Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Power to the Parents

Published By: The 'i' of The Independent - 03 Dec 2015

I believe there is a one simple, powerful way we can improve education.

In fact I have come to believe going down this path is the only way that we will make any real headway in raising results and producing happier, healthier and better-educated children.

We need to acknowledge, fully and emphatically, that what happens at home matters just as much, and probably more, than what happens at school. And that therefore parents matter every bit as much to children’s learning as teachers and schools. Then we need to act on this by linking the right that parents have to put their children into school, with a duty to learn more about how to support their children as they go through the school years.

I believe that at every new stage of school, parents should be expected to take a short, simple course tailored to the new experience their child is about to embark on. When a child starts in nursery, parents should be given an introduction to nursery learning and to what their children need from them in order to make the most of it. There should be another short introduction at the start of primary school, and secondary school, and at the post-16 level.

These courses wouldn’t tell parents how to parent to their children. That’s a personal matter. Instead they would offer information and practical suggestions about how to make use of this information. They would explain what developmental changes children go through at each stage, and what sort of things they would be learning. They would offer evidence-based information about how diet, exercise and sleep impact on the ability to learn, and look at the many ways in which emotions and assumptions shape a child’s ability to learn, and at how helpful attitudes, beliefs and boundaries can be encouraged at home.

However they would be open and honest about this, acknowledging we are a long way off having clear answers to every parenting question, and that one model will never suit all children. And they would make clear that their aim would not be to produce docile classroom fodder designed to make teachers’ lives easier, but to help every child live as richly and happily as possible, fulfilling all their potential.

In fact I would immodestly suggest that one possible basis for such courses already exists in my two short parenting e-books Backbone and The Six Secrets of School Success (on Amazon), both of which offer distilled, practical information about how parents can support their children in school and encourage good learning and living -- although there are plenty of other good ways these courses could be built up. The only important thing would be that the dead hand of the education establishment would not be allowed to take hold of them and assemble them by committee, placating every interest group and squeezing all life and joy from them.

Since they would be basic, the courses could be delivered by all kinds of people associated with childcare or education, including current or experienced parents, grandparents and retired professionals. And if, in these days of austerity, no money could be found to pay them, I believe these courses are so important they could still go ahead using unpaid volunteers.

Also, while it would be a national enterprise, it shouldn’t be rigid. Every school and nursery should be free to tailor the basic programme to the needs of their own community, and to decide who delivers it. Then, in the wake of each course, I believe it would be vital to set up a contact point for follow-up support and help with any on-going issues parents might have.

I know that plenty of this kind of home-school liaison goes on already but the picture is piecemeal and erratic, and I’m talking about a universal national programme, backed by the strong expectation that every parent would make an effort to take part in it – if they can’t get to a live session, the material would be available online

And I’m not being naďve here. I know that hard-to-reach parents will still be hard to reach, and that much family dysfunction and chaos will remain completely untouched by such a programme, and that nothing will stop mad, helicoptering parents from continuing to suffocate their children with too much pressure and attention.

But even so I believe a national programme like this could be absolutely game-changing to our education culture, bringing huge benefits to parents, schools and most of all children. And here’s ten good reasons why.

1. It would acknowledge, underline and reinforce the fact that schools are not separate from the rest of society, that children need to arrive in the classroom fit and ready to learn, and that parents are the ones who make them like that.

2. Emphasising this it would change the whole climate around education, nudging it more towards being a common enterprise for the good of our children, undertaken by home and school together, rather than the blame game it so often is today. Parents would, of course, continue to expect miracles from teachers -- but teachers would be able to expect the same from parents!

3. It would create better-educated parents, who understand there’s more to supporting learning than listening to reading and hovering over homework, good though those things can be. So often parents simply don’t know the things that people involved in psychology, teaching and child health take entirely for granted. And why should they? Parents get lots of training and mentoring in their day jobs, but there’s no parallel support in the world of parenting, where every new day is a step into the unknown.

4. This, in turn, would mean more shared language, goals and expectations between parents and teachers, which would make conversations and conferences about school-related issues more fruitful and productive.

5. It would remove any stigma from the idea of parenting classes, making clear that all parents, rich and poor, skilful or struggling, need knowledge to do the job well, and that all parents have the capacity to get more skilled and expert at doing this vital job.

6. In fact, it might be even better than that, normalising the idea that being a parent is always a learning process, and that aiming to be a good parent inevitably means finding out more about how to do it, and adjusting your beliefs and behaviours as you go along.

7. It would offer a framework for bringing parents together to discuss the kind of issues that so many parents struggle with alone, and help lift the sense of impotence, frustration and guilt that so often come with modern parenting.

8. This, in turn, would strengthen nursery and school communities, lessen some of the isolation and loneliness that bedevils many parents, and generally make for happier homes and children – human beings are social animals, and everyone benefits from feeling part of something bigger.

9. And this, in turn, might lead on to even stronger ties and networks. Parents might decide to get together in parent support groups. They might invite specialist speakers in. They might begin to share their own expertise in coaching, or nutrition, or financial management. Or agree together to set the kind of boundaries at home that are often impossible to impose unilaterally (“It’s not fair. Everyone else does/has/gets…”)

10. It would make for more confident, empowered and happier parents. Which in turn would make for happier, more secure children, which in turn would make for more open, cheerful and receptive pupils in the classroom. And, yes, hey presto, school results would start to climb.

Hilary Wilce is an education writer and personal development coach. More details at and