KATE: Can you punish someone into being a good parent?

So whose fault is it?

School principals are fed up with lazy parents.

Parents are fed up with kids not learning ‘the basics’ and having to hire tutors and do hours of work with their children at home just to ‘keep them up to speed.’

So who’s right?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of UK body OFSTED (Office For Standards In Education, Childrens’ Services and Skills) believes kids who are failing are parents’ responsibility, not the school’s.

More than that, he wants dud mums and dads told they’re bad parents – and as a former principal he’s done it himself. The Daily Mail reported:

‘I was absolutely clear with parents; if they weren’t doing a good job, I would tell them so.  It’s up to headteachers to say quite clearly, “You’re a poor parent”.  If parents didn’t come into school, didn’t come to parents’ evening, didn’t read with their children, didn’t ensure they did their homework, I would tell them they were bad parents.

He went on to say that in Britain at least,  poverty is a poor excuse for slack parenting and points out that the children of poor migrant families do remarkably well because they value and prioritise education.

Sir Michael accused white working class families of no longer regarding doing well at school as the way to improve their family’s future.  Instead, pupils from migrant families were outperforming white British counterparts in the classroom because many held a deep cultural belief in the value of education, he claimed. ‘Headteachers should have the power to fine bad parents.’ It’s sending the message that you are responsible for your children no matter how poor you are.’

Sir Michael sounds like a formidable gent. Possibly not a popular one. I don’t think skipping the occasional parent information night or letting Mathletics slip once in a while puts you into the ‘bad parent’ bucket.

Kate Hunter

I’d hate for him to find out that I rarely read to my kids and that I often outsource supervising my youngest’s homework to my oldest. There may be some exchange of money in this arrangement so I sure as hell don’t have a lot left to pay a fine.

I don’t think it will come to that. Despite my ‘relaxed’ approach, my kids have turned into happy independent readers, not because I’m afraid of fines or being judged a ‘bad parent’, but because their dad and I are readers ourselves. We pay attention to how they’re doing and will step in if we sense they’re struggling. We don’t angst because we know that generally, kids who come from caring homes do ok.

The thing is, there ARE parents who don’t care whether their kid can read or not, who are blasé about learning to count and spell and get along with people. And they’re never going to take a stern talking-to from a principal well.

And a fine? Go your hardest, Sir Michael. Either it’ll be paid and the kid will be punished for ‘being so dumb’, or it’ll be avoided and the very idea of education will be poisoned because of a fight over a $50 fine.


It boils down to this: whose responsibility is a kids’ education anyway? Is it the parents’ or a school’s?

Principals and teachers love to say it’s a collaborative thing and you’d hope in most cases it is.

But what about the kids whose parents can’t be bothered to do more than enrol them? Do we just let them fall through the cracks? Of course not.

Can all of a child’s learning happen in here?

But on the other hand, is it fair to the other kids if one child is taking up 90% of their teacher’s time because he’s so far behind, without the books and pencils he needs? Teachers have told me about 5 year olds who can’t do up their shirt buttons, wash their hands or manage the toilet. Is it assumed ‘the school’ can incorporate those things into the curriculum?

Education has become a commodity and the gap between the kids whose parents care and those who don’t is growing.

Teachers are (often reluctantly) spending endless hours with hand-wringing parents anxious about why Anastasia’s numeracy was in Band 8 in her Year 3 NAPLAN but has dropped to Band 7 in Year 5 – when the real problem is Jack, who can’t write his own name, doesn’t bring lunch and whose parents have never been seen.

You see it all the time when schools put on classes and workshops for parents. The parents keenest to sign up are the ones who need it least. The ones who could use a few tips on ‘Creating Lifelong Readers’ and ‘Supporting Your Child In Transitioning To High School’ would probably say, ‘Bollocks. I don’t need some intellectual to tell me how to raise my kids. I’m doing just fine. Pass me the remote, Jack.’

I don’t have the answers.  But what I do know is this: you can’t punish someone into being a good parent.

Do you think parents should be fined for not supporting their kids’ education? Any better ideas?