Working together for the children

2011-07-20 00:00

THERE is a great deal to be gained if schools and parents work together.

Some countries are paying a dreadful penalty for failing to support their young people through the difficult paths of growing up. One of the causes seems to be parents and teachers who do not believe in any kind of discipline or who have no idea how to impose it. A closer liaison between school and parent could go some way towards helping with this.

Schools and the people who staff them need to take into account that parents are finding it as difficult as they are in managing children and establishing boundaries. Many of them would welcome advice and suggestions. Black parents are often at a more serious disadvantage because they are also dealing with cultural differences. Could the school counsellor not play a useful part here? Some parents would probably benefit from having their responsibilities made more clear to them. One way to achieve this is by having more frequent parents' evenings, the availability of class teachers on pre-arranged days and informative addresses to parents on a regular basis.

Some schools have taken these steps. Many don't. Subject heads could address parents on the difficulties encountered by pupils in their subjects. And to pursue the argument that sport is more important or that teachers don't have enough time is not good enough. In any case, at many schools the extra-mural load is often carried by the dedicated few, while the rest of the staff go home.

It must not be forgotten that the responsibilities of parents last longer than the bell for last period and they extend into late adolescence and beyond. Many of them could do with some help. The school report is meant to provide a form of communication with parents, but by the time they get it, the horse has bolted and apart from a little urging and "as long as you're doing your best", what is the average mother or father supposed to do? In many cases both parents are working and their time is stretched trying to balance the family finances.

What is needed is more dialogue, more often. Some schools embrace this, while other schools seem to take the view that the less contact with parents the better.

Parents need to respond to any initiatives motivated by their children's schools. They must find time to attend parents' evenings and talks by the headmaster or the counsellor. They need to get involved in what is happening at the school and in the classroom. Parents must take an interest in homework and schoolwork generally. If the maths teacher is not performing, parents have every right to go to the school and ask a few questions. At the same time, if their child is causing problems in the classroom they should know about it and they should be looking for reasons. Some parents need to move away from the teacher-as-enemy paradigm. What happened to them at school should have no bearing on their children's attitudes or performance.

And are parents demanding enough about the variety of extra-mural activities on offer at the school? There are clear indications that some schools put academics first, sport second (or the other way around) and cultural activities and music fifth or seventh. Is this satisfactory? Where are our choirs and our bands? Acting in a play calls for as high a level of team work as in any sports game. Is there an active chess club? Many of these activities and clubs give children interests which stay with them for their whole lives. Perhaps schools can't provide an outlet for everything, but there should be more on offer than maths and cricket.

I am sure there are other areas in which greater co-operation between school and parent would benefit our children enormously. The parents need the schools and the schools need the parents. The pupils need both.

• Gordon Crossley is a retired teacher.

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