Editorial - Diplomats, not dictators, win over parents

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Keep the long arm of the law out of lunchboxes if you want families on your side

Teachers are increasingly expected to be surrogate parents as the wellbeing agenda dominates. It doesn't take an education expert to work out that a happier or healthier child has a distinct advantage over less fortunate peers during exam time. But should schools be legally required to vet their lunchboxes (page 3)? No method for seeking out forbidden foods has yet been suggested, and it hasn't been decided whether they would be confiscated in the same way as mobile phones.

Teachers, particularly in primaries, have always looked after the welfare of their young pupils; it is very much part of the territory. Does anyone remember "magic yellow?" This was a cheap antiseptic fluid that was applied to the arms and legs of tearful children who had fallen over. Its healing powers became tenfold when teachers told children of its magical qualities. But the pastoral role of teachers has taken on a statutory meaning that goes beyond having a caring disposition.

Many primary schools now insist on morning snacks being healthy. The parent who ignores this "advice" could be subject to a quiet word, or the target of a slightly patronising letter reminding all parents to bring in fruit the following week. But the danger of this is that it can alienate parents.

Who can forget the parents who queued outside that school in Yorkshire armed with burgers and chips when the headteacher banned their children from going to takeaway outlets at lunchtime?

Just look at the outcry this week following calls by Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who wants to ban adults from smoking in cars where under-16s are travelling. I'm sure not many parents would dream of lighting up with a baby in tow, but there are always those who will.

And who are we trying to protect here? It is precisely the welfare of children, who may have little choice other than to sit in a smoke-filled car, that this ban would try to address. Lunchboxes would be vetted with good intentions, but the fallout cannot be predicted.

Teachers can only go so far in protecting children from society's ills. If parents are failing their children and blunders are made by social workers, teachers could be a powerful ally in the fight against physical and mental abuse, which holds back children from doing well at school. But how far is that practical?

Teachers are only in control of children between 9am and 3.30pm. After that, parents take over, and are free to decide whether to take their child to the sweet shop. Teachers have to strike up good relationships with them, as parents have their child's success or failure in their hands at home.

It seems diplomacy, the subtle form of persuasion that teachers have always been good at, is a better tactic in fighting parental ills than law enforcement.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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