Meeting the needs of our customers

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with a chief executive of a major UK service company.  In terms of the bottom line there can be few people I’ve ever encountered who adopt a more concentrated and determined focus on making the business ‘hit it’s numbers’. However, as we spoke it became obvious that in order to ‘hit the numbers’ the organisation places service quality and customer experience at the heart of making the business work.

What fascinated – and surprised me – was that I had more in common with this leader of British industry than I might have expected.  There is a tendency amongst those of us who work in the public sector to imagine that we somehow inhabit the higher moral ground than those who are simply motivated by filthy lucre.  Yet time after time, this person challenged my perceptions by continually reflecting upon how the managers and staff in the organisation place the needs of customers at the forefront of their practice.  So much so that the chief executive often ‘cold calls’ on outlets and tests the customer orientation of the team.

The logic behind such practice is very clear – if customers don’t enjoy or appreciate the service they are given then the chances of them spending their money again with that particular service company is very unlikely. In turn the chief executive then asked me whether or not I thought schools were accountable the same manner.  Of course, private schools have a paying relationship with the customer – where custom can be withdrawn – but no such transactional relationship exists in the state sector.

It made me think again about the nature of the relationship between schools and parents in the state sector.  If a parent can’t pay for private education, and cannot move their child to another school due to lack of transport, or the fact that another school is unavailable how does the customer influence the quality of the provision?  Quite simply the only route open to them is to complain if the quality is not to their satisfaction.  Yet in terms of my friend’s company such a limited form of customer feedback would be far too late based upon the fact that many people don’t complain they just take their business elsewhere.

So one could argue that state schools are relatively closed environments in terms of customer accountability. Where else in a citizen’s life – other in than the health service – are a customer’s options so limited? Think of our internet providers; supermarkets; car manufacturers; restaurants; banks; etc. – the common feature is that we  – where, if so inclined, can take our business elsewhere.

But surely a school is accountable through its local education authority and through that to the local council with locally elected members, and finally through inspection bodies such as Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate? Surely that is enough? Once again its worthwhile thinking of private sector examples – most of which have similar accountabilities through shareholders, boards, and audit processes – in addition to the accountability to the customer.  Yet none of them would think that such ‘outward facing’ accountability takes precedence over the needs and preferences of the customer.

It’s at this point in this line of logic that most of us involved in Scottish education come to an abrupt halt – because the next step takes us into unthinkable territory – i.e. some form of direct accountability to the customer. Our first problem lies in the notion of education having ‘customers’ -  it’s an area I’ve explored on numerous occasions and without fail it stimulates intense antagonism from educationalists who see any notion of education being ‘productised’ as a step too far.

However, my fear in the current financial environment is that a local authority’s capacity to act as the prime agency to which schools are accountable is under huge pressure.  Yet we know that headteachers would prefer to retain the status quo in terms of line management accountability – and that there is no certainly appetite for parental governance. So here we are at an impasse – which may not become completely obvious for another couple of years.

On hearing this the chief executive asked whether or not there was any opportunity for the management to opt out – in commercial terms the concept would be akin to a ‘management buy out’ I explained that we have explored such models before but that there had been no appetite from parents for self-management.  But that wasn’t what the chief executive had in mind –  ”customers don’t opt out – but managers can” was the response.  And so we explored the notion of how a management team in a school might negotiate a  ‘management buy-out’ from the local authority. The biggest shift in such a model would be that the school would have to set up a board of governance – with a very clear and unambiguous focus on meeting the needs of its customers.

I tried to explain that there were huge obstacles in even contemplating such an idea but the chief executive warmed to the challenge and put it to me that surely the system must provide space for its best managers to operate in a more directly accountable manner with their customers.

We decided to leave it there but the idea has remained with me ever since – gnawing away at my imagination at how such a seemingly crazy idea might actually work.

Evaluation is For Learning

“Tell us about a time when you enabled a learner to achieve beyond their own expectations and explain how you met their needs.”

