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Disarming the ninja parents

I once turned up at my daughter's primary school brimming with indignation and wearing what can only be described as warpaint. That morning I had run out of blusher and had drawn two big red stripes on my cheeks with lipstick. In my rush to get to school and berate the teacher I had unfortunately forgotten to blend these in. Fortunately for her, I did not whoop and holler as I made my complaint and she patiently listened to my concerns without once mentioning my unusual maquillage.

Most parents, however, are not so helpful in alerting teachers to signs of imminent trouble and can descend upon the school in full fury and with frightening consequences. "Twice in my 30-year teaching career, parents have threatened to beat me up. That may not be such a bad ratio," writes school leader Geoff Barton in our feature on challenging parents.

Sadly, he is right. Some 75 per cent of members in the NAHT headteachers' union have been physically threatened by parents and one in 10 physically assaulted. The problem is such that the union's general secretary, Russell Hobby, warned recently that pushy, aggressive parents were deterring deputies from applying for leadership roles. This is not helped by politicians and opinion-formers singing the praises of ninja parents.

It's not only the teachers who are suffering. Children, too, are feeling the full force of turbo-powered parenting skills. Aspirational middle-class parents are said to be using their offspring to enhance their social status by making them sit tests for top private schools. Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and director of the charity Kids Company, describes parents going "berserk and frantic" as they battle to get their children through these exams.

Parents treating children as an extension of themselves and how they want to be perceived can go beyond school. A recent survey revealed that more than half try to steer their children along a particular career path, usually one that they themselves wish they had taken, or to use them as a "second chance" to try to rectify the mistakes they made at school.

Worse still, they may be determined that their offspring tread the same path. One doctor father was so keen for his son to follow in his footsteps and those of his father before him that when the boy, who had impeccable grades, failed to get a place on a medical degree course at a prestigious university he threatened to sue. Unfortunately, what the poor dean could not tell him was that the young man had pleaded during interview not to be given a place. He hated medicine and wanted to study history, but his father would not let him.

It's not hard to see why parents can sometimes feel like the enemy. Clear rules of engagement and good support are vital for teachers, but no matter how challenging the parent on the warpath is, you must remember that you're on the same side: you both want the best for their child. And of course, as any school leader will tell you, engaging parents constructively is one of the key pillars of managing a successful establishment, whether it be the wealthiest independent or the poorest primary.

As Winston Churchill said: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them."

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