As the new academic year begins, parents are once again in the press, for all the wrong reasons. This week alone I’ve seen a story about parents sending their children to school still in nappies; a story about parents making unhealthy packed lunches; and various stories about parents sending their children to school wearing the wrong uniform or in the wrong shoes. No doubt I will see stories next week about how parents let their children spend too long on screens, how they are not reading with their children at bedtime, or how they are letting them loose on social media at the age of three. There is a palpable sense of ‘them and us’ in all this – parents are painted as the ‘enemy’, rather than as normal people just like we are.
The more that the Government expects educators to cure the ills of society, the more they reinforce this ‘them and us’ effect. If settings are expected to sort out the obesity crisis, teach children how to clean their teeth, and close the gap for children from disadvantaged homes, then the temptation is to blame someone else for causing those problems in the first place. But the moment we place the blame on parents, we paint them as the enemy, rather than as partners. The moment that we see parents as a problem to be solved, rather than as members of our community, we alienate those we most need to work alongside us.
One of the greatest strengths of the early years sector is the way we develop partnerships with parents. With a focus on the needs of each child, we adapt and change what we do, with the family at the centre. Take uniform – a common battleground in schools. Some of the parents at our setting wanted a uniform, and others weren’t fussed. So we offer a cheap, practical, comfy and hardwearing uniform, but it is up to the children and parents whether they want to wear it or not. While I’m not the world’s best parent, I don’t do too badly. Like most parents, I balance a busy working life with the tricky job of bringing up my kids. I’m not perfect, but I’m not the enemy either. And if you work with me, and alongside me, I might just turn out to be the best friend you ever had.