PARENTS

Are We Too Involved In Our Children's Education?

14/08/2014 16:55 | Updated 22 May 2015

Mum and school

When former teacher 'John' began his 40 year career in an independent primary in the North of England, it was rare for parents to come into school and challenge what he was doing.

"When I first started, the parents let us get on with it. They had confidence in us." Over the years though, this seemed to be eroded, and he reports that many of his colleagues at the same school and others report similar experiences.

"I feel that teachers now are walking on eggshells and do not really believe they have the support of the parents as much."

It wasn't that they could do no wrong and were beyond reproach before, but, he explains, there was a certain respect for teachers; parents did not pile in and question the minutiae of who had which spellings for the test that week or whether their child was bored in maths for half an hour last Thursday morning.

By the time of John's retirement and in the years immediately before, the culture of parental involvement in his school had changed remarkably. Instead of mums and dads only coming in when there was a serious issue, they would be questioning the details of teachers' methods and ways far more frequently.

Of course that's just one teacher and his acquaintances' experience but the 'helicopter' dads and pushy 'tiger mums' are widely commented upon in the media and most of us have witnessed at least one or two of them at the school gate, hurtling into yet another meeting with the teachers, wanting to go over the finer details of the reading scheme or some such.

Putting aside these uber-pushy types, even many of the rest of us tend to have more involvement and, dare I say it, be a tad more demanding than in years gone by. So what has led to this change?

The internet has surely played a major part, having demystified education. Parents can now search and find out exactly what their child should be learning, how and when in a matter of seconds. They can suss out the difference between the yellow and red band books or compare SATS or GCSE results or ways of working with those of other local schools.

Should they take an interest, they can come along to parents' evenings armed with more knowledge of the National Curriculum than ever before. This is all positive in many ways but it has led to an alteration in the balance of power between teachers and parents.

John believes this can lead to frustration for teachers: "I am all for openess, but parents now think they know as much or even more than us."

It's very much akin to patients going into the GP having consulted 'Dr Google' and decided on their own diagnosis. There are instances where the patient or parent is actually correct, but there are also times when a little bit of information can be, if not quite a dangerous thing, a route to misunderstandings.

Beyond the internet, parents have also been positively encouraged to be more involved by schools themselves and Ofsted, because parental involvement is helpful to children's attainment. The combination of parent governors, school forums, newsletters, curriculum evenings, plus Ofsted's Parentview school review site and inspection questionnaires add up to give mums and dads the impression that they're an integral part of their children's education and their views matter and are there to be listened to.

This new(ish) 'parent power' culture means we expect to have our qualms, our concerns and our criticisms taken into account and quite right too. It's wonderful that the education of our children can be more of a partnership between home and school, and of course teachers shouldn't be beyond reproach. As has always been the case, some are great, some good and some not so.

But there's a caveat to all this. As parents, even if we are experts in our own children, we also need to be aware that a quick 20 minute read of the internet doesn't make us experts on education.

Informed and involved yes, but next time you head over to have that 'quick word with the teacher' again, it might be worth taking a step back and checking with yourself whether your involvement is creeping over into unnecessary interference. It's easily done.

Do you think parental involvement in education is always a good thing? If you're a teacher, how do parents overstep the mark?

Liat Hughes Joshi is author of the book Raising Children: The Primary Years (Pearson/ Prentice Hall LIfe).

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