Last Monday’s Newsnight showed an interview with a head of a special school whose career had come perilously close to a premature end when he was accused of assaulting a boy who had to be restrained and fought back. In theory the boy’s parents had trusted the school, or the school system, to provide their child with an education, as do most parents. Shouldn’t we be asking just what sort of trust is it where one party is so readily accused by the other when things go wrong?
It is not in special schools alone, those for children with learning or behavioural difficulties, that trust between parents and teachers is lost. Bullying beyond the classroom, compounded by the use of social media, as well as challenging behaviour in the classroom have to be tackled by teachers, sometimes with no warning whatsoever and no opportunity to summon help or consult colleagues or warn parents. Sometimes there are no witnesses, as in the case reported by Newnight.
When I was a head teacher I found some parents unwilling to acknowledge that my responsibilities to other parents were as important as my responsibilities to them. Just as I had a responsibility to protect their child and seek the very best for their child, so I had to do the same for all the other parents. At times that meant doing the best I could to protect other people’s children from the poor behaviour and attitudes of their children.
As most children grow up and take their first steps away from their immediate family, via the wider family and family friends, they come across school, a much bigger step where they will mix with adults and other children previously unknown. When this bigger step is taken where there is a good understanding between home and school the beginnings of a fruitful partnership will have been sown. When this is not the case, and child and teacher confront one another without this trust and understanding, then educational progress is unlikely.
How would most parents react were they to be told that they were to care for the children of the most troublesome family in the street? How would they react to a demand that they not only provide for that child, for argument’s sake, just for the week of half-term, but would be penalised if the visiting child did not exhibit better behaviour and social skills at the end of the week?
Unlike most adults who encounter unpleasant, unruly or difficult children, teachers cannot walk away; they have responsibilities towards other pupils and their parents. For the parents of such children there is no requirement that they consider others and no opportunity in state-funded schools that they begin the process of establishing trust with the teachers to whom they bring their children. Indeed any requirement that parents of prospective pupils should be interviewed by a state-funded school to ascertain shared values and a willingness to support the school was banned by the last Labour prime minister but one, after his two older boys had benefitted from a school where interviewing parents was then a most important part of awarding places.