The Instructions Not Included campaign will help promote a shift in attitudes so that seeking support is seen as a sign of strength. By unlocking the power of parents and families to help themselves and one another, we will reach out to more families, overcome more barriers to support, and help to prevent the escalation of parenting problems.
We’ve looked at how involved parents feel with their children’s schools, their opinions on bullying and how parents and teachers are trying to combat these problems.
School and Communication
‘My son comes home and says, “Mum, you’ll never guess what! Someone had to go to the headteacher’s office because they hit somebody!” One parent spoke about her child’s school, where, she said, parents don’t respect the teachers. She spoke of incidents where verbally abusive parents had been banned from the school playground. These incidents are far from rare. A study for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) claimed that 39% of staff have faced aggression from a student’s parent, guardian or family member.
This behaviour from parents sends out a negative message to their children, who will believe that it is acceptable to conduct yourself in this way. Regarding discipline in schools, parents explained that many punishment systems, like withdrawal of privileges or detentions, don’t work as ‘kids don’t care’ if they receive them. Additionally, some parents felt that consequences such as sitting outside the headmaster’s office don’t always work either. ‘Within the first six weeks of my son starting year seven there was a fight outside the school.’
Most of the parents in the focus groups spoke about wanting to be more involved with schools and the curriculum. The parent-teacher relationship is very important. One parent spoke about how she was treated unfavourably and ignored as a result of her daughter being excluded from school. Her daughter was eventually expelled. As a result, this mother worked with teachers in her daughter’s new school and found that her daughter’s behaviour and academic attainment improved. It was felt that violent behaviour escalates at secondary school and parents are not always told by their children.
This is often because children do not want their parents to turn up at school to help resolve it. One parent mentioned that children don’t tell parents about issues as it doesn’t do their ‘street-cred’ any good. One parent talked about her nine year old son, who heard violent language at school and started to use it in order to fit in with the others. He told his parent that another boy had threatened to cut off his and his parents’ heads. The parent reported this to the school, which was reluctant to intervene. When the boy repeated this language the school were quick to involve his mother and reprimand him. This parent took her son out of school and home-schooled him for a year.
‘Some boys pick on individuals. It shouldn’t be happening in the first place. And when he said this happened to him (boys tapping others round the head), I was quite upset and wanted to come to the school. He said, “No,” he didn’t want me in the school and talking to anybody.
Some of the groups we spoke to felt that schools are reluctant to intervene in bullying. They are also concerned that schools will not admit that bullying takes place, and that teasing is not harmful to children. However, bullying is common in schools and most of the parents we spoke to mentioned that they were aware of bullying happening. One parent spoke about her son being bullied, and being called ‘Borat’ because he is from Kazakhstan.
He was unable to understand what the other children were saying to him. However, the bullying stopped when his English improved. Parents talked about other anti-social activities such as “peanutting” – where children pull each other’s ties – and pushing and shoving other children and saying it’s a joke. ‘There has been violence in the school – quite severe violence.’
Parents spoke about what they thought would be constructive and positive improvements for schools. One parent said that the poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, visited her daughter’s school in order to talk about his past experiences of gangs before he turned his life around. This is positive as it exposes children to the “real” meaning of gangs, and can hopefully act as a deterrent.
Additionally, it shows that people involved in gangs can make the decision to say ‘no’ and detach themselves from that lifestyle. According to the Government’s Tackling Knives action plan: ‘Young people are more likely to be influenced by ‘real stories’, particularly the experiences of former offenders and the families of knife crime.’ One parent said that teachers need better training when it comes to supporting children with special educational needs, and more experience in dealing with anti-social behaviour.
A recent survey suggests that teachers agree with this statement. According to the Training and Development Agency for Schools, in 2009, just 56% of newly qualified teachers rated their training as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ when asked about how prepared they feel to work with learners with special educational needs. The groups also mentioned that they would like schools to involve parents more. They feel that, despite schools’ professed commitment to anti-bullying policies, there is still a need for an honest, open and pro-active approach to dealing with bullying.