Making a judgement about the effectiveness of an individual is probably nowhere more focused than in the interview situation. For it is in this highly charged environment that an interviewing panel draw conclusions about the likelihood of a person to meet the future needs of their organisation.  And how do they do this? They ask the person being interviewed to tell them the “story” about how they have behaved in the past in response to a variety of challenges and circumstances.

This interviewing technique is known as Behavioural Questioning and is based upon the assumption that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance in similar situations. Of course there is some validation of this narrative in the form of references from employers, etc.

The power of “storytelling” is also recognised in the realm of higher education where narrative methodologies are used with great effect in postgraduate studies up to doctoral level. Story collecting as a form of narrative inquiry allows the participants to put the data into their own words and reflect upon practice rather than merely relying upon the collection and processing of data.

It’s against this background that I want to explore the dominant method of evaluating the effectiveness of teachers, schools and educational systems – and the unintended consequences that such a model has generated. My argument being that we have a measuring (quantitative) weighted system, with qualitative (storytelling) being of secondary import, whereas I would turn that relationship on its head.

For surely the ultimate test for any education evaluation system is the improvement it leads to in outcomes for children and young people – and it is generally accepted that the factor which makes the biggest impact upon the effectiveness of that system is the quality of classroom teaching and learning.

Yet despite this knowledge it is an implicit fact that most school improvement systems are based upon the external collection and interpretation of student outcomes – with little reference to the quality of the teaching and learning process.  The assumption being is that it is possible to improve school performance through external challenge.  The problem with this system of school improvement is that it is based upon the premise that self-improvement cannot be relied upon in isolation.

Such external challenge has the unintended consequence of disempowering staff within the system to the extent that they feel pressurised to improve as opposed to tapping into their professional commitment to improve.

So if the dominance of the counting and measuring (quantitative) model has proven ineffective what might be the alternative? I think the answer lies in a parallel methodology that has had a transformational impact upon many of our classrooms over the last ten years.  I am referring here to the notion of the Assessment is For Learning programme (AiFL).

The logic of Assessment is for Learning is based upon a realisation that simply giving a learner a mark or grade at the end of a course of study (summative assessment) does not enhance the learning, nor the teaching, process. In contrast where a teacher (and learner) use Assessment is for Learning to provide and reflect upon on-going feedback to revise and develop further the learning and teaching process – it actually enhances the final outcome and the effectiveness of the learner and the teacher in the future.

Now it seems to me that that our school evaluation models seem to comply with this simplistic paradigm. We use summative assessments – class, year group, school, authority, results – as the driver for change and make only passing reference to underlying stories which underpin the outcomes.

So what might a system look like that modeled itself upon AiFL? Let’s start by giving it a name – Evaluation is for Learning (EiFL).

I actually think we are beginning to see EiFL manifest itself in an incredibly exciting and organic manner within the Scottish education system in the form of pedagoo.org. Pedagoo represent a group of Scottish educators who are determined to describe and tell stories about their own practice in an open and transparent manner with the view to improving the quality of education they provide.

By tapping into what it is these educators are attempting to do in their own classrooms we begin to see an alternative to the dominant quantitative methodology, whereby teachers take the lead by sharing, reflecting upon and improving their practice.   Imagine a school where every practitioner was “fired up” to the same extent and enabled and encouraged to participate at such a level, where they could share their stories with confidence and a passion for learning and professional inquiry – I’d put my money on that school any time!

School evaluation could be conducted in a similar manner with external evaluation focusing upon the narrative stories of managers and teachers as they describe how they are attempting to improve the quality of the education in their school.

The relationship between the stories (qualitative) and the counting and measuring (quantitative) in EiFL is reversed to the extent that the numbers are used for validation – not judgemental – purposes.

And before any of you think I’ve gone soft – if any teacher couldn’t answer the question posed at the top of this article I’d have extreme reservations about their competence – regardless of the outcomes of the students in their class.

Shared Services – taking account of the emotional perspective

On the 22nd November East Lothian Council and Midlothian Council approved the first phase of sharing operational and management support for education and children’s services.

This was the culmination of 12 months work by a huge number of people to address the issues and challenges which emerged in the course of that process.

