I’m happy to put my hand up and say that I’m in a dichotomy. In the news we hear that parents are to blame for everything; this week Tristran Hunt has come out and now blamed parents not initiating play with their children as being the cause of infant illiteracy. Of course, his role, qualifications and years of experience working with small children makes him qualified to assert such things….. There is, of course, research that does support the notion that ‘lower class’ parents talk to their children less frequently and chastise more, but the research I’ve read did not include parents who work 24/7 and employ nannies rather than interact with their offspring themselves. I haven’t read any research, if even there is some out there, examining the quality of nannies interactions with their charges.
In my advocacy role, it would be fair to say that I don’t get to speak to parents who are overjoyed by their schools & provision very often. There are a few, those whose children are at phase transfer, but generally, parents call me because their relationship with their children’s schools has gone tits-up. When this happens, parents are firmly placed in the wrong. They are warrior parents out for everything they can get, difficult parents, pushy parents or as hubby used to refer to me, trouble on a stick. Thing is, is it always parents fault?
I am linked with a number of parents and teachers (even teacher parents) on Twitter. The teachers are amiable and have inclusion close to their hearts. The parents tell stories of woe and it becomes very difficult to reconcile the two.
Last year, I got to sit in staffrooms full of teachers who don’t know who I am or what I do. I spent a year on supply, having completed a PGCE. At my age, presumably the teachers assumed I’d been at it for years, rather than just qualified. I can honestly say that most staffrooms did not have anything nice to say about their students with SEN/D. In primary, comments were of the ‘could find his/her way out of a paper bag’ type, without any consideration of how inappropriate that may be. In secondary comments were more ‘if he/she doesn’t change his/her attitude…’ or ‘see, he/she can do it when they try, so they’re just putting it on’ – normally in reference to ADHD with no consideration of how meds work and wear off. Is it just a local thing? Is it that teachers only go off sick in ‘pants’ schools so I never got to work in the good ones?
There’s quite a bit of criticism regarding the fairness of Ofsted in the media at the moment too. I’ve read a blog this week about how a Head has been left extremely disempowered and angry after they came knocking on his door. He has been quite thorough with his description of where the schools (dual Headship) have been and where they are now headed to. He is clearly proud of the input and dedication of his staff, but is frustrated because his school has a special unit, and it is this, either in part or whole, that has let the grade down. He argues that these units, somehow, should be considered differently when grading schools. I see his point, if you have a discrete cohort of SEN/D that no-one else wants, so you’re the only ones will to welcome them in, you shouldn’t be penalised for it. I don’t know this Head or the schools involved. At face value, he should be applauded but, and there’s always a but, there’s another ex-Head on Twitter who is happy to use the same type of argument. Lamenting the loss of his ‘status’ position, pointing the blame at Ofsted, only I know his school. I know a number of students who have been through its doors over the last 5-6 years and for SEN/D, it was totally pants, the senior leaders were pants. If your face didn’t fit as a child, you knew it. Needed a bit of help? Absolutely not. This is the rub, I’m now in a role where I pick up kids with SEN/D in my new role. For many, it’s the first time they’ve had a difficulty identified, yet it’s been quite obvious. This school’s leavers are included in my cohort.
The BBC yesterday carried a story of how 19 staff have been disciplined & some sacked within our Children’s Services. The interim director stated that things haven’t got this bad without there being something seriously wrong. Very true since our CS is rated inadequate by Ofsted. Challenge in my LA is not welcome, so where do parents, and indeed teachers, go when things are wrong? Schools here have been basically doing their own thing for years, the LA not intervening. I’ve been in meetings where the schools’ representatives have basically said ‘you can’t tell us what to do’.
There are good teachers out there, I know there are, but why then, are parents still calling for help or labelled this and that? Like the Head whose blog I read, disempowerment is going to be a huge issue. Most parents who are made to feel weak are going to fight for their child, in the same way that the Head tried to fight for his schools’ reputations. Big problems arise though when, like the Head of the local school, there’s an ego to protect. My son’s old Head had an ego to protect. He put my son’s refusal to attend directly at my door, because he was so darn perfect. That man cost my LA around quarter of a million pounds in subsequent school fees and taxi fares. Luckily he attended a school that was quite cheap. Some of the schools I advocate for on behalf of parents, are in excess of 40k per annum plus transport. A lot of calls I take are far more expensive than that.
So, who’s to blame? Parents? Ofsted? The LA? Heads with egos? The media? The government? I think, quite possibly, the latter should have done a lot more when they took schools out of LAs hands and placed them the hands of governors, a bunch of very well-meaning people, but all too frequently, people who have no experience of how to run schools or businesses. Not only that, they don’t get paid. What would have happened if schools were able to advertise and recruit good quality governors & pay them for their time? A standard fee on a rolling contract maybe?
I really don’t know what the solution is, I only know that it won’t be a simple one. I do know that not all parents are to blame and not all teachers are to blame, so that leads me toward possibly pointing a finger somewhere in the direction of schools’ senior leadership teams and governors? I have, after all, always been fascinated by how there’s no money for SEN/D, but there’s plenty in the kitty for a new astro pitch with floodlighting…..