Saturday, 19 May 2012

Why parenting classes are not the answer

Source: Guardian
So, this week the Prime Minister announced the introduction of  parenting classes for all. These classes are a direct result of last summer's riots which were caused - according to the coalition - by bad parenting. In the aftermath of the riots David Cameron blamed the riots on "a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals".

In essence, I would say parenting classes are a good idea, but also a sadly misguided one and the reaction of a government that is totally out of touch with the real issues affecting families and young people.

First of all, parenting classes are the latest idea from a Government that has made significant cuts to the long-standing and successful Sure Start scheme. Sure Start was set up to help families in the most deprived areas to get advice and support about parenting, benefits and finding work and has a nationwide network of centres with equipment, resources and trained staff.  However, since the coalition came into power over 120 Sure Start centres have closed due to funding cuts. This doesn't make any sense to me. Instead of spending the millions on the new parenting classes, why not just pump that money into Sure Start and improve their services?

Secondly, this Government has also made cuts to child benefits which will result in many families losing out. This is exactly the same group of people they are asking to attend these parenting classes.

Then, and this is my biggest gripe, the report by Government's 'behaviour tsar' Charlie Taylor following last summer's riots recommended (amongst other things) that there should be more teachers specialising in managing disruptive pupils' behaviour in pupil referral units, and that this government will be fast-tracking newly qualified teachers to work in these units.  In my opinion newly qualified, and therefore inexperienced, teachers are not going to be the best equipped people to deal with the children who are already excluded from mainstream schools, and secondly it's not just the pupils who should be targeted but their parents.

Mr Taylor also recommended that nursery and pre-school workers should be asked to identify young children with behavioural issues and refer them for specialist training on how to deal with their anger or get along with others before starting formal school classes. This idea is so short-sighted it almost beggers belief. Yes, by all means identify these young pre-school children: but it's their parents who should be referred for support, because the child is just a symptom of this parenting malaise.

What this government seems to be completely missing out on is that the parents who really need the parenting classes are not the likes of you and I, the people who genuinely want to be better parents and raise decent children. The parents who actually need the help, who really need to learn the very basics of raising civilised, law-abiding citizens of the future will be (by and large) the parents of these children who are identified, from an early age, of having 'issues' but they're also the ones who will never attend a voluntary parenting class.

Most of us will know this type of parent. They are the parents who can't be bothered getting out of bed in the morning to get their children ready for school and send their children to school in filthy clothes and without any breakfast. The parents who don't actually care what their children get up to outside of the house and allow them to roam the streets unsupervised. The parents who think that teaching their children manners, morals and basic skills such as eating with a knife and fork or tying their own shoelaces is nothing to do with them.

They are the parents who need parenting classes Mr Cameron. Identify those parents and work with them. The rest of us are doing the best we can.

What do you think - are parenting classes a good idea or not?