That work included research into governance, tax, human resources legislation, accountability, service redesign, and a range of other pragmatic issues. Yet if there was one factor which was not covered in sufficient depth it was the emotional response to shared services.

That response can be characterised as a deep personal concern for the future, where the current certainties are replaced by fear and uncertainty. That is not to say that there are any certainties for anyone involved in delivering public services in Scotland, the UK, or Europe for that matter, it’s just that shared services provides a concrete focus upon which people can attribute their fears.

That’s why it’s interesting to reflect upon a recent research report into the perceptions and realities of employees regarding shared services.

The research surveyed the opinions of over 100 UK public sector representatives, from functions spanning HR, payroll, finance, purchasing and IT.

The majority of respondents (72%) were from government and education, with blue light services and health organisations also included.

Organisations generally anticipated more negative impacts than proved to be the case for those who had already implemented shared services.

This negative perception was most significant for areas like job security, where 67% of respondents felt that sharing services would impact negatively. This figure increased significantly for operational employees where 8 in 10 feared for their jobs. In contrast, out of those that had already implemented shared services, over half reported a positive effect on job security (51%) and career development (53%), while the positive effects on skills development (81%) and job satisfaction (74%) were even more convincing.

This research seems to show the tendency for organisations and individuals to overestimate the difficulties of shared services and to underestimate the benefits that can be delivered. Those organisations not sharing anticipated that a shared service would be significantly less positive in areas that are closest to employees’ hearts than those already sharing had experienced.

If there is a lesson from such research for those of us who are embarking, or about to embark on shared services, it is that the emotional perspective is vitally important and that it should be considered throughout the change process. That’s not to say that we should decide whether or not to proceeed with shared services on an emotional whim, but that rather we should recognise and continually address the emotional response it generates.

The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

School Autonomy and accountability can lead to improvement in student learning

I recently had the pleasure to listen to Michael Davidson a senior statistician from the OECD. I was particularly fascinated to hear that the 2009 PISA results suggest that some features of school autonomy and accountability are associated with better performance.

In countries where schools enjoy autonomy over their curricula and assessments, students tend to perform better, after accounting for national income. School autonomy over these matters accounts for around 25% of the performance differences among countries that participated in PISA.

While other relationships between a single feature of school governance and student performance are harder to discern, analyses of PISA results have concluded that:

In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.

Within those countries where schools post achievement data publicly and, in so doing, are held accountable for performance results, those schools that enjoy greater autonomy over resource allocation tend to perform better than those granted less autonomy over their curricula.

However, in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, the reverse is true.

Headteacher Pay: England Vs Scotland

Given today’s Scotland Vs England world cup rugby fixture (we’ll not refer to the result) I thought it might be of interest to try to compare headteacher pay between the two countries.

The English pay scales are set out in  Pay and Conditions for Teachers in England Wales and I’ll use this document as the basis for what follows.

In this example I will  use a secondary school of 900 students, split equally into six year groups of 150 students..

The English system is based upon the concept of pupil units.

For example a student in Key Stage 3 – equivalent to S1 – S2 (12-14 yrs) – is worth 9 units; a student in Key Stage 4  (14-16 yrs)  is worth 11 units; and a student in Key Stage 5 (16-18 yrs) is worth 13 units.

Using the 150 students in each year group this translates into 9,900 units.

The units are then compared to a school group table – for the sake of this exercise I’m only going to refer to the scales for schools outwith the London area.

The scales are:

Group                             Pay range

1  -  up to 1000            £42,379 – £56,950

2  – up to 2,200            £44,525  – £61,288

3 – up to 3,500             £48,024 – £65,953

4  – up to 5,000            £51,614 – £70,991

5  – up to 7,500            £56,950 – £78,298

6   – up to 11,000         £61,288  – £86,365

7  – up to 17,000          £65,963 – £95,213

8  – beyond 17,000       £75,725 – £105,097

In our example, the headteacher of a school of 900 students would be paid – at the top end – and most of them seem to be at that level £86,365, whereas in Scotland the pay is a maximum £66,000 for an identical school.

The final level of a headteachers’ pay is determined by the Governing Body (i.e. parents) within the scales set out above – although there is some leeway for awarding additional discretionary payments.

