It's a family affair

13th April 2007 at 01:00
What's it like when your children are also your pupils? And what effect does it have on them? Irena Barker talks to school leaders

Graham Greene, the novelist, was bullied so badly as a boarder at his father's school in Berkhamsted that he was in psychoanalysis by the time he was 17.

Wackford Squeers, the cruel, one-eyed Yorkshire schoolmaster who runs Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby, the Dickens novel, meanwhile kept his son fed while the others starved.

Most parents tend to keep work and family lives separate, but for some brave heads - and pupils - the boundaries are blurred. For David Trace (below), the 54-year-old head of Ramsey Grammar on the Isle of Man, having his two children in school gives him an opportunity to see them - one that he would rarely get otherwise as he is so busy.

Olivia, his 17-year-old daughter, is always worried about being seen as his stooge, but he says: "She doesn't tell me very much, especially if there's bad teaching."

She and Alastair, her brother, asked to go to his school rather than the "urban" ones in Douglas, the capital. And, says David: "There's a real family feel here anyway."

Peter Kent, head of Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, Warwickshire, chose his school for Andrew, his son, as it is "the best in the area". They, have an instinctive understanding of the clear demarcation line between home and school life.

Andrew, who is in Year 8, always travels to the boys' school on the bus, while his dad leaves parents' evening duties to Sian, his wife. They never discuss details of the school day.

"I wouldn't go over the minutiae of my work or the secrets of management, and I don't expect Andrew to tell me what's going on in school," says Peter, 45.

Despite the apparent harmony, Andrew recently stood up against his father's plans to change the school's house system in the debating society.

"The other staff were very amused," says Peter. Andrew says being the head's son is character building and "just about survivable, but I do try to avoid him in the corridors".

Jonathan Hicks, the 49-year-old head of St Cyres School in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, has two sons at the school: Marcus in Year 7 and Joseph in Year 10. Paul, his eldest son, also works there as a supply teacher.

He does not allow them to discuss individual teachers at home and the only time he had a problem was when his eldest son got into a fight. Then he handed the matter straight on to another member of staff. "I didn't want to get involved," he says.

Wendy, his wife, usually attends parents' evening on her own but Marcus, insisted on his father going this year. "Teachers can get nervous about reporting back to me, but he wanted to be treated like all the other pupils," says Jonathan.

Stephen Bunney chose De Aston School in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, for Rosanna and William, 13, as the state school with a boarding house where he is assistant head, is the only secondary in the area.

The family lived on the campus when the children were young but moved out later so that they would not see the school as their home.

"It was a practical decision for us, and the school has a history of teachers sending their children here. We do get feedback from the children and it's interesting to get their perspective."

Rosanna says her father likes to make funny noises when he passes her in the corridor but says otherwise she has had no problems.

William says: "He's always singing in the boarding house when he's in a good mood. It's really embarrassing. When he takes me for a lesson you can't muck about or anything."

Some heads, though, have made conscious decisions not to send their children to their own schools.

Nigel Richardson, head of Perse, a private school in Cambridge, said:

"Children need different compartments in their lives. It could be very claustrophobic.

"There are also issues for discipline and perceived favouritism. And the children could suffer persecution from a teacher who had issues with the headteacher."

Nigel, 58, was head at his sons' prep school when one of them had entered a poetry reading competition. "My wife was sitting there praying for him to come second," he says.

Alison Bruton, a deputy head at Wolverhampton Girls' High School, said Lydia, her 18-year-old daughter, chose to go to another local school. "My children were put off by me being here - I wouldn't have minded."

Ironically though, Lydia now goes to Wolverhampton High for a few hours a week for A-level Spanish lessons because her sixth form has links with the school.

And what of the psychological effects on a child of going to their parent's school?

Nicholas Tucker, an educational psychologist who has just retired from the University of Sussex, says: "Graham Greene was perpetually picked on as the headmaster's son and had divided loyalties. He later put his fascination with double agents down to this early experience.

"It can be the best of things or the worst of things, depending on the child's temperament and their relationship with their parents. If the headteacher is popular, it might be easy, but if the children loathe him, they may take it out on the child."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says: "If you believe your school is the best in the area and you live nearby, then why deny your child a place?

"It might not be great to see your parent giving an assembly, but at least there's always someone on standby with dinner money in their pocket."

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