A violent objection

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
This week, I've been ruminating about good and bad parents. Before I became one, I imagined self-righteously that parents must be the bane of state schools. Those querulous, bigoted, interfering middle-class squads, always protesting about poor wee Johnny and blocking change. I'm sure they exist, somewhere, but my prejudices are being chipped by experience. Recently a steady stream of parents (including me) have made tracks for our school with various concerns for their kids, and two things have been brought home to me.

One is the time and care senior staff have taken to listen, discuss and resolve our worries or complaints. The other is the wide range of social backgrounds of these parents, the amount of perceptive thought and imagination they have about education, about what their own children most need at school.

A hassle they must often be, but I think schools must usually be richer for their input; and it seems a glad thing after all that they no longer feel intimidated, as in my far-off youth, from darkening the door of the dominie.

As for bad parents, they're set for the heavy squad in England and Wales. Under plans for a new government bill, the courts will be able to bark orders. Take your tearaways to school to stop them playing truant! Impose a night curfew to stop them roaming the streets! Undergo three months' corrective training in parenting, you at the back! Seductive solutions; good, stern Thatcherite stuff.

I'm glad we live north of Berwick. I increasingly admire all the things education minister Brian Wilson is not copying (and we haven't even got our own parliament yet). Not, in this case, from wanting to shirk my responsibilities as a parent, smoking and swigging gin before heading for the bingo, leaving my brat to roam the casino, but because this nasty, patronising plan will in no way support parents to supervise children who, in most cases, have already defied their attempts at control.

These are don't-spare-the-rod messages, encouraging further harsh attempts at discipline by those parents whose violent methods have already proved damaging or ineffective. Besides, are there any prizes for guessing which mothers (not fathers) the courts will most often target? Pick from single, overstressed, poor, black, ill-educated or similarly "imperfect".

Has nothing been learned from the historic failures of the lady bountiful school of correctional parenting? No wonder the excellent and experienced voluntary organisation Homestart, whose trained volunteers already support thousands of stressed parents in a non-patronising way, is voicing such concern at the plans. Put major money for expansion their way instead, Mr Blair, for better results. That is one initiative which would be worth duplicating north of Berwick.

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