Home truths on GCSE results

12th January 1996 at 00:00
A spotless house with tidy bedrooms ... how can full-time teachers be perfect parents too? Kevin Savage reports. The Government has announced a new initiative intended to raise educational standards throughout England and Wales. The scheme is prompted by research findings which suggest that children from tidy, well-run homes are more likely to succeed at GCSE. Particular importance is attached to a student's ability to do homework in an orderly environment.

Presenting this latest plan, a DFEE spokesman explained how it will be put into effect. Teams of experienced inspectors will target specific houses for inspection - predominantly the homes of full-time teaching mothers, where children are perceived to be at greatest risk.

"Ministers are concerned about the quality of housework provided by parents who are employed as full-time teachers. Survey evidence shows that the children in such homes are under-achieving at key stage 4," says the spokesman.

The regulatory body, HOMESTED, has prescribed minimum attainment targets for such core activities as shopping, washing, ironing and general housekeeping. Each area will be carefully scrutinised by the Harassed Mothers Inspectorate (HMI). Clusters of households selected for inspection will pay an average of Pounds 35,000 for the visit, which will last for two weeks in term time.

Inspection teams will live with the family and record details of children's diets, television viewing hours and parent-child contact time. Proposed legislation will allow inspectors to examine larders and fridges for convenience foods; to monitor the frequency of clothes-washing and to record the growth of ironing piles.

Following an inspection visit, the HMI team will produce a written report which must be available to the headteachers of local grant-maintained schools for selection purposes. Children with regularly-dusted homework areas and whose parents discuss their schoolwork with them will stand a significantly better chance of selection.

The Government envisages the publication in the local press of data collected from whole streets, probably in the form of some sort of league table.

Parents at the top of the list can expect cash injections from Westminster as a reward for excellence, to be spent on family holidays to Florida. Conversely, in extreme cases homes at the bottom may well be forced to close, with children taken into care until the age of 16 or given vouchers to redeem in a home of their own choosing.

The announcement has brought angry responses from the teaching unions, particularly the NASUWT, which claims that the initiative is an expensive and divisive measure. A union spokeswoman argued that "hundreds of hard-working teachers up and down the country will feel threatened by this unwarranted intrusion into their domestic lives". The real issue was why full-time working teacher mothers could not afford to pay for daily help in the home.

"Every staffroom has become obsessed with rumours of a possible HOMESTED visit," she said. Working-parent teachers were frantically compiling inspection folders of health-conscious shopping lists, timetables for educationally-stimulating family recreation and the provision of homework resources.

"No one wants these visits," she asserted "least of all children themselves who stand to lose most from a new system which enables them to do all their homework on time, every time."

Kevin Savage is director of information technology at Norwich School

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