Peter was an elective mute. I never saw his mother. He was collected from the reception class by older siblings. Against the head's advice, I visited his home. The family had recently arrived from another country. Peter had spent the year before he started school on the double bed where his father died just before he started school. All five children slept in that bed at night while mum did piecework sewing on the landing, then slept in the same bed during the day while the children were at school. I saw the children's tea - half a cup of jelly and Carnation milk. The visit was not long but it showed someone cared and, from there, social services were able to get involved too.
Then there was the older mum. chHer child had learning difficulties and poor speech and language. One day, I found her scolding her child for writing her name badly on the painting she was taking home. It was the first time Tracey had written her name - playgroup leaders had always written it for her.
The only thing to do was to ask this mother to help in class. I know the other parents looked askance, but I knew I could manage her and give her realistic expectations as well as some advice on parenting at the same time. She learnt so well that one day when I was feeling dispirited about the value of phonics, she gave me chapter and verse on why phonics are important. From that day, I knew that no parent would ever be an "unsuitable" classroom helper.
I know teachers feel bowed down by the pressures of their work but we can change families' lives for the better and we need to decide on our priorities lest the faceless bureaucrats succeed in creating an underclass of helpless families and hopeless children.
Jennie Carter. Headteacher, The Churchill school Folkestone, Kent