No cake for the child without pushy parents

9th July 2010 at 01:00
Free speech for all! Let everyone have a voice! Parent power rules!

Except, have you noticed in education that there is a neat socio-economic line between families who demand the most and those who mumble a bit but basically accept their lot?

The papers are filled with talk of free schools. I'm not sure that "free" necessarily is the best adjective to use, but I'd be willing to bet there will be a few more Tabithas and Olivers and not so many Waynes and Leannes. And yes, the mummies and daddies who shouted the loudest and got what they wanted do look remarkably like the Camerons and the Cleggs of this world.

In the olden days, like when I were a lass, parents got your report and could show willing by turning up to the parents' night. Nowadays, it seems the norm is to give parents e-mail access to teachers, and their inclusion in all decisions has reached ridiculous proportions.

I'm not talking about informing parents what is going on and being available when there is a problem, which obviously needs to be addressed. I'm talking about adults who encourage their children to text home if they have a supply teacher, so they can be up at the school complaining within the half-hour. I'm talking about those who demand extra support for their offspring because the tutor says they are legally entitled to it, whether it is in the child's best interests or not. I'm talking about the children who bring a note excusing them from PE, because they don't like being out in the cold (although maybe they have a point!).

The people with the quietest voices are often those who don't even seem to be aware of what their children need. They are the parents of the children who, if a choice has to be made, are the losers, because woe betide the school if an articulate parent senses an injustice. Isn't it easier to direct resources in that direction, rather than risk criticism?

It isn't a fair world. The children of the parents who don't make a fuss are often the ones who behave badly, largely because they can't access the curriculum without support. If you are finding it hard to learn, it is easier and more amusing to be disruptive.

Often, schools can't deliver all that they want to, or have promised to. Staffing a school is tricky at the best of times and, with the promised "cuts" still to spill blood, it will be even harder to meet parents' expectations. So perhaps we need to promise less, and be more realistic in what we can offer.

But can we blame parents for kicking off if they feel their child isn't getting what he or she deserves? The point is that every child should have access to the resources he or she needs. It shouldn't depend on how eloquent or pushy the parents are, but be directed where the teacher thinks most necessary.

Parents should have the right to be involved and consulted about their children's education - but not to call the shots. And it is especially important that we hold out for the weans who don't have pushy parents, to make sure they get their share. Even if the cake is not very big, it's better to get a wee bit than none at all.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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