There are addditional scales of pay for headteachers of “special schools” but for the sake of simplicity I’ve ignored them in this comparision.

Conclusion:

There does not seem to be a significant difference between the level of pay for basic grade teachers in England and Scotland but there are very significant differences in the pay of headteachers - particularly at secondary level. English headteachers would appear to be  paid between 20 – 30% more than their Scottish counterparts.

The key differences in terms of expectation is that the English school governing body can set performance targets that they expect the headteacher to achieve, and the fact that English Headteachers have a greater range of devolved responsibilities than their Scottish counterparts.

Education – a gift to give.

As educators we like to give the impression that we know all there is to know about sacrifice for our vocation. We quite naturally occupy the higher moral territory whenever the opportunity arises, and we sleep well in our beds knowing that the job we do is worthwhile.

So it’s very difficult when a fellow educator from another part of the world comes along and knocks that comfortable mindset, or to use a good Scottish expression “ca’s the legs frae ye” (sweep your legs from underneath you).

Yet that’s just what I experienced on Monday when I met Thein Naing. Thein is a remarkable man, from a remarkable place, full of remarkable people. He works in the Mae Sot area of Thailand just on the border with Burma. The area accommodates over 150,000 Burmese refugees and economic migrants.

The Mae Sot area has around 70 migrant schools which have started spontaneously to meet the needs of 30,000 children who have crossed the border with their parents from Burma. Of this number only 7,000 currently attend these schools, which receive no support from the Thai government and rely solely on resourcefulness and international support.

It’s to this cause that Thein has dedicated his professional and personal life – to help these children, many of whom are stateless, to receive an education and to improve their lives. He works with schools to develop their curriculum, teaching skills, health education, child protection and so many other elements of education which we take for granted.

I was close to tears when he told me that some parents choose to abandon their child at a school knowing that they will have a better life in the care of others – a story of parental love which is beyond anything in my experience.

As we spoke we began to explore possible things that we might do in East Lothian to support education in Mae Sot.

Here’s the pitch!

Next year we could ask each of our secondary schools if they would be willing/able take on one senior student (17 year old) to follow a full year’s study ending in formal qualifications. The schools would seek to find a family in their community who would be willing to host the student. The family would be responsible for feeding and supporting the student for the year – but we would look to raise funds to pay for recreational activities. For our part the authority would seek to find the money to pay for the travel costs for the six students and co-ordinate a support system for the students during their time in East Lothian.

I know that I would have been interested if one of my sons had come back from school and said he had wanted to host such a student, just as I would have been interested as a head teacher. The learning opportunities for our East Lothian students are obvious but we need to look beyond that benefit to the transformational effect it could have on our visitors, their own communities, and development of the democratic process in their country.

Could there possibly be a better gift to give?

Donations to help provide basic education for internally displaced people of Burma can be made at  www.nhecburma.org or theinaing@nhecburma.org

Educational Leadership and social media

I first started using social media in 1997 when I was part of an online community which provided great support to me when I was engaged in a school transformation process.

Since that time I’ve continued to use social media networks, more particularly a blog as a secondary school head teacher, a learning log as head education and then director, and most recently a twitter account.

I think I’ve only come to realise how important such engagement is to me in my leadership role in the last few months.

Last year I decided to take time out from social media. So from the 10th May 2010 – 10th May 2011 I didn’t write or post to my own or any other network.

My reasons for stopping included the fact that a number of my colleagues in schools didn’t appreciate the manner in which I explored ideas in public without having first shared the ideas with them. Out of respect for them and to see how it might affect my work I decided to take the year out.

So what did I find out?

Perhaps the most surprising consequence was that I found my day to day work to be much harder and all consuming – I hesitate to use the word stressful. Looking back I think it was because my mind was completely drawn into operational matters.

The other element which was missing was the opportunity to reflect upon my work – to be able to try to make sense of my world and to be able to share and check that meaning out with others.

Another simple difference was the opportunity to learn from others. This has recently become even more apparent as twitter has opened up a completely new world of links and perspectives on the world of education.

