I think the Oxford Reading Spree went well. There were notable stars, of course, and followed some way behind by a man looking like a grizzled version of Basil Brush, rabble-rousing rather than really presenting a case on parents and partnerships and how that might sometimes involve a loss of power for the professional. Me voila, along with many – but alas, not all – the speakers. It has been immensely gratifying to read praise from serving teachers such as Kiran, here. Yes, it really does mean a lot.
What I want to return to is the notion of parents as school agents. I know I was pressing my case too hard in my talk on Saturday – but equally I now see there were people in the audience who do, in fact, keep children in at playtime if the child’s reading record has not been filled in. All I think I could do is point out the ambiguities in both doing this and not doing it – something I had been planning to do until I read Sue Cowley’s reflections on school absence. She has moved the argument on from my moans about whether this action or that in the teaching of reading is in the best interests of the child, in the light of the news that Jon Platt, who in effect queried the use of the word “regular” in “regular attendance,” and whether a school has a right to determine what “regular” means.
I find myself caught. Head teachers sometimes seem like dreadful killjoys – “You know it’s a trend, the Head’s thinking of banning it” – and maybe sometimes they are, seeking an even sailing rather than any choppiness, conformity and compliance rather than real partnership. However, does the perceived need for a big holiday somehow overrule the professional judgement as to what why a child might be in school – still less the organisational complexity of a curriculum in which children may or may not be there for this or that piece of learning? The tensions are – or seem – very either/or in the matter of term-time holidays. As Sue acerbically sums it up, ” your personal circumstances have ceased to matter.” Holidays, healthy packed lunches, uniform, whether you have the time to fill in a reading record, whether your shared reading with a child is about Charlie and Lola, or Smash Hits, or Biff and Chip, whether… Oh, enough. It comes down to the idea that somehow the parents (“the most important job in the world, and it’s left to amateurs”) can have a right to disagree with a professional. Sometimes they do. Sometimes the school makes a mess of the message the team is trying to convey. Been there, on both “sides,” and am always struck, as I look back at the highs and lows of parent-teacher relationships by the dilemma: Does a school demand obedience, or does it inspire (or work to inspire) trust?
In this case, tonight, I think Sue is right: this parent and teacher playground bundle is the wrong battle. Fighting about school term holidays or absenteeism during SATs seems a bit of a distract-and-redirect, if the stories are to be believed (I’m not doubting them) about teacher recruitment, low morale, chronic funding. There are worse ogres to fight than a (perhaps) over zealous head or (perhaps) a belligerent parent. These everyday squabbles need to be seen for what they are, or at least could be: the school-by-school, sometimes family-by-family storming and forming of relationships. We have other dragons hatching, and we will need all the strength we can muster, all the friends we can get.