How do you know, as a parent, if your local school is good or not? Do you go by what the OFSTED report (issued approximately every three years) says? Do you judge by league tables? How do you know if your child is doing well at school? Do you know what National Curriculum level they should be at? Can you help your child with homework? Do you know who your school governors are? What do you do if you want to find out more? What do you do if you have a complaint?
Schools, like every workplace, have their own jargon and their own ways of doing things. These always look intimidating to outsiders – and parents can feel like outsiders at times! The plethora of educationally-related phrases – awarding bodies, controlled assessments, SATs, Allen tests, diplomas, GCSEs, EBCs (no longer to be introduced after all), peer assessment, NC levels – can all seem daunting and unfriendly. It’s tempting to just send our children to the nearest school and hope for the best.
But our children are given to us by God and we have a responsibility for their care and education which ought not to be fobbed off onto outsiders. So it is important as parents to find out what we can about schools and to be actively involved in our children’s education if at all possible. ‘Leaving it to the experts’ is not always the best option. We, as parents, are the experts on our own children! Don’t let any teaching professional tell you otherwise!
At primary school, most children have a class teacher who provides a point of contact with a parent. Some are easier to talk with than others, but all should be the first point of contact if a parent has questions, concerns or worries. As children go to secondary school, there is usually a Head of Year or member of staff with pastoral responsibilities who can be a point of contact for everyday concerns and queries. Most of all, though, a parent needs persistence in approaching schools and should not feel belittled or demeaned if there are concerns to raise.
There are two extremes that parents can have. One is a naive belief that schools get everything right and that this absolves the parent from any further responsibility as a parent. The other is to demonise the school and blame it for every difficulty or problem the child may face. The truth usually lies in the middle, with parents and schools needing to work together for the child’s ultimate good. Sometimes that will mean upholding discipline. Sometimes it will mean drawing the school’s attention to problems they might not otherwise be aware of. Always it involves trying to keep the channels of communication open and listening more than we speak.
There are lots of ways that parents can be involved in school life (including becoming a parent governor of the school.) Most of all, though, a parent needs to take time to listen to their child and to work with them. As the teenage years hit, sometimes it feels like the child views both parents and school as enemies, to be battled at every opportunity! The truth is the opposite. Parents and schools generally want each child to fufil their potential and to grow into rounded adults. We need to pray for our children, but in the wider church context, we need to be prepared to ‘parent the parents’, offering support, time, love and a listening ear to both parents and children alike. Children often benefit from the adult role models in church: it’s easier to pour out woes to another adult at times than to tell Mum or Dad. Young parents often benefit from older adults in church who have been through the same struggles and have lived to tell the tale! A listening ear and a timely word of advice often work wonders and can be a tangible way of helping others.