Thursday, July 28, 2005

I Blame The Parents

Ruth Kelly is now proposing enshrining further inequality in our education system - giving the low achievers much closer tuition than our highest achievers. It's a strange education policy that embraces mediocrity; that leaves the best to get on with their own, often unchallenging work, not encouraging them to reach for the moon, whilst the poorest pupils have initiative after initiative directed at them. I'm not arguing that we should leave the low-achieving behind; but something is wrong when we aren't giving our best children the best possible education. Thankfully, it seems like some teachers are beginning to challenge the dangerous and wrong left-wing comprehensive orthodoxy.

The comment I really wanted to pick up on, however, was when Kelly spoke about the gap between rich and poor students, and in particular how she didn't want success being "predetermined by their background". Quite apart from the fact that the current education system does all possible to make sure income inequality is as big a factor as possible in the quality of education provided (catchment areas, Church schools, etc), I think that we are all too often prepared to blame the systems, and not blame parents themselves.

What I am about to say is by no means meant as a blanket criticism. But there is certainly merit to it. When three daughters, all under 16, are now mothers, but their mother blames the school system, something is wrong. When mothers are taking holidays in the sun rather than looking

after their own children, something is wrong. How can a mother who believes it's OK to leave her young children at home like that really take an interest in her child's learning? The other night, I was coming back from the train station at about 11, when a young child was riding around on his bicycle, unsupervised and unlit. I severely doubt whether the parents had any idea what their child was up to. In parks across the town, there will be young teenagers getting drunk silly on White Lightning whilst their parents are down the pub. How can these children be expected to succeed at school when at home they are so thoroughly neglected?

Sure, our school system doesn't help our best children in any case. It is a system where the wealth of the parent, and not educational ability, can often dictate how good their child's education is. Yet to say blindly that it is the background of the poor children that leads to lower rates of success ignores half the problem. A stable home environment where interest is taken in the child, and encouragement towards success is given, is just as vital. For it is not just the socio-economic background of the child that determines future chances - it is the household they were born into.