THE BLOG

Why Schools and Parents Might Need a Pre-Nup

20/01/2014 15:58 GMT | Updated 19/03/2014 09:59 GMT

More parents are insisting schools get the very best results for their children; they don't just want a service that provides the opportunity for learning but one that can deliver a transformational experience for their child.

The recent book 'Heads Up' points in particular to the rise of foreign billionaires who choose a British education for their children as the 'Rolls-Royce' option, and they expect a particular return on the fees being paid. The alternative to meeting those expectations can now be the threat of legal action, often from highly-paid lawyers. It's a stressful environment for Heads to find themselves in - especially when it comes to disciplining difficult and disruptive pupils.

As education generally becomes more of a commercial transaction, with fees in HE and private sector providers at every level, it is unsurprising that parents are responding more like consumers. As the relationship (and attitudes) between school and home changes, unrealistic demands are naturally one of the inevitable consequences. For many schools, a culture of managing parental expectation is beginning to emerge. In most cases parents will be understanding and reasonable about the role of the school and the ability of their children. Unfortunately, other parents will be determined to cause serious problems for a school, looking for weak spots, rallying discontent among fellow parents and with a determination to draw blood.

Many Heads are now inevitably becoming more careful with respect to the applications process and they are taking a good look at the parents as well as the children, in order to assess whether or not they understand the school values. But does this go far enough? Schools are exposing themselves to high levels of risk from heavyweight parents who may not have any reasonable grounds for complaint, only their own agenda to pay for top results 'or else'.

One answer could be to introduce a type of 'pre-nup' with parents, a kind of 'pre-ed' agreement. Children's education has become such a sensitive issue - with potentially such long-term ramifications - that, just like a marriage, there needs to be a clear understanding of commitments and expectations on each side. There needs to be recognition, in formal terms, that while a school needs to provide a high-quality experience and meet standards of teaching and care, the outcomes are dependent on many other factors. This could mean being specific about definitions of quality, and what is provided in terms of time with tutors and additional time made available for more intensive support. And on the parents' side, a written expression of what it means to be a supportive parent - being engaged and interested in their children's school life; and especially being realistic and understanding. Trust is a key factor here, and parents need to invest trust in the school. However, they also have a right to expect high standards of teaching and learning, and good levels of communication with home. The relationship is inevitably three-way, and each have their part to play if it is to be a success.

The future may well be an age where legal support will be essential, specific processes for demanding parents are detailed and met, and greater clarity as to what should be expected of their children at each specific age point will be agreed. This is not such a bad thing if that key word 'agreed' is universally adopted.