Thursday, October 30, 2014

UK: Hey, teacher, leave those parents alone

In our recently published book, Parenting Culture Studies, my co-authors and I argue that parental determinism – the belief that social problems are directly caused by the inadequacies of parents – has come to dominate UK public policy. So it comes as no great surprise to read the following, in the latest report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, on what should be done about ‘child poverty’ and ‘social mobility’: ‘The starting point should be parenting. Effective parenting has a bigger influence on a child’s life than wealth, class or education.’

According to author Alan Milburn and his fellow commissioners, four in 10 parents are inadequate, and should be given parenting classes, which would inculcate in them five key tenets of good parenting: ‘Talking, reading, playing, cuddling and communicating.’

The claim that what parents do in the ‘home-learning environment’ makes more of an impact on a child’s attainment than the school they attend has been repeated ad nauseum ever since New Labour’s time in office. Much of what is in this new report could be (and probably is) cut-and-pasted from various policy documents over the past decade. Indeed, the ‘novel idea’ of this report – ‘talking, reading, playing, cuddling and communicating’ – has already been proposed by the Liberal Democrat think-tank Centre Forum. According to Milburn, it is time to break the ‘taboo’ on making parenting a policy issue. One has to wonder: what taboo? The British state has been intervening in parenting for the best part of a decade.

There are two ways, however, in which this latest report takes parenting policy even further.

The first is the way that this report sets the child against the parent. It actually has the temerity to blame parents directly for their own child’s problems, setting the child against their own flesh and blood. An idea that was only ever implied in previous reports and policies – that parents are, more than anything else, the reason for their children’s failings – is presented plainly, and used to justify the most stifling and patronising intervention.

The second is the report’s suggestion that teachers should play an active role in ‘calling out’ bad parents and referring them to parenting classes. Again, there is some precedent for this. The Department for Education (DfE) has implemented fines for parents who take their children out of school during term time, while packed lunches are often inspected at schools to ensure children are eating properly.

However, this is the first time there has been such an overt attempt to undermine the ‘parent-school partnership’ and make it clear to all where the real authority lies. In what world could it benefit kids from worse-off families, in particular, to have their parents manifestly treated as idiot supplicants, ‘called out’ by the teacher and sent off to a parenting class? In what world could such hectoring help to address the issue of discipline, which rests on parents having a sense of confidence and authority?

The best response to this divisive tract would be for us all to have a grown-up conversation about what kind of parenting culture we really want.


Boarding school:  For and against

Harry Wallop makes the No case

The photo in my old school magazine is captioned “Lent 1983”. It shows 14 boys, all wearing Guernsey jumpers and corduroy trousers, posing on their first day at their new school: Summer Fields in north Oxford.

I am there, with a pudding-bowl haircut, a few feet from Tom Parker Bowles, son of Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall.

We both look impossibly young – certainly too young to be there, standing in front of the croquet lawn in north Oxford and destined not to see our parents for another three weeks until our first “exeat”.

So, I was not surprised to read in an interview that Tom [Parker Bowles] gave this week that he’d never send his children there. It was, he claims, “a hotbed of the sorts of things that are coming out now”.

I should declare an interest – Tom and I still bump into each other and are friendly; I’ve always admired how he managed to cope with his mother being thrust into an unforgiving spotlight [as consort of Prince Charles] without going completely off the rails.

He is being a little harsh on the school, alluding to the historic paedophile brush that has disgraced many other prep schools such as Caldicott (an arch football rival of Summer Fields), while simultaneously admitting nothing actually happened. At the time, it was acknowledged to be one of the best prep schools in the country, where most of the “masters” – if eccentric – loved to teach.

But I do share with him a deep distaste for the idea of packing away a child, barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces, for weeks at a time and placing them in the care of strangers. When we arrived that January, we had just turned eight. The only contact with our families in those days, long before the mobile, was a weekly letter home – written in silence before Chapel on a Sunday morning.

I was, in fact, pretty happy there. So, too, was Tom PB, as he was always known, despite both of us being useless at the twin religions of cricket and Latin, which were worshipped with a zealous fervour.

The atmosphere, however, could be more Victorian mental asylum than Hogwarts hijinks. Corporal punishment still took place when I arrived. I can remember us gathering in the changing rooms to examine the cane marks on Charles Money’s bottom.

Sweet rations were handed out on Wednesday and Saturday lunchtimes; when mid-Eighties inflation hit the Mars bar, we were given just half each.

There were definitely – as Tom has hinted – some strange masters, who lingered too long in the communal showers, overseeing the post-games wash.

But that is not the reason I decided I would never send my children away to board, and why my 11-year-old is now at day school.

It is mostly a selfish desire to spend time with them. Of course they drive me up the wall, but they are my children and I want any neuroses and personality defects to be instilled at home, not in a far away establishment. What was the point in having four offspring, only to send them away to another county the moment they start to become interesting individuals?

For all the fun I had (and I did), I think boarding so young made the relationship with my parents more distant than it otherwise would have been. How could it not, when we spent half of the year apart?

My mother admits that she cried and cried as she drove away from Summer Fields that first time. I would, too, and see no reason for the pattern to be repeated.

Anna Pasternak says Yes

I honestly can’t believe that I have become that woman. I am the hearty mother, championing boarding school, waving wincing doubters off with an impatient hand.

