The Big Question: Where do parents' responsibilities end and teachers' begin?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: Where do parents’ responsibilities end and teachers’ begin?

Too many parents are neglecting their responsibility for socialising and disciplining their children and handing over this role entirely to teachers. This was the opinion of Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, writing in The Observer, and the theme is echoed at teacher conferences this week.

As well as toilet-training children and teaching them how to use a knife and fork, teachers have been blamed by parents for their child’s pregnancy and cannabis smoking, said Bousted. Just under 40 per cent of teachers have been confronted by an aggressive parent or guardian, according to a survey of 1,000 ATL members, published today.

What is your experience? Should the Government be doing more to emphasise parental responsibilities as well as teachers? And how can teachers be protected from the increasing and unrealistic expectations placed upon them? Here are some views from the education community:


“Something should be done to encourage parents to be more proactive and responsible in raising their children. I am a Reception teacher with managerial responsibility for two nursery and three pre-school classes. Over the past decade, my setting has noticed a distinct shift in the role of the staff. Whereas, once upon a time, staff spent their time introducing children to letters and numbers, investigation and exploration, we now find that the majority of their day is spent developing children’s social skills and self-care.

“With the emphasis in the Early Years having shifted to toilet training and socializing, teachers are frustrated that they cannot deliver the opportunities and experiences they were trained for; this view is echoed across the foundation stage and into key stage 1, as children are generally less prepared for the demands of an educational environment.”
Carolyn Hill Reception teacher, Early Years & Foundation Stage Coordinator, primary


“Most parents are wonderfully supportive people who do their best in a frantically busy life, and would not dream of passing the parenting buck to teachers, beyond expecting them to keep their children safe and happy while at school. But it’s the confrontations from the frustrating few that stay with you, keep you awake at night and play on your mind, keeping you on tenterhooks until that child has moved on to the next class. They are the ones who ruin what is a great, fulfilling and rewarding job.”
Ann Blackburn, parent and director of studies, independent primary school.

“Bringing up children in the 21st century is a combined effort between parents and teachers. When children are in school teachers are responsible for what they are taught and how they behave. When children are at home it is the responsibility of parents how their children behave.

“We as teachers do play an important part in a child’s growth and social development. There are many opportunities for sensitive issues to be discussed at the level suitable for the age of the class, even at primary school. Peer pressure, bullying, smoking and drug taking, boy and girl relationships were topics I discussed with my year 4 class and everyone had an opportunity to express their opinions and they were respected.

But I do believe that it is parents’ responsibility and duty to know where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing after school, no matter how hard it is in this day and age.”

Hillary Swerdlow, parent, former primary school teacher until 2006 and currently Education Officer at the Beatles Story in Liverpool