justifiable, but again that teacher had to endure the stress of an investigation.

Then there was the case of the boy who complained that his teacher had wedged his head in a classroom door. He bore no marks from his ordeal and classmates had no recollection of the incident. Yet parents contacted the school, and only when it was demonstrated that such an assault would leave considerable bruising did the boy admit that his imagination had got the better of him.

Nor are complaints only received about specific incidents. Department heads are now adept at fielding the views of parents who claim to be experts in their subjects. So any number of children with minor spelling problems are labelled "dyslexic" by home diagnosis.

Schools who set pupils into ability groups can expect a barrage of complaints when setting takes place. The use of calculators, absence of spelling tests and group discussion lessons similarly bring a steady flow of vitriol. The wording of school reports is such a catalyst for conflict that staff at one Oxfordshire school are instructed not to write anything negative about any pupil.

Primary schools probably endure the greatest number of witchhunts at the hands of tabloid-influenced parents, keen to denigrate modern teaching methods. Stories are legion of children starting school with no idea of how to interact with others. They are unprepared to begin learning in a classroom, yet the schools are blamed if progress is slow.

One head told me of a "concerned" parent who complained to the governors that her daughter's reading was not sufficiently fluent. Yet whenever the child had been sent home with a book to read and a reading record card to be signed by a parent, it had been returned unsigned, with the book unread. The mother was unable to understand that she had a part to play in the education of her child.

The Parent's Charter has 25 references to the "rights" of parents. Published in 1991, a revision is overdue. This should outline teachers' "rights" to take on the mantle of authority within schools and parents' "responsibility" to instil in children the social skills schools can only foster once they have been encouraged at home.

Then, perhaps, education will be seen as partnership between home and school and not a rowdy market-place where the loudest voice gets the best deal.