I’m conscious that parents seem so unaware of how their children might disproportionately affect the social ecosystem that is the classroom as well as affecting their own education and chances in life. Can we attribute this to the fact that nature always paints a rosier picture of one’s own children such that many parents are blinded to their children’s problems, or are we primary educators partly to blame because we conspire to keep parents in the dark? Increasingly, I think the latter is true. I also think that if we tackle this problem in an open, pragmatic way, we might find that re-engaging parents is a cost-effective way to massively raise children’s attainment in primary schools up and down the country, which should then feed into attainment and better attitudes at KS3 and KS4.
I don’t think educators deliberately keep parents in the dark; I think it’s just what happens when systems, procedures and ideals warp the process of honest communication, sometimes even shrouding it in the name of ‘professionalism’. For example, except for the mandatory reporting of SATs results, parents are only given information about their child’s ‘progress’ which leads them to believe that their child is bumbling along nicely and on track to success in life when nothing could be farther from the truth. The child might be about 2 years’ behind their peers, but this is never said. How will the parent find out? When it’s too late: their child is streamed into the lowest set at secondary and there is no hope of him making up for all those years where gaps in learning have opened up. This situation must be especially stark for the parents of children with SEN, particularly when we consider how teachers are pretty much all amateurs when it comes to identifying and educating children with SEN: How many teachers do you know who understand how fragile X syndrome, metabolic disorders or cerebral palsy affect cognitive and social functioning? How many teachers automatically assume ADHD when a child is just chronically tired from being up on Xbox all night long? How many teachers do you know who understand how Asperger’s manifests in females? Recent changes in reporting requirements now means that we do have to let parents know where their child is in terms of year group expectation, but the casual wording of ‘Working towards’ for example still means that a Year 4 child’s report would still have a tick (or a circle, or dot, or whatever) on the Year 4 column and the parent will never really know how far behind their child is. Can you imagine if we had yearly state exams and reported the raw data direct to parents? The parents of children who are behind would have a pretty severe shock and then might immediately start blaming teachers and schools, and this is where we would need to open up another avenue of honest communication about behaviour and attitudes to learning.
Many educators know that behaviour is a massive factor in determining a child’s attainment and therefore future success and happiness in life. A child who chooses to be or knows no other way than to be lazy, mess about, talk loudly, try to make jokes constantly, disturb their friends relentlessly, look at anyone or anything except the teacher will fall further and further behind because for any unit of time given to listening to instruction or practising using a skill or set of knowledge, he or she is getting a lot less done. Further, this child will absorb the teacher’s time and energy, thus depriving the rest of the class, many of whom may have SEN and therefore more in need/deserving of the teacher’s individual attention, of a decent education.
How can a teacher really be honest with a parent when The System dictates that poor behaviour is entirely the teacher’s fault because of lack of planning (for example)? Such honesty would sound a death knell for that teacher’s career. Many teachers would like to ask parents whether they are aware that their choice to let their child ‘be free’ to ‘be happy’ has in fact led to their child only ever thinking of themselves and being completely unable to exercise self-control or be controlled by outside influences such as simply being asked to stop talking constantly. Again, this would be a shock to many parents, and they may cry ‘I am offended!’ but so what? Many parents, because they only see their own child at play with siblings or with friends, are actually completely unaware of how their child has fallen behind their peers in terms of maturity, self-control and social awareness when it comes to actually having to work hard and concentrating at school; this is the silent majority of parents who would, perhaps reluctantly, appreciate the reality check. Next time you’re in a primary class, ask the children if they are required to make their own beds in the morning and prepare to be shocked into having a little sit-down. I’d love to show parents a video of a typical lesson in my class in order to open their eyes to how their ‘outgoing’ child is actually hampering his own education as well as being seemingly impervious to correction, rewards or punishments. An alternative to this would be to simply have honest behaviour reports. Of course, the parent then might have a shock and then ask why their child is not effectively stopped? This leads me to SLT.
I’ve seen, read and heard enough about SLT and headteachers who brush poor behaviour under the carpet, simultaneously bragging about how behaviour is wonderful in their school (you only have to peruse job advertisments to see evidence of this) while telling the class teachers to work harder to make all their lessons fun, engaging, telling them that if they stuck to the behaviour management policies (which may include only ever using praise) and building good routines, then all the children will magically transform into curious and well-behaved mini-professors. I think only Ofsted could bust this situation up. I’m not sure how, but there at least needs to be an acknowledgement that egotism is preventing honest communication, perhaps because we hire and promote based on performance (extrovert ideals) rather than other attributes that might make a leader more inclined to admit the he is but a mere human and cannot magically transform a child who is being told by parents that education means nothing.
The above two examples of how poor behaviour is covered up make me think that what we have here is a sort of educational Enron, a collective refusal to admit that perhaps we teachers and parents are creating the perfect storm: a generation completely unprepared for any social or economic turmoil to come. They’ll all be so wrapped up in themselves and their feelings, unaware of lessons we have learned from the past, that they won’t even see it coming. The current media and government focus on secondary schools also deflects from this situation whereby we, as a nation, are failing to help our children develop good habits by turning a blind eye to poor behaviour in the name of progressive, child-centred ideals that ensure the continued view of primary school as some sort of protected zone of childhood innocence and freedom from the Big Bad World. Many progressive educators will protest here, maintaining that the children in their class are in fact perfect, but I’ve heard this before and witnessed ‘exciting, buzzing, ‘collaborative’ classrooms’ and merely seen chatting and lack of concentration instead. It didn’t use to be like this, surely? What has changed? We’re all too scared that somebody’s feelings will be hurt. And how is all this ‘Oh we need to get them independent and taking ownership of their learning’ going to help? Again, another example of how out of touch with reality teachers are because if they took a few seconds to remember their own childhood, would they have wanted to (or had the ability to) take ownership of their own learning at 6 years old? Really? Even the subjects they weren’t too keen on at the time? So, basically children aren’t expected to be able to control their own behaviour but they are expected to easily see into their own futures and automatically know what to do to get there. This is the maddest situation ever.
The reintroduction of grammars might actually improve this situation. Pretty much all parents would hope their child would get into the local grammar and they would take more of an active interest in the education (including character) of their child even if it just meant a greater commitment to hearing their child read every night. I would predict a massive awakening of parental interest and even I would have been galvanised to be even more of a Tiger Mother myself (it’s too late now because they’re at a local comp and I am resigned to their education being inhibited by various factors). The creation of grammar schools would also cause many primary schools to evolve towards a more traditional education that is highly academic in focus because of the kudos of sending a high percentage of children to the local grammar, and teachers would again help to prepare children for the 11+ (I would, even if it was an after school club; I’m quite committed to equal opportunities for all and I really do think 10 and 11 year olds are capable of so much more in terms of developing as intellectuals). The result surely would be an overall uplift in attainment at KS2? Working class parents who can’t afford private education would go for the local primary with the more overt academic ethos and stricter atmos. It’s a harsh reality, but if we remember that the children’s personalities and abilities are dominated by attitudes and habits formed at home, then we should accept that galvanised and newly interested parents can only be a good thing.
At the end of the day we are all only human and therefore unable to perform miracles in schools, instead I really believe that we need to be honest with parents about where exactly their children are (and how Minecraft isn’t ‘educational’ or ‘creative’), including regular administration and reporting of tests, and letting them know about their children’s behaviour, bracing ourselves for the anguish and possible accusations that may come our way.
Who’s with me?