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P is for Parenting

November 4, 2011
Aartwork – Brad Tuttle

dev·il’s advocate (dᵉv’ᵊlz) n. One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

devilsaardvark   (a:d’va:k’) n. As devil’s advocate, only with a much larger nose.

So what are we, the great British public going to do about deteriorating standards of behaviour in our schools? And before I get started on the kids, let me just say that Headteachers and Local Authorities need to grow a pair and do their bloody jobs properly in order to allow those kids who want to learn, to learn and those teachers who want to teach, teach.

Here’s a thought… If a child’s behaviour and attendance at school becomes so poor, to the point where it affects the learning and the health and safety of others, stop the Child Benefit to the parents. Just like that. At least until little Johnny’s behaviour and attendance has improved sufficiently and the parent(s) have been into the school to discuss the behaviour policy and how they’re going to adhere to it in the future.

Ok, I know, I know, I am becoming a grumpy old man and I do feel like a bit of a reactionary old fart for saying it, but go on, have another think about that last paragraph for a minute.

The only problem I have with it, is that it would appear to penalise poorer families more than the affluent ones. Child Benefit is available to anyone. It’s not currently means tested and, although this government plans to scrap it for higher-rate tax payers from 2013, a ‘fine’ of up to about £80 is obviously going to hit the worse-off families more than those with two decent salaries. Still, it might just be the impetus some parents need in order to take responsibility for their darling offspring and to start doing some proper parenting.

I disagree with David Cameron’s view that the problem stems from single-parent families. Similarly, I don’t believe that the problem is rooted in poverty. I’ve met plenty of ‘middle class’ kids from two parent families who are completely vile, but guess what, so are their parents. I’ve also met plenty of kids from single parent families who survive on benefits who are polite, considerate and conscientious.

I used to work in a behaviour school, where all the pupils had statements of special educational needs for behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. I’ve been kicked, punched, head-butted, spat upon, had stones, chairs and even table tops thrown at me and called every single name under the sun. Some of which I was unable to locate in the OED. It wasn’t all bad though. The rewards were exceptionally good and, when things went well and the kids made progress, the feeling of satisfaction was unbeatable. However, where there used to be a balance, that particular school became less and less effective and the staff became more and more vulnerable. There were a handful of pupils there who were ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), but, on the whole, these kids were just, to use the old-fashioned-shouldn’t-really-use-it-now term, naughty. They found it virtually impossible to handle authority. Each and every one of them would display a unique set of behavioural characteristics and, whenever there was a fresh intake in September, you’d observe the behaviour patterns and wonder where on earth they were coming from. Then, eventually, you got to meet the parents and the penny would drop. There were a few exceptions to this, but then those parents who did actually give a monkey’s armpit about their kids were often working very long hours, struggling to make ends meet and leaving the children with baby-sitters or on their own on a regular basis.

You don’t need a degree in child development or behavioural psychology to know that a child will learn its behaviour patterns throughout its development. Unfortunately, you don’t need any qualifications whatsoever to have children yourself. I remember standing at the main entrance of Homerton Hospital in 1998, with my first-born in my arms and thinking, “Right, I think I’m supposed to take this thing home now, but no one’s given me the instruction manual that goes with it!” It felt difficult enough having a kid at thirty, being reasonably well off. I shudder to think of how hard it would have been to be a parent 10 years earlier. But then it’s our right to have children whenever we choose. It also needs to be noted, no, it needs to be drummed into some people, that with rights come responsibilities. Your child is your responsibility, full stop. When they get to school age and you send them to school, the school will be in loco parentis during school hours, but ultimately they’re yours. The behaviour policy of the school can be administered, but for it to be truly effective, parents have to buy into that policy, as well as all the others, from day one. Anything else is unworkable. You might very well be sat there reading this, nodding your head and thinking, “Of course. We do that.” You’d be surprised at the numbers of those who don’t.

The BESD school that I taught at was a political football. It had been for many years and, sadly, continues to be. The problem is that it cost the local authority more per head than your average, common-or-garden comp. Or, more accurately, it cost the local council tax payer. Seriously, you don’t want to know what the rewards budget was for that school, but the parents never got charged for the trips to Drayton Manor, or ice skating, or bowling etc., etc., that would happen on a half-termly basis. Management were able to justify it because it ticked the ‘social’ aspect of the pupil’s statement. Still, it didn’t stop the kids reverting to type and getting the school banned from places for verbally abusing members of the public or trying to climb into the rhino enclosure at the zoo! Actually, to be fair, it wasn’t the rhino incident that got the school banned, it was the year 7 pupil screaming, “You’re an arse rapist!” at one of the members of staff that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but hey, let’s not split hairs. Let me just reassure you that no camels were actually harmed during the trip or the writing of this blog. Apart from the ones that were smoked. I believe that the rhinos were offered counselling.

