How would you react to being scolded for your child-rearing techniques? Not well, I’d say. The Chief Schools Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has told the Commons Education Select Committee that head teachers and social workers shouldn’t baulk from telling people they’re bad parents. I couldn’t agree more, in principle at least, though there are ways and ways of doing things – the best way, I’d have thought, being one that doesn’t involve a punch on the nose.
Sir Michael also said that neighbours should take it upon themselves to get involved, and that the Government should pay them to do so: “How do you financially incentivise those people to get up in the morning, knock on the neighbour’s door and say, ‘Your children are not up yet. They have not had their breakfast yet. Why aren’t you taking them to school?’” It’s a great idea, though I’d like to see it work in practice without the police being called, and I’m not sure I’d find myself on someone’s doorstep dishing out lectures. The parents most in need of correction are the least likely to react well to having their errors pointed out.
Sir Michael has form in this matter, having spoken last year of “hollowed out and fragmented families” and “a poverty of accountability.” He trundled out the old saw about absent fathers, which I’ve never bought – there are too many terrific single-parent families (and too many fathers who are present but rubbish) for that argument to be convincing. But the accountability issue is one that should be aired – perhaps parent-teacher evenings should, where appropriate, be as much about the parents as about the children. (I’ve always thought that children should be licensed, with would-be parents having to pass fit-and-proper tests, but I don’t quite see that happening, sadly.)
In Milton Keynes one school has warned that any pupil late more than 10 times in a term will incur a £60 fine for the parents. I don’t know how that would work with those on the breadline – poverty brings its own stresses and strains that won’t be solved by slapping fines on cash-strapped parents struggling with their offspring. But the general movement towards making parents accountable for their children is a good one.
My son’s school, for all its insistence on “traditional values”, hasn’t gone as far as instituting financial penalties for lateness. But with a recently arrived head teacher wielding his new broom with zero-tolerant gusto (last year he was in the news for banning street slang at his previous school), latecomers will have their ID card, which allows them to buy food from the canteen, taken away until the last 15 minutes of lunchtime, and their parents will be sent a text informing them of the transgression.
We’ve also been told to expect “unannounced home visits” from the Safer Schools Police Officer in the case of bad attendance records, unacceptable behaviour or welfare concerns. It sounds draconian – I can imagine online forums igniting in anger – but I like it. It reassures me that my son’s school is focussed on turning out the best citizens possible. I’m sure the new head wouldn’t shy away from holding bad parents to account, and I suspect the school will be all the better for it.