On reflection my year out was a year without learning. I did my job, I solved problems, I led the service, but I didn’t learn – and without learning we are not professionals.

So at a recent meeting with colleagues I made it clear that I was going to recommence my learning log and redefined my reasons for doing so, which are to:

- scan the educational and children’s services horizon;
- research and examine international policy and practice;
- generate, explore and develop ideas for school and service improvement;
- collect and manage knowledge relevant to service development;
- consider how we can better integrate education and services to support children and young people from pre-birth to 18;
– engage in a transparent and accessible manner with colleagues and service users;
- promote and model the leadership behaviours and values  of our service; and
- take time to critically reflect upon issues of topical interest.

The underlying question which remains for me is if such a discipline can make such a difference to me, in my role as an educational leader, then how might it benefit colleagues in similar roles – and I would include teachers in this?

Of course, the normal response to such a query comes in one (or more)of three forms:

A) I don’t have time
B) I’m not into technology
c) I don’t see the point

The bottom line here is that the decision must always lie with the individual but ironically one of the safety valves that could make a difference to an over-worked and stressed profession is to begin to develop a routine which includes a moment of public reflection.

I’ll leave the last words to a paraphrase from John Dewey, which I use as my strap line for this learning log:

“we learn from our experience…..if we reflect upon our experience.”

Release them if you dare

See – Curriculum for Excellence – senior phase options

Option 37. No parent/teacher meetings in senior phase – replace with student/teacher review meetings – parents can shadow.

This might appear to one of the more extreme options to be considered but it’s worth holding back on an immediate reaction until further explained.

By the time students get into the senior phase (the last three years of upper secondary school education) they will have spent 13 years in the formal education system – with at least one, if not two, parent teacher consultations/interviews each year.

Parents are keen throughout that period to know how their child is progressing, know how they can help their child, and generally show an interest in their child’s education. In the early years of education this can be very helpful and builds a strong partnership between the student , the school and the parent.

Yet we still think that by attending parents evenings with our 16 or 17 year old child and think that we can influence them when we get home to up their rate of study or change their attitude to school. Some hope! (I know – because I was that parent!)

So perhaps it is time to consider alternatives?

I wrote a poem when my brother’s son was born which seems quite appropriate for this topic:

A CHILD’S HAND

Take your child by the hand

and hold the future there

Keep him upright if you can

Release him if you dare

It’s this last line which most of us as parents have difficulty with, i.e. letting go. 

Yet within a year or two they are off to university, or college, or employment and we no longer have the influence we thought we had when they were at school.

So why is it that we don’t try to prepare young people for that transition from the claustrophobic atmosphere of  parental control (even if it is a fallacy)  - where we are metaphorically sitting on our child’s shoulder?

The concept of helicopter parents  has been well documented in the world of higher education – or “overparenting” – yet we, as parents, have been conditioned over the previous 15 years to think that we have to step in to protect and shape our child’s future.

Perhaps we need to consider breaking this umbilical cord whilst our children are still at school and get them to take more responsibility for their own progress? It’s at this point that the change from parent/teacher consultations to student/teacher consultations begins to take on more of logical perspective.

The idea would be based on a dialogue between the teacher and the student, at a time when the parent is available, but where the parent shadows their child and doesn’t interview the teacher.

In this way the responsibility for the learning process shifts from the parent to the child and the learning partnership between the teacher and the student is reinforced.

Of course, I know that many teachers and students would find this observed discussion to be extremely difficult. The tongue-tied student and the teacher who is uncomfortable speaking to the student as an equal is very easy to imagine. But if well managed through a conversation template. e.g Student: “this how I feel I’m doing in this  subject”; “This is how you could help me learn better” and Teacher: “You seem to be having problems with ……..” and “You are showing real promise in ………” and “If you were to try to ……………….”

The role of the parent is essentially observational but could have a concluding element where the student speaks to their parent in front of the teacher about their progress or otherwise.

I know this seems like a radical idea but when you see how ill-prepared young people really are for going off into the world of higher education or employment then anything which prepares them to be more independent and responsible learners has to be a good thing.