It is not often that reading a newspaper article makes me so incensed that I then spend the next hour or so seeing if there has been a backlash against it on social media – but a recent Times article had me doing just that.  An anonymous author vented her spleen over the gulf between state and private education – in a warped way the author, a parent, stated her case and came down on the side of independent education for all it delivers, but her rationale was, to my mind, completely misguided!

The article did its job – it got me thinking and musing over the rights and wrongs of choosing a school and highlighted for me what should be at the core of the decision making process when choosing a school for any child be it in the state or independent sector.  A topical debate given that hundreds of thousands of parents across the UK will be choosing schools for their children at the moment with many sitting entrance exams in the next few weeks.

The premise of the author’s argument was that state education had failed her children (x 3) who had previously been in private schools.  Having been forced to move schools due to the family’s changed financial fortunes the children had then stopped trying and started bunking off lessons, smoking, drinking, dabbling in drugs and all, the author claimed, because the school didn’t keep them on track!  A lack of after school and extra curricular sports, clubs and other activities was the problem and the fact that the school didn’t instil a strong work ethic in the pupils.  Quite the contrary, she claimed, it wasn’t cool to work – so her kids didn’t!

While I appreciate a forced change in fortunes and a school move mid-education can and often does have devastating consequences for some children and that sports provision and extra curricular facilities and activities can and often are more diverse and plentiful in the independent sector – the glaring omission in the article was the fact that the one constant in these children’s lives, their family and home environment, was completely ignored and its influence was not even considered.  This mother had seemingly handed her precious cargo over to the school and expected them to get on with it.

Paying school fees does not absolve parents of responsibility nor does signing up for a state school; in both sectors, it is a business partnership, almost like a marriage.  The relationship won’t work if only one side puts in the effort, every relationship and partnership is a two way street.  For success both sides need to understand and agree their common goals and aspirations and work together to achieve them.  In the case of a school, be it private or state – parents make the initial choice based on what the school stands for and are often at great pains to find a school with a shared ethos.  A partnership is then formed based on trust and everyone involved wanting what’s best for the child(ren) and being willing to work at it.

Like any relationship the school/family partnership is fluid and there may be blips and problems encountered along the way but the key to success is communication and honesty.

At Newcastle High we have open channels of communication and parents know they can flag up issues or problems when and if they arise and we will do our best to tackle them.  And the same goes for the school, if we have any concerns about a pupil, be it of a pastoral, social or academic nature, or indeed if a child is not keeping their side of the bargain, we will flag these issues with parents.   And we all need to take it on the chin!  Nothing should ever come as a surprise in a school report or a parent’s evening – whatever the issue, it will hopefully have been raised at a time when we can work together to resolve the issue, or at least start tackling it, together.

For parents who are in the throes of choosing a new school for their children and indeed for parents who made their choices years ago – it is timely to review the relationship and to make new resolutions about working on the partnership to deliver success.

As parents our job is not done merely by signing a child’s planner – nor is it our responsibility to do our child’s homework – it is about striking a balance.

Thankfully at Newcastle High our parents understand the difference but at a time when schools are under increasing pressure to not just educate but to be social workers, mental health advocates and counsellors the question has to be asked, what can we reasonably expect a school to deliver?

It comes back to the partnership idea and both sides keeping their side of the deal.  Parents need to parent – not try to be their child’s friend but be the ones who set the standards, make the ground rules and enforce them and encourage healthy eating and exercise – then, together with their chosen school, work together to get the best outcomes for their children.

Children themselves play a crucial part in the partnership and we encourage them to take ownership and responsibility for their work and be pro active in all aspects of their lives.  But the key is working together – it is no use one side struggling valiantly on its own – this will never work and will only lead to poor results and recriminations – as seen in the Times article which incensed me so much!

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