Childhood is a subject on which everyone can have an informed view, based on personal experience, including the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw.
The infant Sir Michael may have been a model child, and his parents diligent in their pursuit of his education. He may never have “left his homework on the bus” or pleaded that “the dog ate it”. Or perhaps not. At any event, many of us will recall homework with a degree of distaste, and remember the stubborn resistance we displayed to knuckling down to work.
So Sir Michael’s suggestion that parents should be punished if their offspring fail to do their homework properly falls at the first hurdle; sheer practicality. How could the authorities determine what happens in the privacy of a family home on any given evening? How could they reasonably judge whether recalcitrant child or neglectful parent, or both, was at fault? What possible punishment would deliver the necessary improvement in behaviour?
By contrast, the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s promise of “stronger sanctions” if parents fail to ensure their children attend school and behave properly is practical, if harsh, as it may mean in extreme cases deductions from benefits. These are areas where parents can and should exert control, in a way that they cannot ensure high-quality homework.
It is true that teachers have to spend more time nowadays than they should compensating for failures at home. After a decade of New Labour’s “education, education, education” reforms, and a further four years of Mr Gove’s not-so-quiet revolution, much has been achieved in classrooms. It is right that the Chief Inspector of Schools should seek to turn our attention to what happens at home; but he should have done a little more homework.