Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Shifting the burden of responsibility


Will extended schools finally allow parents to abdicate all responsibility for bringing up their children? Headteacher Ian Bradbury shares his reservations about the extended agenda.

Recently a couple took their youngest child out of our school. The reason they cited was that we had apparently disliked their elder son who left two years ago.

It stemmed from an incident in which the older pupil had been caught writing an offensive message on a window and was disciplined. Not only was there no apology at the time, but we were criticised for not providing enough activities at night to prevent him from roaming the village and drinking alcohol.

And there you have it - the school is to blame for the child's anti-social behaviour. It is our fault and not the parents'.

In the context of this experience, I'm not convinced about extended schools. I'm not against them, I'm just not sure the potential downsides have been thought through.

Whilst I can see a whole series of benefits to the children that are included in the 'core offer', I cannot be persuaded to swallow the whole of the government's mantra around the 8am - 6pm offer, namely that "extending the range of services that schools can offer is crucial to making sure children and families are given the support they need to thrive" ( Extended Schools - Every Child Matters).

Schools have always supported parents, but this is the first time that they are expected to take on some of their responsibility.

Part of this support is in the way of clubs and other extracurricular activities that enrich the lives of children. In the seven years I have been headteacher at Danesfield we have built up our extra curricular provision significantly. With 13 sports clubs running either seasonally or all year and seven year-round non-sporting activities, the school is full of children and staff during lunchtime, after school and many Saturdays.

Considering that our roll is currently 460 pupils, I believe we provide first-class, wide-ranging opportunities for local children. Add to this our evening provision and our new multi-use games area and you get the idea.

Yet, we are not a first tranche extended school in our area of Somerset because we do not fit the criteria in the county audit - namely that of holiday provision. The more I consider the drive towards the all-hours school the more I become sceptical.

Firstly, why schools? Surely parents have responsibility for their children in the evening and during weekends and holidays? Why have schools been delegated the role of parent rather than parents being expected to carry out their responsibilities?

The idea of breakfast clubs is not new. I worked in a school 15 years ago that had one. I am not against any school providing such a service, but I am against being expected to provide one. If we take on the role of the parent by providing two out of three meals a day (plus snacks), and pre-school, after-school, evening, weekend and holiday child care, what is there left for parents to do?

We risk sending the message that the school will do their job for them and in some respects we are already there.

A successful school works in partnership with its parents. Mutual respect and trust, with each wanting the best for the child, is what we aim to achieve. Our purpose is to provide a quality education. Whilst I accept all the arguments suggesting that a well provisioned child will work more successfully on arrival to school, I do not accept that it is our job to fuel the child up with a full English!

Families eat together less than at any time this century. Although it would be naive to wish for a return to the 1950s picture of father and two children at the table whilst mother busies around putting a cooked breakfast together for the family, should it be for us to replicate this scene in the dining hall?

Does it fall to the teacher on duty to gather together a group of children and ask them what lessons they have that day and whether they have done their homework?

Too often, parental responsibility is viewed on a take it or leave it basis. If we are not careful, we will provide the parent who already abdicates a good deal of their responsibility with the excuse to abdicate the rest. And so the famous "education, education, education" will become "social care, social care, social care". This is not what schools are about.

Ian Bradbury is headteacher of Danesfield School, an 11-14 school in Somerset.

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