ONE OF the biggest challenges to British education over the past 20 years has been the rise in the demands and influence of parents. In a consumer society, parents expect their opinions on education to be taken seriously. In the world of 2000, when families are making choices every day - about their homes, cars, pensions, entertainment, and what kind of clothes and food to buy - it is quite unrealistic to assume they should not have a major say in the education of their children.
What's more, parents are voters - and politicians who want to be returned at the next election need to take notice of what they say. The results of our TESFDS Millennium poll are, generally, good news for the Government (see Briefing, page 20). In particular, parents are satisfied with the teaching their own children receive: two-thirds consider it excellent or very good. Less well-off social groups are particularly positive about changes brought in by this Government - which has focused on high expectations for children of all backgrounds.
This parental support offers David Blunkett a fair wind for the next stage of his education policy, heralded in yesterday's visionary speech at the North of England Conference in Wiga. The Education Secretary reminded us just how much has already been achieved by Britain's teachers - and how much there is still to do, both inside and outside school. The much-needed new emphasis on the early years of the secondary school will surprise few people, but the idea of summer adventure camps for secondary pupils, giving less well-off teenagers the chance of travel and challenging experiences which many middle-class youngsters take for granted, is an imaginative touch.
The parents' poll, too, shows concern over aimless and disaffected young people. Two-thirds of parents believe that behaviour has got worse in the past 10 years and nearly a quarter see disruptive pupils as the biggest problem facing Britain's schools. Teachers can feel sure, then, that parents appreciate their difficulties.
Parents are backing the Government on performance-related pay for teachers, but 83 per cent of them think that too little is being spent on state education - and one in three believes that lack of funds is the biggest problem facing schools. Ministers need to ensure that the much-publicised pound;19 billion and the Chancellor's equally famous "war chest" do have a real impact at the grassroots.