Going on with your own education

Whether Ed Balls at the Labour Party Conference, calling for greater parental support to improve the behaviour of young people was doing this as a political strategy to attract voters or not, is largely immaterial, for the reality on the ground is often dreadful.  The behaviour of young people reflects (1) their home background, (2) the role of the school, and increasingly (3) the influence of their peer group.  For too long caring teachers and politicians looking for immediate solutions have implied that, at a time of massive social change, schools had better try to do everything.  After all it is only the school part of the equation that governments can legislate for, as parents tend to do whatever they believe they should do, and peer groups (especially in adolescence) are remarkably resistant to being told anything!

Politicians are as reluctant as their advisors to accept that they have less power than well-thought-out people’s belief systems.  And it is parents’ belief systems that matter.  Writing just after the Second World War John Newsome, who had recently become Director of Education for Hertfordshire, did his best to address this issue by writing a short guidebook for parents entitled The Child at School.  He wrote at a time when the majority of post-war parents had not, themselves, had any form of secondary education beyond the age of fourteen.

Newsome wrote “Education is ultimately a political issue, for it is concerned with a child’s relationship to the world both as a child and as a future adult.  In other words, until you have decided what the relationship between man and God or man and other men should be, and what form of political and economic society you would like to see, you cannot tell what sort of education a child should have.”  Strong words, well expressed; issues which society ignores at its peril.  He went on, “The most significant thing is… to provide the individual child with the best that the nation can provide, not only because the child has eventually to perform an economic function in society, but because the child in his or her own right, as a personality, needs education for its full development as much as [it needs] food or shelter.”

“Children are children first” wrote Newsome, “and only school children second.”

“Behaviour”, he wrote, “is determined much more by the standards set by the home, than by the school, for children of primary age are influenced much more by the conduct of their parents than by that of their teachers.”  You can’t make a more direct statement than that.  His words should re-echo down the years: “Parents can do a great deal to make the path less hard.  They can provide in the home the sort of educational influences which are necessary to compliment what is being done at the school.  It is not so much a question of discussing at breakfast… the vagaries of French irregular verbs, but it does mean doing all you can do to see that your child is exposed to influences which are likely to assist him or her to develop intellectual curiosity, form standards of judgement, and delight in high standards of achievement.  Above all it means behaving as if you respect his efforts to find truth, and sympathise with his difficulties; in other words it means going on with your own education.”

See Actions 3 and 4 of the Briefing Paper