Schools can’t be substitute parents, warns Ofsted chief
Parents must not “abdicate their responsibility” by expecting schools to solve all the major problems children face, the chief inspector for schools will warn this week.
In a robust intervention attacking the increasing burdens placed on teachers, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman will say that schools “cannot be a panacea” for all social ills and will criticise some parents for neglecting some of the “most basic of parenting tasks”, such as toilet training.
While teachers “can play a role” in educating children about the dangers of knife crime and obesity, primary responsibility for these complex problems lies elsewhere, she will warn. When it comes to keeping to a healthy weight, she will say, “schools cannot take over the role of health professionals – and above all parents”.
In a speech marking the publication of her second annual Ofsted report, Spielman will say: “Our education and care services don’t exist in isolation from the local areas they serve. They are and should be a central part of our communities. But being part of a community means being very clear what your responsibilities are, and what issues, however worthy, can only be tackled beyond the school, college or nursery gates.”
Knife crime will be singled out as one of the most recent issues to place
an additional burden on schools. “Most of our schools are safe, and we fully support measures, including zero-tolerance policies on the carrying of knives,” Spielman will say. “But while schools can play a role in educating young people about the danger of knives, they cannot be a panacea for this particular societal ill.”
Spielman said the obesity crisis was also “an issue which sits largely beyond the school gates”. “Schools can and should teach children about the importance of healthy eating and exercise … But beyond that, schools cannot take over the role of health professionals – and above all parents. The answer to the obesity crisis, particularly among younger children, lies in the home.”
By the start of primary school, almost a quarter of children in England are overweight or obese, and the proportion rises to more than a third by the time they leave for secondary school. However, research by Ofsted has found no pattern to suggest that, on their own, interventions at school can be linked to a direct and measurable impact on weight.
Spielman will also chastise parents who allow their children to reach school without being toilet-trained. It comes amid growing evidence of children arriving at reception unable to use a toilet. “This is difficult for teachers, disruptive for other children and has a terrible social impact on the children affected,” she will say. “This is wrong. Toilet-training is the role of parents and carers, and should not be left to schools. Only in the most extreme cases should parents be excused from this most basic of parenting tasks.”
Spielman’s comments represent a blunt message to ministers keen to tackle topical issues by placing more responsibilities on schools even as they face cuts to resources. Over the summer the Home Office issued lesson plans for children as young as 11 about the dangers of knife crime, which would involve them being told it is a “myth” that they will be safer with a weapon.
Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi said the lesson plans would “help illustrate the real impact of knife crime on young people’s lives” and that schools “up and down the country are taking advantage of them”. Some NHS doctors have called for school exit times to be staggered to reduce the chances of clashes.
There have been major concerns about workload and the Department for Education recently pledged to ease pressures on teachers in England after a report blamed an “audit culture” for causing stress among staff.