My manifesto for parent governor

The position of parent governor seems to be quite sought after at my child’s school. We were recently invited to vote to elect two new governors – I think we had a choice of about eight people who had put themselves forward. Each had written a paragraph about themselves. Personally I didn’t think any of them gave much away about what their opinions were – where they stood, what they would like to see improved at the school, what ideas they had. But I’m probably being naïve. How much opportunity do parent governors really have to change anything? Still, it would have been nice to know a little more about the views of the people we were being asked to vote for.

A letter has just come home telling us there are a further two positions to fill, and inviting parents to put themselves forward, with a “personal statement”, anticipating that another election will be necessary.

So, just for fun, here’s my manifesto. Here’s what I would stand up for if I was parent governor.

speaker2An end to all shame-based punishments in school.

Punitive ‘behaviour modification techniques’ such as placing children’s names on a ‘sad chart’, or announcing children’s names in assembly are practices that shame children and hark back to methods used in Victorian classrooms. Practices like this make children feel ashamed and bad about themselves, causing emotional harm, and ultimately making behaviour worse. They fail to address any underlying issues, and can be particularly destructive for children with individual needs or problems. Plenty of teachers have managed, and continue to manage classroom behaviour perfectly well without resorting to these methods. There’s no excuse for it and no need for it. Our children deserve better!

And while we’re on the subject of punishment, collective punishment is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and generally considered a violation of human rights and justice, but it’s OK for school children? Really?

More outdoor learning.

Studies have shown that outdoor learning can be extremely beneficial to children, with evidence of improvement in both learning and behaviour. A recent report by the National Trust raises serious concerns about the amount of time today’s children are now spending indoors, and advocates children being taken outdoors for lessons as much as possible. Regular daily outdoor learning appears to be something only our nursery and reception children benefit from, so ceases when children are still only age 5! Looking for more opportunities to take learning outside, such as making links and working with local forest school practitioners and trainers would be a good way forward.

An improved, revamped playground.

Children’s play is important to them, but is limited and stifled by a bland environment. Less concrete and more natural features are needed. Oh, and that rule about not going on the grass – get over it!!

An end to age segregation in the playground

Our children already spend enough time segregated into age groups. Playing in mixed age groups is natural and has many developmental benefits for children. Play becomes more creative and less competitive. Is it really necessary to separate KS1 and KS2 in the playground? Surely, with a little effort and thought we can find ways to facilitate and encourage mixed age groups at playtime.

The encouragement and promotion of part-time attendance for reception children.

Our children are the amongst the youngest school starters in Europe. Many may not be ready emotionally or socially for full-time school life. In the UK, parents have the right to request part-time attendance until their child reaches legal school age – the term after they turn five. Yet few parents are aware of this, and even if they are, they are hesitant to do something ‘different’ for fear of going against the norm or making their child stand out. A school that is more open and forthcoming about this option would have the potential to make it the norm, and so to better support children as they make the transition into school life. Too much too soon is counter-productive for children, both emotionally and academically.

An end to homework

There is no evidence to show that homework in primary schools improves academic performance. There’s a lot of assumption, but there’s no evidence. No research has shown a correlation between homework and improved grades.

Family time is important, and families should decide how to spend it. Kids spend enough time engaged in formal learning in school. Give them a break. There is plenty to be learned and gained from other activities, from free play, from being outdoors, from pursuing individual interests, from spending quality time connecting as a family. Children’s lives today are already over-scheduled. This isn’t helping.

Sign the petition against homework in primary schools.

ballot box

So, if I can get all this down to 200 words I could submit it and nominate myself to stand for parent governor. Would you vote for me? What would you add to this list?

8 Responses to My manifesto for parent governor

  1. marytuda says:

    Controlling by shaming is absolutely horrid, I totally agree. Linking homework to academic performance though misses most of the point I think, especially in early years in schools with “challenging” families, or those ill at ease with school norms.. . As our wonderful reception teacher explained, the homework is really about communicating with the family, showing them what’s been going on in class, and giving them an opportunity to share and respond to it at home. It also gives parents who may not otherwise find time for it an excuse to sit down with their child and do something together – and the nightly reading book is a way of building reading into every child’s daily routine. To parents like you, Jo, I can see it must seem depressing that any parent could need an excuse to do this, but in practice . . . personally I don’t always get round to it, sometimes quite deliberately, but no one in our Y1 class has ever been ticked off for not doing their homework.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks for your comments. It sounds like you’ve had a positive experience of homework, and I believe the extent of good (or harm) done by homework can be dependent on the way in which individual schools approach and implement it. But assuming homework’s about the school communicating with the family and making links, creating good habits etc – what is the school’s motive in trying to do this? Ultimately to improve academic performance, surely, which brings us back to the total lack of evidence in this department.
      Also, if I want to make time to sit down and do something with my child, I want us to be able to choose what to do. What if he doesn’t want to do the writing or spelling that’s been sent from school? Do I argue with him, force him to do it? What happens when a parent has two or three chidren, all with different homework they need help with? When and how does that allow for family time or free play?
      Anyway, much has been written on the subject, particularly by Alfie Kohn, if you’re interested in reading more.

      • maria says:

        I absolutely agree with most of the points, but I don’t quite agree with “an end to homework”, I think this part of learning is very important for a child development, but I am upset with teachers from a school where attending my kids that they do no effort to explain to children what is expected from them in this or that homework. It is every time that I must explain to them how to do things, cos they have no idea what is going on!!:/. I must add that I change school for my kids because we moved into another place, and in previous school they never got this problem!!! Teachers were more concentrated on child’s individual development, as we all know that not everybody will understand things straight away, there are different ways to explain things and teachers responsibility is to make sure all pupils will understand properly!
        I like to sit with them and do some additional work at home if I see they struggling with something, but I choosing what to do, and I know what is the best way to explain for each of them, but to see them known completely nothing is just ridiculous, cos I do not get the reason why they at school if I have to work with them at home and explain from top to bottom!

      • Jo says:

        Thanks for your comments Maria. Interesting that you’re not the first to disagree about homework.
        My feeling is simply that my child spends enough time engaged in formal learning, and having to do more of this when he gets home from school is too much. He needs time for free play and connection and just being a kid. As I’ve said before, there is no evidence that homework increases academic performance. In fact studies have shown that it makes no difference.
        What you describe sounds suspiciously like schools sending work home for you to do, having failed to sufficiently cover it during school hours.

  2. K says:

    Any chance you can provide some evidence for this : ‘ until their child reaches legal school age – the term after they turn five.’ Surely there is no legal school age?

    • Jo says:

      Details of the school starting age in the UK can be found here.
      There is of course the option to home educate, but this wasn’t relevant in the context of the point in this post, which was about schools being more encouraging and accommodating of the part-time option.

  3. Zoe Williams says:

    You should become a governor of our proposed new Free School, Jo! I don’t suppose you live anywhere near Canterbury do you?

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