Every time one of our kids does well at school and gets a reward trip,  we get the bill. “I know you’re bright Darling, but can’t you just act stupid? At least on the days when you have your tests.” The problem is that it becomes a question of what else do you do with these kids? Many have already been permanently excluded from mainstream education. If they were to close it down, the pupils would have to go back into mainstream and, possibly, sit next to your child in class. Comfortable with that are you? So you’re going to pay the extra council tax to keep the BESD school open?

Frustrating, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that the issue arises from some parents’ inability to engage with the parenting that the rest of struggle with, fret over and work incredibly hard at. And then we have to consider the fact that poor behaviour is not confined to special schools. Here we are, a thousand words in, and I haven’t even begun on discipline in mainstream schools. It’s bad. We know that. I don’t need to Harvard a whole load of references to prove it. It’s become a concern to the left, to the right, to Ofsted, the unions, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. So who is going to grasp the nettle?

I said at the beginning that LAs and Headteachers needed to do their [bloody] jobs properly, and if that means that exclusions go up as a result of action being taken against disruptive pupils, then so be it. The LAs need to forget about target setting that forces schools to reduce the number of fixed-term exclusions, accept that there is a problem and support the schools in dealing with it. Fixed-term exclusions mean reintegration meetings with parents, which has to be a positive thing; a chance to communicate directly with parents and, ultimately, for the parents to communicate directly with their kids. And when (and only when) those parents can step up to the plate and take responsibility for the behaviour of their children, we might, just might improve the state of our schools. It’s all very well and good teachers doing what they’re trained to do and ‘catching the pupils being good’. It’s when poor behaviour goes unpunished that staff, other pupils and their parents have the right to feel let down and, sadly, this happens all too frequently in my experience.

You may or may not be familiar with the ‘Every Child Matters’ green paper from 2004. It is now ingrained in our education system and something that schools and teachers have to structure into the education of our children. There are, for children, five ‘outcomes’ that are seen as being key to their development and well-being in later life. Those outcomes are ‘being healthy’, ‘staying safe’, ‘enjoying and achieving’, ‘making a positive contribution’ and ‘achieving economic well-being’. All jolly worthy, but if every child really does matter, then what about the quiet one at the back who never says boo to a goose, is attentive, polite, has the potential to get As and Bs, but their grades are slipping because of the general disruption in their lessons? Is that your child? Does your child matter? THEN BLOODY WELL GET OFF YOUR ARSE AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Write something, go on a march, speak to your son/daughter’s headteacher, speak to your local authority, MP, bungee jump off a tall building, but DO something.

Otherwise, you’re just as bad as the parent who phoned school and asked a colleague of mine, “What time should I be putting my [11/12 year old] son to bed?” Or the parents who couldn’t tell you where their children are at any given time. Or the ones that can only get their clinically obese children to do follow an instruction by bribing them with chocolate. Or the ones who are just too plain lazy to parent.

At least once a year we are asked to put our hands in our pockets and help provide a third world village with a school. We are shown images of children forced to work in appalling conditions from a very young age who want nothing more than the chance to go to school. As someone who believes in education as a right I find myself moved by what I see. And then I find myself wondering how we can justify allowing our own children to have their education made miserable by a selfish minority. Is this the same selfish minority that went on the rampage around Britain in August? I saved a tweet from someone from around that time which struck a chord with me. It said, “If you breed a generation that can hit teachers with impunity, don’t be surprised when in adulthood they think the game remains the same.”

So then, we rig up a link to the benefits agency and, should little Johnny be disruptive, abusive or violent, then a simple electronic ‘click’ stops that month’s child benefit and generates a letter home explaining…

Dear Mr & Mrs Ostrich,

We are writing to advise you that, due to an incident involving your son, little Johnny, at school, you are required to contact the school and make an appointment with the Head Teacher. Until such time as this has been carried out to the satisfaction of the school, your child benefit for little Johnny will be just like Little Johnny himself. Suspended.

Yours sincerely,

We’ve Grown A Pair Borough Council

Well, it’s a thought. Anyone else got a suggestion?

@devilsaardvark

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2 Comments
  1. Bradders! permalink

    HA! HA! H! Love it you have a fine Mind Sir!

  2. nick permalink

    Absolutely unbelievably bloody fantastic! Amazing article!

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