To those naysayers, I say: you simply must update your script. Boarding schools today have about as much in common with those cold, cruel bastions of the past as black-and-white televisions have with flat-screens in HD.

Still, I never thought that I would be the one advocating noisy, bustling, communal life for kids. As a child, I adored my education at St Paul’s Girls School in London, and was so wedded to day school that I practically suffered homesickness on a class trip to Milton Keynes.

My father, too, went to a grammar school – so we’re hardly from a long line of gung-ho boarders. And I know enough men eternally damaged by boarding school – my 50-something husband is still traumatised from his grim experiences at Lancing College in West Sussex – to appreciate that boarding has indelibly scarred many.

But my personal experience, through my 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, is that modern boarding schools can be jolly, caring, stimulating and, crucially, loving environs, where your children can thrive.

It was Daisy, then aged five, who first asked me if she could board. Not because she was desperate to get out of the house, but because at her school, Godstowe Prep in Buckinghamshire, she thought that boarding looked such fun. I thought that she was off her rocker until we went for a tour around the boarding house and I ended up wishing that I could sign up, too.

Godstowe advocates flexi-boarding, the most ingenious invention as it allows you part-time parenting. Aged six, Daisy began to stay over one night a week and loved it. For her, it was more like going on a glorified sleepover than being banished from home.

Far from being dreary dorms gripped by a Dickensian cold, with homesick children sobbing under duvets, today’s boarding houses are a riot of energy and colour. Many have house dogs bounding about, while mobile phones mean contact with parents is hardly the agony of waiting weeks for a solitary letter.

It’s more Mallory Towers [In Enid Blyton's novels] than you might imagine – all that Cath Kidston everywhere, while the girls are sweetly excited by “treat night” of Pot Noodles for dinner. Their tuck of choice is seaweed. I told you times had changed.

As our school run takes an hour’s round trip, the two nights that Daisy currently boards per week knock four hours off my weekly driving. We have two evenings a week free (meaning we can go out without a babysitter) and two lie-ins. Bliss.

I’m also spared the horrors of the school nit check. Mrs S, Daisy’s saintly house mistress, does that. OK, so I did feel suitably guilty (yet secretly relieved) when, the other week, Daisy had a bug on a boarding night and vomited all night long. But I wasn’t told until breakfast time, so swanned in, refreshed, to take her from poor, hollow-eyed Mrs S and her deputy.

When my husband and I travel during term, Daisy boards full time. Of course, sometimes she gets a bit homesick – but the upsides far outweigh the temporary ache of missing her. She is undoubtedly more robust and emotionally capable as a result, while her confidence has soared.

Flexi-boarding has fostered an independent spirit; she mucks in and gets on with people and situations. Daisy recently went for a testing boarder’s weekend to Cheltenham Ladies College. When I collected her, the housemistress said: “She’s been an absolute delight. She’s a natural boarder.” I allowed myself a rare burst of maternal pride.

It reminded me of the nosy mother at the school gate, who, when she heard that six-year-old Daisy was to board, looked at me, horrified, as if I were sending my daughter down a mine. “Yes,” I said, eyeing this woman’s clingy child. “Isn’t it marvellous that my daughter is so securely attached that she is as happy boarding as she is at home?”

If she didn’t love it, I’d whip her out and send her back to day school faster than you could say “lights out”.


Australia: The Leftist education "revolution" of the 70s led to a rot in standards

Larry Pickering

[Recently deceased Leftist PM Gough Whitlam] gave us universities full of dickheads who can now call themselves doctors and professors. Once upon a time a university education was fought for and deserved. Without excellent marks, a scholarship or doting parents prepared to go without, it was hello workforce.

Now anyone can dodge getting a job, go to uni and the taxpayer will finance you. And we wonder why our education status has slipped well below the international average.

Well Gough certainly achieved his aim because degrees in union thuggery, Marxism, political science, green pursuits, global warming and any other bloody useless subject Left of centre are now held proudly by those who make up the Labor Party... the party of the struggling "working man".

Higher education will never make a person smarter, nor will it increase any person’s IQ. It may make a person more aware of a chosen subject, most of which could be gleaned from the net but the net doesn’t offer fair dinkum doctorates.

Left wing law firms, like Slater & Gordon and Maurice Blackburn, soak up the rubbish with law degrees, like Shorten, Bandt, Roxon and Gillard... all utterly unemployable outside the Labor fraternity and all locked into a Marxist philosophy of new world egalitarianism.

Those who can’t enter the Labor movement return to uni as lecturers to recycle the same garbage that made them unemployable in the first place. And the uni lecturers I know couldn’t teach a bloody fish to swim anyway.

Shorten this morning launched his campaign against Abbott’s university reform policy. A reform that is critical to repairing a broken education regime that Gough started and Gillard perpetuated.

As usual, Labor’s solution to correct its own failures involves dipping into that bottomless piggy bank of the “privileged elite”, ergo those awful employers.

Gonski’s billions won’t mend our illiterate educators any more than the billions thrown at aborigines will mend that disaster.

Higher education should be a reward, a privilege earned from dedicated hard work in secondary school.

As long as taxpayers are forced to finance dickheads through uni we will finish up with Prime Ministers like Julia Gillard and, perish the thought, Bill Shorten.

But you’re entitled to disregard my opinion, I left school at 14 and never returned.


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