What does it take to be a good parent?

Last week I was listening to Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show on my way to a job interview. The show’s guest Mr Mike Buchanan, the founder of the Justice for Men and Boys political party, caught my attention immediately. He was arguing that “men and boys need representation…and I’m not aware of a single area where women are disadvantaged relative to men.” He went on to claim that it can only be women’s fault that they do not have highly paid jobs or are more likely to take part-time jobs, as they are lazy and do not like working!  He refused to recognise the responsibilities of motherhood as a major factor that holds back many mothers.

My job interview that day went pretty well, and a few days later I was offered the job.  After a few sleepless nights I had to turn down that very attractive job offer. To be precise, I had to turn down an opportunity to do my dream job, simply because it would not fit in with my family commitments. It would have required my children to attend breakfast clubs and afterschool clubs every day on top of their busy school schedule. Our family time would have shrunk to an hour and a half a day. And that includes preparing meals and having dinner. In those 90 minutes two exhausted parents should create opportunities to engage and communicate with two over exhausted children. Is 90 minutes a day enough time to get to know your children? Does this time slot provide opportunities to connect with them, create an environment of trust and establish communication channels? I do not think so.

Modern parenthood is a hard job. Children require and deserve our time, care and devotion. As parents we have the responsibility to engage with them, prepare home-cooked nutritious meals, communicate with them.  We all want to raise happy, confident and resilient individuals. But there is no magic wand to achieve this. Parenthood takes time and effort. And it is often the mothers who carry the majority of the workload. Consequently it is their lives and careers that are affected.

It used to be simpler and rather straightforward. Men would go to work and women would raise the children. This is the model that has shaped our society for years. But as the world we live in changes, the modern work place culture has certainly not caught up.  Although UK is not a bad place to be a woman, and there are certainly more opportunities for flexible working, the role and demands of modern parenthood have not been addressed. There are several reasons why women want to work – we need the stimulation; we want to earn money; to some of us working is part of our identity. Having children does not change our attitude towards work. But it certainly changes our priorities in life.

Listening to that interview on Radio 4, I felt frustrated. I found the comments of Mr Mike Buchanan laughable, if not outrageous. I am sure he is not alone in thinking that mothers are to blame for not working or for taking lower-paid jobs.  And this is probably a direct outcome of the lack of a public conversation about what it takes to be a parent and what it really requires. Parenthood requires time and clarity of mind.  Raising children is a wonderful but complex and difficult endeavour.

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The many ways of childhood

I spent the most part of last week observing and working with 3-4 year olds. It has been a delightful experience. Children’s creativity, resourcefulness and enquiry skills – not to mention their unlimited energy – never stop to amaze me.

So when I came across a poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, on Our Reggio Emilia-Inspired Classroom Transition blog, I knew that it sums up nicely the great potential of very young children. The poem is a powerful description of what early childhood is and allows a glimpse into the way children perceive our world. Moreover, it is a reminder of a society’s collective responsibility towards those children.

No way. The hundred is there.

The child

is made of one hundred.

The child has

a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent

a hundred worlds

to dream.

The child has

a hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:

to discover the world already there

and of the hundred

they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:

that work and play

reality and fantasy

science and imagination

sky and earth

reason and dream

are things

that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child

that the hundred is not there.

The child says:

No way. The hundred is there.

Parent View and engaging parents

It is now well accepted that parental involvement at school benefits a child’s learning and wellbeing. However, the role of parents in their children’s education as equal stakeholders has not been fully recognised.

Ofsted has been slowly involving parents in their OFSTED inspections. To that end they have developed Parent View, an online questionnaire for parents to give their views on their children’s schools.

Yesterday they launched a toolkit for schools to help them promote Parent View and engage more parents.

So this is a rather good opportunity to take a look at the platform – is it a useful tool for parents and schools or just a bureaucratic gimmick and a waste of money?

When Parent View was first launched almost two years ago, it received a cold welcome from the teacher community, while the National Union of Teachers expressed their concerns about the actual purpose of the questionnaire.

Parent View is a simple tool, where parents are asked to give their view on the following 12 questions, from ‘strongly agree’ through to ‘strongly disagree’.

  •     My child is happy at this school
  •     My child feels safe at this school
  •     My child makes good progress at this school
  •     My child is well looked after at this school
  •     My child is taught well at this school
  •     My child receives appropriate homework for their age
  •     This school ensures the pupils are well behaved
  •     This school deals effectively with bullying
  •     This school is well led and managed
  •     This school responds well to any concern I raise
  •     I receive valuable information from the school about my child’s progress
  •     I would recommend this school to another parent

These questions touch issues that really concern parents – quality of teaching and care, dealing with bullying, and ultimately creating a safe learning environment for children to learn and flourish. These are hot topics that we are all discussing in informal as well as formal settings.

The answers to those questions could potentially draw a picture of the school and the environment in which the children spend a big chunk of their day. But can this questionnaire provide an accurate and fair description of a school?

The Teacher Union claims that Parent View is open to abuse by angry parents. Although some parents may see it as an opportunity to express their anger or dissatisfaction with the school, I do not believe that they have the critical mass to skew the results.

I think the main problem is the platform’s limitations. Given that this questionnaire can only provide qualitative data, it does not really provide a context for interpretation.

In addition to that I have some issues with the actual questions. Are the parents well equipped to judge quality of teaching or appropriateness of homework? Can they really comment on school management? The answer to both questions is most probably not.

Engaging with the parents is crucial. Their feedback and insight can really benefit a school, but I cannot see how Parent View can help schools improve their teaching and provision, as it can only provide fragmented information if not of dubious credibility.

I am a firm and passionate believer of involving parents in a child’s education. Parents can provide   useful insights and support teachers. Schools ought to engage with them in meaningful ways and seek their feedback. After all, we, teachers and parents, are on the same side – we care about the children, their wellbeing and education and want the best for them.

But I don’t think Parent View provides a platform for engaging the parents and allowing them to express their views. It is a rather rushed and certainly not well-thought attempt to tick the box labelled “parental involvement”.

Parent View can only provide a superficial outlook of a school, which may well be inaccurate. This certainly defies its original purpose and the DfE’s intentions.

Have you been asked by your school to fill in the Parent View questionnaire? What are your thoughts?