Gazette Article 21: “Happy to admit that a teacher knows best”

“What do you know about education, you’re just a parent?”

I’ve been asked this, normally kindly, in reaction to this column several times over the past couple of years and my answer is always the same: “just what I read and am told by experts.”

By experts I do, of course, mean those who trained, qualified and practice in the teaching profession.

Gazette 21Locally I have been impressed by the willingness with which senior leaders, teachers and sometimes their governors, have engaged in discussion and offered an insider’s perspective on education matters.

At my own children’s schools, we are encouraged to use numerous methods to contact the teaching staff and head teacher as appropriate. Every school also has a complaints policy that leads eventually to the governors.

I am surprised, therefore, when I see stories in the media about parents complaining about school policies when all of these avenues exist. In my experience, there is usually an explanation behind an apparently controversial initiative which is worth seeking out before things go public. It is usually related to accountability measures set by the government of the day.

Many of us will have had concerns about a school policy or an incident affecting our children and wanted to act directly to put it right. But that should be done in a way that does not undermine the school.

I am not a great fan of primary school homework but when I had concerns over a change in the regime at our child’s school I raised them with the head teacher who was keen to explain and put them into context. Whilst I was not fully in agreement, my respect for him and his staff as the experts in the situation means that our children follow the school’s policy as set out.

It is absolutely right that parents should be able to raise issues, discuss concerns and generally hold schools to account but there must still be a respect for the teacher and the profession as a whole.

The first piece of advice that Brentwood County High’s Mr Drew gave to parents attending his “School for boys” in the Channel 4 series was, whatever they thought privately, never to speak critically of the school or its teachers to their children. If they did, it undermined efforts to ensure the respect necessary to provide a good learning environment was shown in class.

This example should be set from the top of course and, sadly, I feel that over successive years it has not been.

When the current Secretary of State refers to experts who disagree with him as “the blob” it does little to enhance the status of the profession or indeed the value of expertise. In fact the very opposite is true.

The school commissioning policy is the very best example of this currently. School place planning and fair and efficient distribution of resources managed by experienced local authority staff is seen as secondary to the “demand” of parents if sufficient numbers want to set up a school. Worse, they have been encouraged to think that they could actually run one better than experts can.

Not only does Mr Gove provide “free schools” with preferential funding and special assistance from his department in preparing for Ofsted inspections to try to prove his point, he also says that people taking classes in them don’t even have to be qualified.

I find this extremely odd when he claims to support academic excellence. Are qualifications not worth having then?

I am happy to confirm that I am just a parent. But that does not mean I always know best.

That is why I prefer to have experts providing my children’s education.

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