Gemma was crying. It turned out that the previous evening her mother had not had time to read with her. As a result she was in floods of tears in the playground, fearing she would be “left behind”.
Gemma is not my student but I taught her last year. I know that her mother, who is raising Gemma and her brother on her own, works all the hours she can to provide for her family. I know she also tries as hard as she can to make time to read with her children, come to events and be part of the school. And I know that sometimes she can’t manage to fit it all in.
We have to take a long hard look at ourselves when young girls are crying because of the demands that schools are making of their parents. Is this what we really want? We “sell” parental engagement as beneficial for the child but how far is it actually about spreading accountability?
Of course, I know that we need to engage parents and get them involved in schools. But there are good and bad ways of doing it. Transmitting the message that pupils will fail without help at home is not the answer. This means parents are under pressure from their own children as well as the school. It is completely unfair to put them in a situation where they are forced to choose between working to feed and house their child or helping with their homework.
So how should we do it? For a start, we shouldn’t be getting students to act as our agents in prompting parental engagement. Children should be left out of it and discussions should be held with parents directly.
We also have to be aware of parents’ situations. We have to help them work out when they can and can’t assist and advise them about the sort of tasks they can fit around their working lives. Essentially we have to support them, not police them.
Sometimes, I can’t help thinking that the criticisms we have of the inspectors are the same that many parents would have about us.
The writer is a teacher in the South of England