"Common sense has been replaced by theory, some of it good and some of it nonsense," Mr McCafferty said. "Shrouding educational language in mysticism" drove parents away and that drove away the single biggest influence on a child's life.
Involving parents, a key conference theme, meant building confidence, Helen Happer, leader of a jointly run project between West Lothian and Barnardos, said. "We have to try to make people feel that what they do with their child actually makes a difference," Mrs Happer said.
Michael Little of Bristol University, co-director of the Dartington Social Research Unit, said involving parents would make it easier for staff in the long run, although the mechanics were difficult.