It was pleasing to read in last week’s Times, Toby Yong’s robust defence of free schools, one of which I visited as it was getting itself established. Young plays down the matter of innovation and parent leadership, but points to the schools’ success in raising standards.
Whether schools are parent led or not, if pupils and staff know that parents are interested and supportive schools’ work will be all the more effective and, as I understand things, greater involvement of parents was to be encouraged in free schools. Other schools have been able to do this, to good effect. For example, the governors of The Oratory School to which Tony Blair sent his sons made clear that their most important responsibility was to interview the parents of prospective parents to ensure that they shared the aims of the school and would support it. Once his sons had left, and under pressure from his party’s left wing, Blair legislated to ban the interviewing of parents in this way in maintained schools. Interviewing parents as part of the admissions process was considered to put poorer children at a disadvantage.
As a teacher I was fortunate enough to find interested and supportive parents in a variety of schools, maintained, independent and international. When I supported a group of parents who were home-schooling their children I found the motivation and commitment of their children outstanding; these, children were also coping with the business of adolescence far more effectively than many of their contemporaries in schools.
It is good to hear about improved outcomes, especially for less advantaged children at free schools, but ways of engaging and encouraging parents are always needed no matter what type of schools their children attend. Politicians need to find ways of improving standards of parenting for disadvantaged children, preferably long before they start school, using sanctions if help and encouragement fail.
[Free schools – independent, government funded schools in the UK which parents and others are encouraged to set up,]