The Secret Parent: How I realised that I’m part of the problem

I was recently contacted anonymously by a parent who asked if I would host a blog post for them. When this piece came through to me I felt obliged to post it. I suspect a lot of parents out there will be familiar with this scenario, as will countless teachers. The following entry has been supplied by the Secret Parent.

 

Let me introduce myself – I’m one of the “nice” parents. I support and trust teachers, and there are teachers in my family, one of the reasons why I know I could never do the job myself. I’m involved with the school, and do what I can to support it. So how could I possibly be part of the problem? Well, it’s like this.

A while back, our school had a big Ofsted inspection. The report said lots encouraging things, and we were very pleased with it in general. One passage in particular immediately jumped out at me when I read it – a glowing report of one specific lesson. Knowing that class as I do, my instant reaction was to laugh – it was abundantly clear that the ridiculously bright child in that class had “just happened” to be participating a lot under the inspector’s nose, and impressing him with his advanced development.

The blatant nature of this event encouraged me to share the anecdote, both for humour and because it supported my long-standing belief that flying inspections don’t tell you the full story about a school, and are open to manipulation and prejudicial distortion. My epiphany came when my amusing Ofsted anecdote bombed with a couple of friends. Um yeah, they said, everyone does that. It’s just playing the system.

I had no idea! I know teachers are under a stupid amount of pressure, and inspected to within an inch of their life, but I naively assumed that inspections wouldn’t be easily swayed just by a single child’s precocity. I certainly hadn’t expected that something like this would be any more than a desperate measure in extremis. To discover that anyone would consider it routine was more than a little unsettling.

Following that uncomfortable taste of the red pill, I started to look deeper – what else could I do? I read accounts by teachers explaining how the treadmill of inspection and evaluation was dragging them, their teaching and their whole class down. I became more aware of pressures to produce “acceptable” data and discovered the concept of “up levelling” children in order to meet arbitrary performance targets. I was horrified. And then I started to think about it.

When my eldest was starting school, I was a little worried by his first report. Once I’d got my head around the strange alphabet soup of letters and numbers which looked as if it had been deliberately encrypted to ensure that no one of school age would be able to understand it, I read that he was around average for his age, maybe slightly below. I was surprised and slightly concerned – he’d always seemed very bright. Was something going wrong? Why was he “only” average? I raised it with his teacher the next day.

Fast forward a year or two, and he was doing much better. Clearly bright and ahead of the curve, I was happy to see this improvement and made no effort to discuss it with anyone. His teacher remained unmolested, but what had objectively changed? Nothing to do with the quality of teaching – my inclination to ask difficult questions was entirely dependent on a subjective assessment of his abilities, and whether it was higher or lower than my own finger-in-the-air judgement.

Looking back from a distance, it seems blindingly obvious – his teachers are in the best position to know how he’s doing, but the lower their assessment, the more queries, hassle and even outright hostility they’re likely to get from parents. I’ve even heard parents talk about moving to another school, purely based on a teacher’s evaluation of their child’s progress. We want the best for our kids, so we obsess over every data point. In that context, who wouldn’t bump the odd child up where there’s any doubt?

The uncomfortable truth is that the overbearing and unsustainable inspection regime being inflicted on teachers and schools is giving parents what we want. We want data – we love data. All parents, supportive of teachers or not, want to know that our children are doing well. We even choose schools based on their previous exam results, as if that magically makes our children brighter. We are all part of the problem.

Let me be clear – I despise everything Gove and countless generations of education secretaries before him have done to education in this country, but I’m afraid that as parents, voraciously devouring every last scrap of data, we’ve got the regime we deserve. By questioning teachers who don’t share our belief in our children’s brilliance, choosing schools by their results, or even constantly demanding better performance, we are feeding the monster.

So I’m trying to fight back – the least I can do for all those hassled, frazzled teachers. My only question is, how? I want to be involved, and I want to help if my children aren’t meeting their apparent potential. Does it help to be pushing just as hard when they’re doing well? Do I really want to become “that pushy parent” always making demands on teachers’ already overstretched time? Do teachers want that? And if I don’t, doesn’t it continue to reward that pernicious “up levelling” approach?

Please, tell me what I can do. I’m heartbroken at what’s happened to our education system, but I don’t know how to break the cycle and make life easier for those hardy souls who continue to stick at it. What can be done so that parents can be interested and involved in their children’s education without supporting this destructive obsession with holding teachers responsible for children’s performance?

Any suggestions are very welcome.

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6 thoughts on “The Secret Parent: How I realised that I’m part of the problem

  1. Zoe March 21, 2014 at 9:12 am Reply

    I’m a primary teacher and this was a refreshing perspective from a parent. In answer to ‘what can you do?’. I’d say, support with homework, then fill your child’s hours with all the things this pressure for attainment has squeezed out of the curriculum. Arts and crafts, music, drama, proper little science experiments that will make your child go ‘wow!’. Let them read whatever they want. Let them be creative and develop their own passion for learning through exposure to places, people, things. Teachers want to develop the ‘whole’ child but sadly the horrendous pressure for specific data doesn’t see the important things. Teaching a child to make eye contact when they speak, to know how to make a friend, to get themselves dressed without help, to realise they are a talented little engineer and allow opportunities for them to blossom at it. Older teachers talk of the days when the class would be excited about something and that would then be the focus for a whole days deep learning. Those days are over. Children have no emotional connection to intense and target driven lit and numeracy lessons. Without an emotional engagement, an interest in what they are doing, they may well remember enough to get a level 5, regurgitate what booster sessions have trained them too, but they don’t learn and they don’t remember. Be a pushy parent – but once schools over push only for fun and things that are centred around what the child us interested on. The sooner we get educators in charge of education, the better!!

    Like

  2. liz withington March 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm Reply

    This all began in the late 80s early 90s when the Mail started a campaign against teachers and mad cap schools who were teaching horrendous things to our children. This didn’t look like amy schools I taught on or knew about but the public believed it and respect for teachers was gone. As we ( teachers) were sp untrustworthy the need to test the children was considered essrntial to root out and quash these’ dreadful schools and teachers’. Sadly parents terrified by the prospect of awful teachers ruining their children’s futures, soaked up data as a guatantee that it would be alright.
    Until we give teachers respect again and stop education being a political football this will continue. Sadly Gove is a classic reason why
    this should not be the case. His aim is to
    destroy the reputation of teachers again so
    hecan have his way with schools. The only way to stop him is for parents to stand up and say No!

    Like

  3. 99percenthappy March 16, 2014 at 9:24 pm Reply

    Secret Parent: come on the demo on the 26th. Buy my T-shirts and spread the word: http://www.gmattutorlondon.com. In addition to fighting for the removal of Michael Gove, think about what positive policy changes you’d like to see. An example: removing league tables completely would force parents to rely far less on data (and the magic number of 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths) and far more on more worthwhile metrics.

    Then, if you can, come and volunteer 1 or 2 hours a month, or even a week, at your child’s school or any other. Offer to accompany a school trip: they’re bloody difficult to organise at the best of times. Keep learning. Use your keen outsider’s eyes to assess as objectively as possible what is fine with the system and what can be improved. Think about how. Share your ideas. Keep in touch. And don’t stop until we’ve made our education system everything it can be.

    Thanks for your words 🙂

    Like

  4. teachingbattleground March 16, 2014 at 11:04 am Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Like

  5. 90maz March 16, 2014 at 9:47 am Reply

    Reblogged this on speciallyteaching and commented:
    From the blog of @secretteacher6

    Like

  6. primaryblogger1 March 16, 2014 at 8:08 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

    Like

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