Tory attacked for saying parents 'sit on backsides'

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Indy Politics

Education Editor

Parents yesterday attacked a leading Conservative MP for saying that most parents sat on their backsides at home and were not interested in their children's education.

Sir Malcolm Thornton, MP for Crosby and chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, said the remarks, made at the launch of a report on arts education, were "light- hearted".

But he said his committee's report on the performance of inner-city schools, to be published shortly, would make it clear that some children received absolutely no support from parents, and others the reverse of support.

Margaret Morrissey, press officer of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said she and others at the meeting had been amazed by his remarks, and by his comment that parents would have no major influence on education in the next two years.

She said she would complain to Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, about the remarks. "We feel let down by Sir Malcolm. He is not supporting parents. If there are parents who sit at home, there are far, far more now than ever before who play a very active part in their children's education.

"Parents' campaigns against the cuts has shown that. Much of our time is taken up providing money for essentials, not sitting at home doing nothing."

Sir Malcolm, whose wife is a teacher and who is chairman of governors at a primary school, denied that he had said that parental power did not count. "But I have said many times before that I don't believe that parent power is the single most important dynamic for change in education.

"In justification of my remarks about parents sitting at home, look at the attendance at annual governors' meetings for parents. In many cases the staff outnumber the parents."

He added that the reaction to his remarks was "really quite extraordinary".

Sir Malcolm made his comments about parents in reply to a question from Mrs Morrissey, who asked if the select committee would consider how the Government could support pupils with special talents in the arts whose parents were not able to finance extra music lessons or studies at drama or art colleges.