Schools need ability to dish out harsh lessons
PERHAPS after choosing your child's name, the most important decision you will face as a parent is what school they will attend. It's a decision previous generations didn't have to think about; children went to their local state primary and secondary or, if you were from the upper middle classes, they went private.
But these days we're told that everything is about options and choice and, as most parents want to give their children the best start in life, it's a lie we go along with in the belief that we have some power over the future educational course of our kids' lives.
Because it is all a lie. As someone who benefited from the right-to-choose legislation introduced in the early 80s I was able to attend a high school which still ranks as one of the best state schools in Edinburgh, although we lived far outside the catchment area (my parents had wanted me to attend a private school but not passing the bursary exam put paid to that!).
I was lucky – the legislation was new and so choice was available. However, it's a scenario that's been played out time and again ever since, so much so that the good state schools throughout Lothian, at any level, are full to the brim and still parents would rather their children attended them – despite potentially ridiculously large classes and massive travel distances – than go to a "sink" school.
As well as aspiration, information is the key to this trend. Parents have more knowledge about schools than ever before thanks to exam league tables, school inspection reports, and the publication of exclusion numbers. It's easy for them to know precisely which schools they don't want their kids attending.
And now, there's the violence. West Lothian Council has revealed this week the number of attacks on teachers by pupils from nursery – nursery! – through to high school and it makes shocking reading.
The idea that children hold so little respect for teachers that they feel free to make sexual suggestions to them, are prepared to threaten them with broken glass and even send death threats – well for someone who was brought up on Miss Jean Brodie, it beggars belief.
Similarly as we've recently moved into West Lothian is was an eye-opener about what my children might encounter (thankfully the primary they're likely to attend wasn't mentioned), although I'm sure such issues are being dealt with throughout the region.
As a result of such statistics and word-of-mouth tales, I know of people who are already considering taking their children out of the state system and going private come high school to ensure they are not affected by such violence. It's a move that would go against all my principles yet even I have totted up the figures to see if it's possible.
It's some choice, isn't it? Forking out thousands a year to ensure your child isn't faced with violence on a daily basis. And these are not people who would traditionally have gone private. They have the "good" fortune, though, of being able to scrimp and scrape to get the fees together. It's no wonder that Edinburgh has the highest percentage of private school pupils in Scotland.
But what of those who can't afford to go private, who are not of the right religion should the Catholic school be the best in the area, who can't get their children into a school of their choice through an out-of-catchment placement application? For them, for their children, there is no choice. Not unless something serious is done about returning power to teachers.
That is the nub of the problem. Teachers have no recourse to real punishment. Endless pink or yellow slips being shuffled around, detentions that aren't attended, it all adds up to a fat lot of nothing.
Real violence has to erupt before a child is excluded. Low level disruption is allowed to carry on, and the erosion of respect for neutered teachers continues.
Corporal punishment is not the way forward, that's been proven time and again, but it's time for a zero tolerance approach to any pupil who shows he or she does not want to attend school. Exclude them, fine the parents, re-introduce D-list schools, do whatever it takes.
It's time for the majority to be catered to, rather than the disruptive minority. And those who are interested in their children's education given a real choice again.
I won't be party to bag bragging rights
APART from the pressure to get your child into a good school, I've just discovered parents face a far greater social pressure – do you do a good party bag?
My three-year-old son has a string of birthday parties coming up and he's already been introduced to the idea that when he leaves, he gets a present.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I always thought the one getting lovingly wrapped parcels was the birthday boy/girl and the lucky guests left with a slice of cake and good memories of an enjoyable afternoon of musical chairs and scoffing French fancies.
But no. In fact, the competition about what goes in your party bag has got so intense I know one mum was tearing her hair out because her son's party was due, and the last one he'd attended saw him leave with a Nike rucksack full of sports goodies. How do you compete with that?
Well my answer will probably destroy my son's social life, but there's no way I'm getting sucked into this. There will be no party bags at the door at the end of his party. There will be a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin and a heartfelt thanks for coming. The line has been drawn.
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