CHARLOTTE FRANKLIN lives in North London and has four boys who have experienced a variety of schools.
EVERYONE KNOWS THE DISCREPANCY between private and public services in England in Health and in Education. In many cases the essentials—medical or teaching skill are no better in one or the other.
But some of us like to pay, quite a lot even, for being treated as an individual with feelings and possibly even ideas of our own.
With more and more compulsory education greater efforts must be made to make it as palatable as possible or else the fundamental aim of producing able and civilised individuals is defeated. A change in attitude towards the parents and children by the local Education Authorities is essential.
The Welfare Clinics seem to be able to combine courtesy and efficiency and achieve the co-operation of the mothers in the current phases of medical hygiene. Their positive approach must be carried on in the educational field at the primary school stage.
In my own area, London, which has had a pioneering, enlightened Education Committee for years, the parent of the five-year-old is confronted with the most unenthusiastic, unwelcoming and clumsy note straight away:
From L.C.C. School …
“Dear Sir/ Madam,
I am to inform you that if your child X is not attending school and there has been no infection or contagious illness in the home during the last three weeks he/she can be admitted to the above named school.”
Of course this is purely formal and unimportant. Nevertheless it reflects the whole attitude which is most important. From a Private school the parents might get a slightly different letter:
“We are pleased to tell you that we have a vacancy for your child starting next term …”
and only then a sentence to the effect—please inform the school if there has been an infection or a contagious disease in the house.
The emphasis, the spirit is so different.
Most Educational Authorities seem only to understand if you write to them in their own limited language. On the following point I myself have had experience in London only, but a friend in Norwich and one in Cambridge have found the same in their areas.
We all thought (quite independently) that for our five-year-old children the morning at school would be sufficient and that in fact spending the whole day at school was very tiring and possibly doing more harm than good.
Our ideas as parents were of no interest to the heads of the schools.
Only a doctor’s letter, that the child had started bed wetting again or something similar was understood and accepted as reasonable.
In the Middlesex area some schools make it very difficult for the parent to meet the teacher of the child without complicated appointments. The school has no telephone number available to the parents. Every call has to go through the Town Hall.
We have found in the private school an entirely different approach. Any problem, please let us know at once—we are here to help, to work together with you.
I should point out that Parent Teacher Associations are not the answer. They can have interesting meetings and help in educating parents in the work of the schools. But my experience of this is that parents join together in a kind of minor plot to redress grievances. This Trade Union atmosphere is also wrong and no substitute for a direct and trusting contact between parents and the schools.
The state primary schools are still permeated with a critical approach towards the parents. In fact collection of dinner money, taking numbers in a class, medical inspections have an importance in the minds of the poor child quite out of proportion with actual importance.
The whole bureaucratic, slightly bullying, we-know-how-to-do-it, keep-out-of-it tone has, of course historic reasons, but it must be changed now and quickly. Unnecessarily, the gap between private and public education widens. And if private education should be abolished, all the more reason that the civilised approach towards the children and their parents must win through and not the authoritarian.