Baffled by Insets? Really?

Parent power…I get it. Schools work in order to serve the community: the children, the local area, other organisations and, of course, the parents. I don’t write that sardonically; I mean it. Of course we serve the parents. All good schools will listen to its parental community and through doing so will judge how best to serve it. This can sometimes mean listening to what they want and trying as hard as possible to cater for it.

It can mean something very different of course.

There are times when a school, after listening to its parent voices, may have to challenge the community in order to best serve it. For example, if there was a significantly vocal homophobic element permeating through the collective voices, a school would have to tackle this. Not in the way that these voices may want: the removal of any positive gay relationship education and the banning of any suspected homosexuals from the school site. That would be unethical, immoral and, um, oh yes…insane. Instead you would engage with these voices and be very clear about how you would have to promote homosexuality within the school’s sex and relationship education (and by ‘promote’ I mean give it equal standing to heterosexual relationships and not make out that being gay is unusual or ‘not normal’). You would also have to now point out the fact that, due to their misguided and vocal opinions, the school would now really have to commit to this in order to make up for the moral deficit the children are probably experiencing at home.

I don’t think anyone would argue that this use of parental voice is correct. Like I said, the role of the school is to understand its community in order to best judge how to serve it and its children successfully. It is also the role of the school because we are (and I think at this point anyone reading this who works in education should stand on a chair and shout it) the professionals!

Somewhere along the line though, the concept of schools listening to the parent community has become a little warped. It has become a one-way street. I truly blame politicians for this. They have taken the concept that schools should listen to parents and twisted it into the idea that schools are now at the beck and call of each individual parent’s whim and fancy. They have given the general public the idea that schools don’t know how to run themselves and that parents have the right and, by golly, the entitlement to dictate school decisions.

This has in turn degraded the status of schools and teachers. We are no longer deemed to be trusted and respected professionals; we are bumbling practitioners who rely on getting buffeted around by popular and vocal ideas in order to be successful. To the extent that now, we must explain ourselves ad nauseam. No element of school life is allowed to be respected just because the professionals deem it appropriate to do so; this, it would seem, just ain’t good enough anymore.

School websites are now groaning with information, not about when PE is so the children remember their kit on time, but why it considers what it does for PE to be justifiable and how it will add to the nation’s Olympic legacy. The delicate nature of using pupil premium funding effectively now has to be public knowledge…why? I mean what concern is it to the parents how a school spends its entire pupil premium funding. That is what Ofsted and the local authority do. If a parent is concerned that their child is not making sufficient progress, they should come and talk to the teacher – I would like to think that teachers would get there first and would be able to say what else they’re going to put in place which may or may not require some cash. Surely that is a healthier and more professional approach?

What schools are being asked to do is oversharing, and it carries with it sinister and damaging undertones. It is creating a system where schools are not trusted and producing a level of over-dependency on information for parents that takes time away from doing what matters – working hard to serve the community through action rather than through justification.

The latest idea, suggested by @TristramHuntMP is that schools should now tell parents what their insets are about surely must be the lamest example yet. We should do so not because we might like to share with parents some new and exciting developments, but because we ‘have a duty to explain to parents how these days improved children’s education’. As if for all these years schools have been secretly plotting five additional special days off and have now been rumbled; Can I really hear every parent up and down the land shaking their head and saying ‘I knew it!’ or is this further political meddling in an attempt to garner votes by further undermining of schools?

The media also contributes to the myth of parent voice equating to parent power. I can still remember those scenes of parents pushing Mars bars and burgers through the school fence because the school was attempting to improve the quality of its school dinners as a result of Jamie Oliver’s initiative. How dare the school try and dictate what our children eat was the opinion of the parents. Well, look what the school is up against. A proportion of the parent community (larger in girth rather than in number I imagine) is pushing fatty food through a fence in opposition of healthy food? In my mind that only strengthens the school’s resolve; if it buckled as a result of these parents’ actions and opinions, how on earth would it be serving the children in its care? But the media loves a story. Sadly, the repetitive cycle of tales of parents being unhappy with a school’s decision, and feeling entitled to change it purely because they think something different, only breeds further suspicion and doubt towards a profession that is one of the most selfless on this earth.

