Has the world gone potty?

14th March 2008 at 00:00
So is this the way we live now? Children aged four and five are turning up at school in pull-up nappies because, it is said, their parents can't be bothered to toilet train them. According to concerned teachers (see our report on page 3), some parents think toilet training is not their job and that it is the school's responsibility.

We have no wish to denigrate parents, the vast majority of whom work hard to ensure their children turn up to school clean, tidy and ready to learn. Every teacher knows that, with young children, accidents do happen, and most take them in their stride.

But these teachers' concerns seem to be part of a wider pattern in our society. Teachers know only too well that there are parents who can't control their children and who expect the school to sort out their behaviour. Now, it seems, this small but growing dysfunctional minority expects teaching staff to wipe their children's noses - not to mention bottoms.

Nor is this sort of attitude confined to the early years. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said this week that schools were now expected to cope with pupils who can barely hold a conversation or use a knife and fork.

For many families, modern life is challenging. Children frequently grow up in households where one parent is missing (usually the father), while, for some, sitting down for a family meal is a rarity. It is, as Dr Dunford says, a sad fact of 21st-century life that schools are increasingly being forced to take on parental responsibilities.

Yet, at the same time, parents and pupils expect to be given rights as consumers and citizens. As we report on page 1, most teachers support the principle of consulting pupils on teaching and learning policies, yet currently only one in eight schools does so. The United Nations children's agency would like more schools to use pupil voice in this way to underpin the teaching of rights and responsibility in the curriculum.

Such an approach can help schools devise more effective and child-friendly ways of teaching (though having unwilling teachers rated by their pupils is another matter).

If pupils learn that rights must be balanced with responsibilities, it can only be a good thing. That will make them better citizens and, in time, better parents.

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