Sunday, 20 December 2009

An ill-mannered gripe

Despite the impression that teachers are some sort of front for a revolutionary socialist action group, given intermittently by the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express, my experience is that many school staffrooms are pretty middle class and reactionary.

On my final teaching practice in Oxford, I was treated to nostalgic tales of how much better things were when there was still corporal punishment. A few years later, I sat close to a couple of Chinese children in a Sheffield primary school whilst the deputy headteacher gave a laughing account of going to see a dance where there were people "dressed up like little Chinese". And only a few months ago I sat next to a well-regarded headteacher who works in a primary school in a poor community and listened to her wondering aloud about how the recession could be affecting local parents, or "our layabouts" as she called them, when none of them ever did a day's work anyway.

Still, this did not prepare me for Mike Kent's column The Gripe Before Christmas, on the last page of the Times Educational Supplement. Kent, a headteacher in Camberwell, London, is a pretty good columnist, though he is no Ted Wragg. So I wonder what made him decide to get all his laughs this week at the expense of the parents of the pupils in his school?

A whole line-up of comic, London working class characters were brought forward to be sneered at: women so fat they need two chairs per buttock, parents who can't keep quiet for a moment and leave their mobiles on, parents who have become so thick-headed with exposure to Jerry Springer that they whoop and scream at every opportunity, and even a mother who was ill-mannered enough to bring her baby along, which woke up and needed feeding. For shame.

What happened to the idea that schools should be places where parents would feel welcomed and respected?

There are, of course, times when the behaviour of some parents might be at odds with what is best for the children; and schools should not be meek about saying so. But the lapse in good manners here is surely Kent's, not the parents'. They only turned up to see their children; Kent has turned them into a freak show.