Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Poor parents


Fining parents is the latest fashion in UK education policy. The government has this started fining — and threatening with criminal prosecution — parents who take their children out of school, other than for illness, for any reason short of a funeral. Education Secretary Michael Gove has recently announced his intention to impose fines on parents if their children misbehave in school.

Now we have the UK chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wanting to go beyond the school walls, suggesting fines for parents who don’t read to their children enough (or, presumably, the right books full of “British values“). In an interview reported on the front page of today’s Times he said

It’s up to head teachers to say quite clearly, “You’re a poor parent”… I think head teachers should have the power to fine them. It’s sending the message that you are responsible for your children no matter how poor you are.

To be fair, the context makes clear that the first use of the word poor is meant to be metaphorical, but I think there’s no denying that the word choice there simply reveals more than is intended. The government’s attitude is that families with children in state schools must be indifferent to education, because if they weren’t, they would have sent their children to private schools, wouldn’t they?

If you’re poor and a parent, you must certainly be a poor parent, and you need to be chivied into allowing your children to be trained to the appropriate mediocre level that will spare the City drones of the future from ever having to do an honest day’s work. If you think that education is a collaborative project between families and schools, and that children need to be engaged rather than bullied, you’re just making “an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up.”

In other words, if we don’t make schools like prisons now, those children will end up in real prisons later on.

What is unclear to me is whether this reflects reflexive  an intentional policy to drive families who could afford private education out of the state sector, whether purely in the interest of cutting costs or to curtail social mixing.

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