Schools are becoming weakened to such an extent that I wouldn’t blame the thousands of educators we have in this country to seriously consider why they bother. Being a teacher with qualifications, working alongside a leadership team who have proved their worth is no longer good enough it would seem. Parent power is a cheap political weapon which gives parents the illusion that they know best, and I’m really sorry to say this but…you don’t. On many, many educational and organisational issues you just don’t. We do. If you genuinely don’t like it then you can exercise parent power: you can go to another school with principles and policies more in line with your own. Failing that, I guess you can create your own free school. But I promise you, as a professional educator who makes responsible decisions on behalf of not just yours but all children, and as someone who works with committed teachers who love working for your kids, if you give us time and space, we’ll show you that we did know best after all and you will thank us later.

All you have to do is trust me.

6 thoughts on “Baffled by Insets? Really?

  1. Claire Smith April 17, 2014 / 6:24 pm

    Superb article. I could not (and I’ve definitely tried…and failed) to say it better myself! Thank you for putting into words the sentiment that I was unable to express myself. Star!

  2. Anna April 18, 2014 / 7:41 am

    Total bloody genius!!

  3. imisschalk April 18, 2014 / 7:57 am

    Beautifully put. It’s like asking the victim of a train crash how to build better tracks (Mitchell & Webb did an amazing sketch on this) – they are consumers but not experts on education. Have felt that the trust in professionalism has been being chipped away at for some time.

  4. Yishay Mor (@yishaym) April 18, 2014 / 10:16 am

    Tough one. I can see where you’re coming from, but as a parent – and one that tries to be involved in his children’s education – I find this a bit hard to digest. I agree with most of what you say, but..
    I agree that voice does not equal power.
    I agree that school staff are by and large dedicated, passionate, qualified, experienced professionals and we should give them proper credit.
    I agree that parent’s don’t always know what’s best for their kids, and educators have a moral responsibility to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions.
    I agree that the national obsession with reporting is often doing no-one any good, is a skewed interpretation of accountability, and a general waste of time.
    And here comes the but. or a few of them.
    1. “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. It’s true for government, its true for corporates, its true for schools. the more open you are, the stronger you are.
    2. listening does not mean agreeing. you know that, you listen to students every day. sometimes you understand their position and don’t accept it, sometimes you change your opinion, sometimes you reject their arguments. but you listen, and you teach then to listen. I think parents deserve the same. On one condition: that they listen respectfully back.
    3. in response to @imisschalk, you know what? some parents *are* experts. they may be educators themselves, or subject experts, or IT experts, or have any other experience and competence that could be valuable for the school if the school knew how to use their expertise. In fact – I think the root cause of the problem is your statement “they are consumers”. Consumers expect a level of service, and if they don’t receive it, they complain. These are my kids you’re talking about, and their future. I don’t want to be a consumer, I want to be a partner.

    • theprimaryhead April 18, 2014 / 10:38 am

      Thanks for reading and your comments.
      I agree that transparency is very important – the purpose behind the post was more how schools are being manipulated into justifying many elements of how they run themselves under the pretence of being open and giving parents knowledge: knowledge that I don’t always think they want or are qualified to judge.
      I also think the post is very clear that schools do listen to parents, again the post was more concerned with the way in which parents are being told by the media/politicians that being listened to equates to being in control. This, as you say in your comment, is not true.
      I appreciate that some parents are also educationalists and therefore do have expertise in schooling. However, I would counter-argue that they are specialists in their educational contexts. Even though there are global themes within education, each school has its own contextual issues which dictate how that particular school will/must approach things. Only the staff will really know this and can approach it professionally without any emotional involvement which could cloud their judgement. Always happy for conversations, in the same way that I’ll happily chat to other Head teachers about their issues – but I would never presume to know the answer they’re looking for because I don’t understand their school as well as they do. I think the same can be said for teacher-parents.
      Anyway, as you say, with respect on both sides and an understanding of how best to move the school forward and with less meddling from the government in terms of pandering to the public as we run up to election time…we’ll all be fine.
      Thanks again for reading and commenting, always appreciated.

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