What the parents think

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Mary West has an eight-year-old son at an inner-city junior school. She describes her relationship with his teacher as "frustrating", despite the school's open-door policy.

"I don't have enough information, and I'm concerned about the progress of my child. Theoretically, the channels are there for communication, but in practice it's difficult. I get a letter telling me they're covering the Romans, but I don't know what he's learning. I'd like to see a school policy, telling me the methods, standards, expectations. Then at least I'd know what he was supposed to be achieving.

"I have tried to talk to the teacher, and she told me, for instance, they expect parents to teach tables. But we had never been told that. Do all the teachers in the school not teach tables? I don't really feel I can talk to the teacher or the head. I'm afraid of the effect on my child.

"I have to assume that if there's something wrong I'll be called in. But I'd like to know if there's something right as well. Ideally, I'd like a written, weekly report telling me how he's doing -a progress report of some kind. We get a report at the end of the year, but then if there's a problem it's too late to do anything about it.

"I'm a full time working mother but I show willing. I always turn up at meetings and concerts. But at the moment the school doesn't make the effort. There's no way they can gauge what parents want."

Angela Martens, 44, has a 14-year-old son at a west London comprehensive. She has had frequent contact with the school, mainly over his poor behaviour and believes if she didn't show such interest Nathan might have been excluded.

"I suppose I can say the relationship with the school is OK. My son has ability but unfortunately he's under-achieving. His teachers are frustrated because they know he isn't giving of his best.

"Other kids have been excluded permanently for a lot less but the school has kept him on because they've got my backing. I always support them, even if I don't feel they have got it completely right.

"There was an incident where he put his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun, and the other kids started to scamper and laugh. I was called in to see the head and I told her about this child who's pleasant at home and who I enjoy. I played that up and I could see the head had a different picture of me by the time I left.

"When I go into school, I feel confident that I can hold my own. But I'm aware of what happens to parents, particularly black parents. It seems if you are not articulate there are not a lot who will understand you, especially when you have a child who isn't what they consider the norm."

Val Crosier has sons of 17 and 18 who recently left Archbishop Thurstan School (see left). Now working full time as a teacher's aide, Val began as a volunteer when her younger son joined.

"He brought a letter home inviting us to a meeting and I thought I'd put a toe in the water. The fact that you weren't just expected to sit in a corner and read with children - you could actually get involved with lessons - appealed to me.

"I was never invited into the primary school. It takes a lot for a parent to knock on the door and say 'do you want my help?' "At secondary, my sons were both growing up and it would have been very easy to send them off at eight, get them back at four, and have no interest in what they were doing. Kids actively don't want you involved in their lives when they're going through the teenage years, so you've got to fight your corner.

"I never worked anywhere near my own children. They would have been horrified. If they ever saw me in school, they just ignored me, unless they wanted money. But at home I was able to talk to them a lot more - about coursework, what they were doing, whether they were happy with their lives. Relationships in the family definitely benefited. And they both did fairly well in their exams. But I do think that would have happened anyway."

Maggie Allen, 39, has three children aged 5, 10 and 14. Janine, the oldest, is in her second year at secondary school, and things are not going well between school and family.

"Initially it was quite a big change for her after primary school and she didn't adjust very well. She's had a few problems with behaviour and attitudes and I feel she's got in with a bad crowd.

"My daughter and another girl had an argument and I was called to a meeting about bullying. The other girl's parents didn't turn up. The teachers were accusing Janine of bullying, but the incident just sounded like a bit of tit for tat to me. I was willing to go in there and try and sort it out, but their attitude seemed to be that it was all coming from home.

"At a meeting I had with the head of year, my daughter and I were both reduced to tears. The teacher made me feel as if I was not supporting my daughter and that until we've sorted out the problems at home the school couldn't do anything.

"Our relationship isn't all smooth-running. She lost her Dad when she was six, which I feel is a big factor. I have another partner now. The school are well aware of this, but make absolutely no allowances.

"I went to that school myself and my experience wasn't all that different from my daughter's. I regret not doing what I should have and I'm now back at college. I do realise the importance of education. But I don't feel the school is giving her much of a chance".

Maria Pearce, 29, has two boys, aged six and five, at Redhills Combined School in Exeter (see left), and a baby of 18 months. She is a school governor and helps in the school.

"Teachers are happy to have you in the classroom, even if it's only for sharpening pencils or gluing things onto paper. It's a spare pair of hands for them and you can get to see at first hand what your child is doing, rather than having them say 'I haven't done much today', every evening. .

"And you can have a laugh and a chat with the teacher. It's nice for the kid to see that the parent and the teacher are almost like friends, it makes them a little more relaxed. The first time I had to go and see my sons' headmistress I felt 'oh no, what have I done'. I felt so silly, at nearly 30. Then she was really nice, nothing was too much trouble."

Carol Baker has a 17-year-old son who has just left an inner London comprehensive after five years. She feels the family's links with the school were "reasonable".

"Richard was lucky. He had a good form tutor, who would be in touch if there was a problem, and an excellent head of year. And there were homework diaries which we had to check constantly which was useful for me - it made me look at what he was doing.

"But there's a problem which is that primary schools are so caring and secondary schools are so much bigger: parents get very anxious when the child moves up. Schools should take on board the anxieties of new parents. I think we should feel we can get help and information if we need it and that there's access to the school and the teachers at all times if there's a problem. Children still need our involvement, even in secondary. The school is there for all the children, we're here for that child."

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