Skool rules: made to be broken?

Sunday 23 October, 14.00 - 15.30 , Frobisher Auditorium 2 Battle for Education

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Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

When the High Court overruled the Isle of Wight council’s prosecution of Jon Platt for taking his seven-year-old daughter on holiday in term time, it raised a broader question about where the line lies between parental authority and school rules. The Parents Union said the fines issued to over 50,000 parents last year alone are unjustified, with some parents even fined for taking their children to visit dying relatives. And despite the claims that missing school jeopardises a child’s educational attainment, trigger happy heads suspend pupils for ever more trivial behavioural breaches. In May, the head of a Birmingham primary suspended an eight-year-old for a week for having a Peaky Blinders-style haircut. Milton Keynes parents were up in arms at the start of the new term when 70 schoolgirls were sent home from a secondary school because their skirts were too short or their trousers too tight. Another school principal, Kate Chisholm, hit the headlines for telling off parents for showing up at the gates of Skerne Park Academy, Darlington, in pyjamas and slippers.

It does seem that too often educational authorities assume they know best and over-reach into the private sphere, showing little trust in parental decision-making. But how can teachers maintain a disciplined learning environment if parents constantly complain about rules they don’t like? Perhaps parental rebellion against schools is an unhelpful undermining of teachers’ authority. Perhaps Ms Chisholm has a point when she says, ‘I know that I can’t tell parents what to wear, but because we are a school where we’re trying to raise standards, I think we just needed to say something about the dress code in general’.

The so-called ‘kid’s strike’ against testing in May did show some common ground between parents and teachers: many heads implicitly supported the parent organised mass bunk-off by marking their pupils’ absences as ‘educational’ rather than ‘unauthorised’. Some argue schools should work more closely with parents instead of issuing diktats and behaviour codes from on high. Should schools be more accommodating of individual circumstances rather than assuming one size fits all? Is the problem that schools are trying to compensate for a loss of genuine authority by resorting to a petty authoritarianism at which children and parents understandably chafe? Or should parents make their children obey what the school lays down, even if they disagree? More specifically, is school uniform a good thing or not? How should schools and parents navigate these tricky questions in the best interests of children?