A Thought for the Week for the Essex Chronicle
Context: August 2011. Post ‘summer of unrest’, the annual hand-wringing about exam results.. and that gap just won’t close. Broken Britain is the headline concept of the moment.
At this time of year there is usually a national debate about standards in schools. Following the riots, naturally there is also a focus on the role of education in resolving social issues. Ideally we should be aiming to create a society where educational outcomes are truly transformed, where all young people not only excel in technical, creative and academic disciplines but also learn to appreciate their responsibilities as members of the communities they live in. However I don’t believe that schools can do this alone, however hard we try. We need to recognise the pivotal role parents play in our students’ success; it is widely understood that parents and homes have far more impact on children’s educational success than schools do. In fact, the greatest educational gaps are generated in the formative years before children even start school. Social and economic circumstances are key factors, but the differences are largely down to fundamental attitudes about learning, discipline and aspirations; importantly, with the right influences, attitudes can be changed.
Why don’t we start a nationwide campaign promoting a better understanding of the capacity and responsibility parents have to shape their children’s future? Young parents have such power to transform their children’s lives – but I’m not sure they always realise quite how important they are. Parents of successful students typically encourage their children to explore, to be curious, to play and learn cooperatively, to develop a love of reading, to respect clear boundaries that are consistently and lovingly reinforced, to listen to others and to be independent; usually they model these behaviours themselves. It’s not even easy if you know how but with better partnerships between schools and families, better education about parenthood, support from health and social services and the national media, a sustained campaign for more effective parenting could begin to tackle a range of educational and social issues. It would be worth every penny. I don’t believe society is broken but we are a long way from where we could be. Schools could be much better but actually better parenting is the key to true transformation.
October 2012 Update: This story was reported on the BBC website: US research supports what I’ve said here.