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.