In the best of all possible worlds parents need only be in touch with their child’s school for the good things, concerts, assemblies, reports and newsletters. But what happens when something goes wrong, when there is a problem: when do you need to complain to the school?
Children suffer at school. They are bullied, they do have useless teachers from time to time. They endure it all, in some faint belief that it will make them better people, that this is part of the covert curriculum of school – all the things you learn while pretending to learn about Shakespeare, glaciers and Pythagoras.
Distressed parents need particular handling and many schools haven’t the first clue how to deal with them. Children don’t want their parents involved as they know the problem can’t be fixed and in fact, their life will be made worse by their parents’ interference. The bullying rarely stops and the teacher who has been complained about will likely become more unpleasant and mark the work less fairly.
The reality is that most parents will not contact the school. Why is this? It’s because the school rarely does anything to solve the problem and improve the situation. Remember Matilda – ‘I’m big, you’re small; I’m right, you’re wrong’? Schools are somewhat the same – ‘we’re the school, you’re not; we’re right, you’re not.’
Before you contact the school look at what you can do to help your child. Their fears about retribution from the bully or the teacher are real. The last thing you want to do is make their life worse. It’s your job to help your child cope with these problems – contacting the school is the final straw.
Bullying takes many forms, it is insidious, corrosive and the impact on your child can be far reaching. Your child will be reluctant to tell you it’s happening, for many reason, including embarrassment, guilt and fear. They can’t defend themselves and are fearful that if you get involved things will get worse. What can you do?
1. Try to get them involved in things outside school such as sports teams, clubs, music, etc so they have friends and interests other than school. This helps with their self confidence.
2. Encourage them to be in ‘safe places’ at lunchtime, eg go to the library or the computer rooms – somewhere where there are teachers and other lonely souls.
3. Ensure they are safe going to and from school (this is often a time for bullying – away from teachers and home). Either take them yourself or have them team up with others. Bullies aren’t so good with groups.
4. The classroom is trickier. Have your child speak to the teacher about where they sit. Make sure your child can sit away from the bully(ies) – near the teacher is best, either right up the front or at the back of the room with the bullies at the front.
5. Teach your child some self-defence. Send them to karate or judo classes. It will help with confidence even if they never use it.
6. If the bullying is serious and on-going you must contact the school, even if your child doesn’t want you to. Hopefully there is a sympathetic teacher – usually your child’s form teacher or the Head of Year – who can help your child. If they are an aware teacher they will already know of the problem and be taking steps to help your child.
7. If all this fails, even contacting the school fails, then you need to remove your child from the school – their safety and emotional well being must be paramount.
Academic progress can be a thorny issue. What happens when your child has a less than competent teacher? Sometimes it simply doesn’t matter – because of the subject, the year level, your child’s ability in that subject. But when things get serious – GCSE’s A levels, HSC – then your child must be well taught by teachers who know what they’re doing. What can you do to help your child?
1.Ensure your child has all the right equipment – eg, textbooks, study guides (all available in high street bookshops and on-line), on-line accounts for various subjects.
2. Ensure your child does their homework when it’s set. Ensure they have a quiet dedicated place to study. Music can be fine but working with the internet on – unless its to do MyMaths or SAM Learning, research, etc – can be a major distraction
3. If you have the expertise then help your child with their study. There’s no point being an expert in an area if you can’t help your child. I’ve been correcting my children’s essays and stories for years. My husband helps them with their Maths – it’s the only way our baby girl got a B in her recent GCSE Maths unit exam. This is good love, supportive caring parenting. I even correct my daughter’s friends’ course-work!
4. Get a tutor, or enrol in Kumon classes or similar. Many students benefit from an extra couple of hours a week on top of their schooling to ensure they really understand the work. Tutoring is excellent for students struggling with a subject and with those after A* and perfect scores. It can be money very well spent. You do not need permission from the school to have your child tutored. But you must ensure that the tutor is not doing your child’s work for them – then you are cheating and not supporting your child to learn. Also ensure the tutor knows what they are doing – check their credentials carefully!
5. Visit the various exam board and subject sites on the internet, ensure you are up to speed with the various subject requirements.
6. Parent evenings are your chance to challenge the teacher, to ensure your child is being well taught and fairly assessed. If you have any unresolved issues then proceed up the chain – Head of Department, Curriculum Deputy, Principal. You do have a right to ensure your child is well taught.
Supporting your child at school can be challenging. It’s not so hard at primary level where there’s just the one teacher to work with but secondary can be a mine-field. Some schools are not good at dealing with assertive, knowledgeable parents. They are not used to being challenged and may revert to bullying tactics. My daughter was told by her principal that parents were not allowed to help their children! This is an Ofsted rated Outstanding school, who needless to say, did not take well to us complaining about an academic matter.
But your duty as a parent is clear, you must be supportive. Do all you can yourself before involving the school but if you have to contact the school be prepared to fight for your child, remember you are the one who loves them best.