Steve Devrell: Parents should have to pay for the sins of their children
Thursday 25 February 2010
Iretired this year after 36 years of teaching. It had started as a gentle jog of enjoyment and ended as a grim crawl to the retirement door. I am not alone in expressing these sentiments. The job has become harder and the demands on the teacher greater. Thankfully, I crossed the finishing line with my reputation and gold watch intact; many don't. The teachers and their teaching, the heads and their management are heavily scrutinised these days and so it should be. But there is one element of the education partnership that goes pretty well unscrutinised and that is the role of the parent.
This needs some pretty urgent attention. We are producing a young generation who are given the complicated experiences of adulthood before they have learnt the social skills they need.
It is ironic that a teacher faces years of intense training, while parents receive no training in what is a crucial responsibility. Pre-natal and post-natal support is strong in this country but very little is offered in the "post-nappy stage" and this is often where parents need the greatest support. Indeed, many of our parents still need parenting themselves. This often means that in the crucial first few years of childhood, children are allowed to draw up their own rules and boundaries. This means they have to make impossible adjustments when faced with the formal classroom environment.
Unfortunately, there are too many professionals attached to the education service who are more than happy to misdiagnose a child and give them a convenient label such as dyslexia and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder when in fact their problem is inadequate parenting.
It's a vicious circle: the diagnostic cottage industries want to survive and the parents want to be told it's not their fault. It provides a legitimate excuse for their child's bad behaviour because it allows them to escape the irrefutable truth that many mothers and fathers are just poor at parenting.
This may seem a harsh assessment, but it is true. I have also met parents who are willing to shove Ritalin down the throats of their young child, simply because their offspring have never been taught the rudiments of socialisation.
One of the big problems in Britain is that many parents don't value education enough. In a country such as China where education is much more highly prized, it's a route to success and a way to improve your standard of living.
But there is little point in the Government throwing money at education and increasing the accountability of its professionals when the main problem is the lack of monitoring by parents. All parents should have training in parenting skills. We have to pass tests in driving, undergo training in the workplace, so why should arguably one of the most important roles in society be left to chance?
Now the election season is upon us, there are signs that the major parties are at least paying lip-service to the problem. The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has announced a plan to send parents of anti-social children to parent training classes. This is a measure, however, that would only work if the children are also involved.
The Conservatives are banging on about our broken society but have yet to come up with an effective adhesive. The Liberal Democrats want to extend free childcare. How will this improve a child bonding with his parents, which is one of the fundamental requirements for effective parenting?
Long before the Government began to explore the possibility of parents paying a fine for the behaviour of their disruptive children, I advocated a deposit for parents. This would mean that mothers and fathers would have to pay a deposit to guarantee the good conduct of their child in school. Detentions and suspensions would mean a proportion of the deposit would be deducted.
I am aware of the arguments against this, but action is needed to eliminate the disruptive elements in our schools. The idea would improve the learning opportunities for the majority of children and make the demands on teachers more tolerable.
The Jesuits said: "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man". I would prefer to paraphrase this. "Show me the parents of a seven-year-old and I will pick out their child," sad – but true
The writer is a retired deputy head of a large junior school in Solihull
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