From the Editor - It's the bullies in Barbours we need a law against

Gerard Kelly

Politicians lap up injustice. Few things are calculated to provoke a rush to the barricades, a rousing speech and a Twitter campaign more than the discovery that miscreants and misdeeds are flourishing unimpeded by legislation.

In Britain, school bullies - as we reported last week - are the latest dragons scheduled to be slain by our valiant representatives. If MPs get their way, principals could soon have the power to haul serial offenders above the age of 10 before the courts.

This has delighted some campaigners but appalled others (see pages 22-23 and The water-cooler question, page 6). But in their haste to extend sanctions to young bullies, politicians have missed an opportunity to address another blight: that two-headed monster, the middle-class parents from hell.

Last month, a particularly litigious example of the breed attempted to sue a school (see pages 9-10). Its crime? Hall School Wimbledon had on occasion given the couple's children an A grade rather than an A+. This inability to recognise the unswerving genius of the litigants' offspring provoked years of complaint. The school, tired of having its staff shouted at and reduced to tears, eventually asked the parents to withdraw their children. So the couple sued.

Fortunately, they lost. The judge condemned behaviour that "went well beyond the realms of even the most zealous, some might say pushy, parents". They cannot be named for legal reasons, but the fact that they are known to be French has tempted some to dismiss their conduct as aberrant and, well, French.

Sadly, schools know only too well that fanatical, relentless parenting isn't a Continental import. Most parents may be model citizens but it's very possible that the couple's unacceptable behaviour was learned on the mean streets of middle-class Britain.

Teachers will recognise the type: insistent, demanding, convinced that their children are capable of stellar achievement regardless of ability. Any deviation from that preordained path to success must therefore be the fault of the school and its lacklustre staff. Objections won't be entertained, resistance is futile; little Sophie is destined for Oxbridge and that is that.

Some believe the problem is largely confined to independent schools, where, because parents are paying, they demand a return on their investment. But state schools are no strangers to the type. If anything, middle-class demands can be even more uncompromising, sharpened as they are by the bitter awareness that ambition isn't underpinned by the cash necessary to go private.

As the competition for good grades intensifies, the problem will only get worse. As I write, universities are preparing to fend off swarms of "helicopter parents", battle-hardened by years of getting their way in schools, loudly demanding places for their kids.

And what are our elected representatives doing about it? Where is the legislation to counter this blight? Why are MPs not tackling this scourge in Chanel, these bullies in Barbours? Where are the posh antisocial behaviour orders, the judicial restraints for these bourgeois pests?

Don't MPs recognise the danger? Or could it be that they recognise it all too well: in their neighbours, perhaps, or their constituency association - or, heaven forfend, in the mirror?

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Gerard Kelly

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