Parts of England with white British populations have parents who 'don’t care’, says former chief HMI

Janet Downs's picture
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‘I’m working in parts of England with white British populations where the parents don’t care,’ said former Chief Ofsted inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, at the Festival of Education.  

His evidence for this?  ‘Less than 50% turn up to parents evening’.  This, he said, was ‘outrageous’.  

Sir Michael is painting all white British parents in these areas with the same brush.  His sweeping generalisation equates parent evening non-attendance with parental indifference.   But non-attendance at parents’ evenings doesn’t automatically mean parents, whether white British or not, don’t care.   Parents may be happy with how their children are doing and see no need to turn up, for example.  Or there could be reasons why parents can’t attend: inability to find a babysitter for siblings too young to be left alone; caring responsibilities or parental illness.

Parental support for education is vital for children’s success.  There’s no doubt about that.  But attitudes which assume parents who don’t attend parent evenings are uncaring do not encourage parent/teacher cooperation or mutual respect.  There are other ways in which schools could and should reach out to parents besides formal parents’ evenings.

Perhaps Sir Michael ought to read this thoughtful article by Iesha Small recommended in Schools Week’s ‘Top blogs of the week’ (22 June 2018, not yet available on line).   It’s entitled ‘What middle class teachers need to know about their working class pupils in poverty’. 

Sir Michael’s statements as reported in Schools Week didn’t link his uncaring white British parents with poverty, of course.  Neither did they mention ‘working class’.  But the description ‘uncaring white British parent’ is too often associated with media images of a feckless underclass of chavs and ‘skivers’.  This demonization of the poor brushes aside the effects of poverty:

  • Poverty makes people concentrate on the present moment.  (You can’t think about tomorrow if you’re worried sick about how to feed your family today.)
  • Community is more important to poor kids.
  • It’s harder to trust people when you are poor, especially outsiders.
  • Poor kids feel that what they do doesn’t matter.
  • If you were suddenly poor you’d be more likely to make ‘bad’ decisions too.

Small ends her blog with ‘Final thoughts for teachers’.  She exhorts teachers working with pupils living in or near poverty (Mrs May’s Just About Managing’) to be aware how poverty affects a family’s ability to make decisions which would benefit them in the future.

Michael Wilshaw, take note.

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