Parents must help to point the way
One priority at my school is to improve parent participation. We do lots of things to try to include and involve parents in their children's education.
But it's not an easy task. We have done all the usual things: three pupil review days a year, a weekly newsletter, parent and children workshops, family learning opportunities, special-event parent meetings, concerts, prize-givings. To all intents and purposes, we do very well in this area but we still don't believe we are doing enough.
We all know that parental support is one of the vital ingredients needed for children to thrive both emotionally and academically. As a full-service extended school, we are lucky to have many resources and people to provide support to families in need, but it is more difficult to help others when they don't recognise or admit that there is a problem.
Over the past two weeks, I have been busy meeting many parents and children. It is sad but true that headteachers usually only have one-to-one meetings with individual pupils and parents when there are problems. Most recently, I have been concentrating on meeting those who have poor attendance and who truant regularly. In addition, I have been meeting with individuals who have been involved in misbehaviour of various kinds.
While most of these meetings were fairly positive, some made me despair. A small number of parents didn't turn up, despite several reminders. These are the ones we rarely see and are the hardest group to work with and bring about change.
Another parent arrived without his child, who refused to get out of bed and come with him. This is a growing phenomenon and it is becoming increasingly obvious that many parents have lost control of their children. Many of our pupils arrive with older brothers or sisters who take on the parenting role, and many do a very good job in supporting their siblings. It is only when you meet the parents and family that you can really understand the situations our young people live in.
During our attendance meetings, we talk vaguely about court warnings and possible fines for parents and how new regulations now mean we can impose fixed penalties for a variety of offences. But it is clear that court warnings and convictions are not working and don't result in regular attendance. Therefore, imposing additional fixed penalties and fines (as per the latest guidance from the Department for Education and Skills) is not going to make much difference. All they will do is punish parents who are already suffering.
Many parents ask us for help in managing their teenage children. They tell us about all the stresses they are dealing with, their children's lack of respect and refusal to follow instructions. When we suggest they "ground"
their child as a punishment, they look in despair and tell us this is impossible as their children will not obey them. Others blame everyone (except their child) and put it all down to their child having got mixed up with the "wrong crowd". I am used to pupils who come up with every excuse in the book, but I am still surprised when parents make similar excuses for their children's misbehaviour, or deny it ever happened.
We have several instances in which children deny everything, no matter that there were six witnesses, CCTV footage, fingerprints and DNA evidence.
Parents tell us their child swore on their Nan's life that they "never done it", and they believe them. Children need clear moral boundaries and families must work together to provide them and impose them. Otherwise there is little hope for the next generation.