Parent power is a case for the myth-busters

30th October 2009 at 00:00

Picture the scene. It's open morning and dozens of prospective parents and carers have been invited to come and see the school "at work". The Year 7 pupils are ready to do the tours and to tell prospective parents and children all about our school. They know that most Year 6 pupils worry first and foremost about being bullied when they get to secondary school - so our students are on standby to meet them and, hopefully, set their minds at rest.

This tranquil scene is shattered by the arrival of a particularly noisy and aggressive parent, with a child in tow. She arrives just ahead of another group of quieter parents, with their sons and daughters, plus an entire class from a local primary school.

We can tell from the minute she enters the building that this mother is going to be trouble - and she does not disappoint.

She complains very loudly about the fact that she is not being shown around personally by a headteacher, or at at the very least by a teacher. We explain, in a friendly way, that the whole point of the exercise is to see the school as it normally is, in action, and that the teachers are currently at work teaching children.

The mother is unimpressed. The children would not know anything about the school, she moans. And besides, why has she not been provided with a cup of tea?

We explain that she can meet the head and all the teachers - and drink as much tea as she likes - at the open evening tomorrow. But the cheerful explanation is to no avail.

She kicks up such a noisy fuss that we have to ask her to leave the corridor (we don't want her disturbing any lessons). As she goes, she tells us loudly - within earshot of other visitors - that she has heard all about our school, that she knew it was rubbish anyway, and she would not dream of sending her child there. And then she exits.

It worries me that many people assume they know exactly what happens inside my school, just as many adults assume they know what occurs inside schools generally. The fact that most have never set foot in one since their childhood, and know little or nothing about the reality, can make me very cross indeed.

Our school is an inner-city comprehensive, but the perception that it - and others like it - are places where disorder and chaos reign is built on myth.

Furthermore, the rhetoric coming from all the political parties makes schools out to be the enemy, a problem that can only be fixed by outside intervention and giving parents an even greater say.

It was while thinking about this that I received a phone call from the local paper. A parent had reported an incident in which her child had been bullied, the journalist explained, and the school had done "nothing about it".

This was not true: several of my staff had taken swift action over the alleged incident (and were, later, extremely upset to be accused of ignoring it).

As I explained to the journalist, we had carried out conflict resolution with all those involved. We could not go into the full details of what had been done to the pupils who had carried out the bullying because we could not give out such confidential details about our students to the press.

We take bullying very seriously, and I know from my experience that restorative justice and conflict resolution are far more successful in preventing it than putting pupils in the stocks. There are always two sides to every story and it is important that we listen to both so that we can help to avoid further incidents.

We always make sure our youngsters are accountable and have to face the consequences of their actions, but we also do our best to make them understand why their behaviour is damaging to others and realise the possible repercussions of further incidents. However, while we take a tough line, we try not to be vengeful.

Sadly, sometimes parents and others expect to see public floggings, and if students are not expelled, they believe we are doing nothing and are just giving pupils a mild "ticking off".

This is, of course, exactly what the newspaper story that appeared a few days later suggested.

Negative press coverage is nothing new to me - I've experienced it several times before - but it can be one of the most depressing parts of my job.

Such stories have a detrimental effect on the school as a whole, and can be particularly disheartening for staff. And even though the stories are quickly forgotten, they do not help to dispel the myths and rumours that run riot in our area.

Now that parents have the power to trigger Ofsted inspections, it becomes even more crucial that we give them confidence in our work, and explain that the solutions we use may be different from the ones they remember from their own school days.

I just hope Ofsted will be able to distinguish between those parents with genuine concerns and those who are unhappy when we fail to bring them tea.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher, George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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