Schools can’t be sub­sti­tute par­ents, warns Of­sted chief

The Observer - - Front Page - Michael Sav­age Pol­icy Editor

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.

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