When Dad takes the offensive

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Will the new home-school contracts help parents take more responsibility for their children's behaviour? asks Joan Dalton

It's all very well having a procedure for parents to complain against teachers, but what redress does a member of staff have against an offending parent? The answer "If he actually assaults you we can take out an injunction to stop him entering the building" is not much comfort to a teacher who has been browbeaten and intimidated in front of her class by an angry bully incensed by the disappearance of his daughter's indoor shoes.

We have found that having a formal complaints procedure to offer parents can help in difficult situations. Pointing out firmly and politely that the classroom or the corridor are not appropriate places to discuss such matters, making an appointment to see the headteacher, and offering the mediation of the governors through the complaints committee, can in themselves provide a cooling-off period, but sadly only if the parent stops shouting long enough to listen.

A letter from the headteacher or chair of governors to a parent suggesting that next time he or she has a grievance, or if the present one is still unresolved, they might like to talk about it privately and quietly may prevent further confrontations. We are also considering having a duty governor - preferably large and male - on call at parents' evenings.

Perhaps the new home-school contracts will help. The first requirement for parents should be "Do not slag off your child's school or teacher in front of the child".

My headteacher's resolution for next term is to decline to discuss disciplinary matters with a parent when the child is present. Nothing is more damaging to classroom discipline than a child who has been programmed to say "My dad says he's going to report you" every time a teacher looks askance at him, or who refuses punishment on the grounds that "My mum says you can't make me".

It always seems to be the parents who are the strongest advocates of firm discipline for other people's children who are most belligerent when their own little darlings are chastised - the "Why does everyone always pick on Darren?" syndrome. The obvious answer - that Darren is an obnoxious, idle, dishonest bully - never seems to occur to them. Let any other child give little Darren the thumping he so richly deserves, and his parents will expect a public flogging at the very least.

It would be good to see parents, through home-school contracts, take back some of the responsibilities that they now seem to feel are the school's.

At primary school level, at least, it should be up to parents to see that children arrive on time, having eaten breakfast and wearing appropriate clothing. We are not particulaly keen to enforce uniform, but many of our pupils turn up dressed for the beach, Top of the Pops or unarmed combat.

Suggestions from parents in response to our recent survey that we should enforce uniform to stop arguments at home about clothes, and that we should serve hot toast on arrival, did not go down well with the staff. Parents also want their children set homework, but expect the staff, not the parents, to ensure that the children do it.

I would like to see the purchase of a minimum number of raffle tickets per year made mandatory too.

The big difficulty with any home-school contract is, of course, enforcement. One would not wish to see the sins of the fathers visited upon their children, but what sanctions can we impose directly on offending parents? Perhaps they could be sentenced to three hours on the white elephant stall at the next fund-raising event - a fete worse than death.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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