Turning teachers into spies and snitches

UK schools minister Jim Knight wants teachers to monitor their pupils' every antic and the behaviour of their parents. We should give his proposals a big red cross.

Neil Davenport

Topics Politics

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By 2010, all secondary schools in England will enable parents to obtain daily class reports on their child’s every move at school. Each pupil’s attendance, behaviour and academic performance will be put online by 2012, allowing parents to check their progress daily. Apparently, the idea could end parents’ evenings, with teachers instead providing daily updates on ‘real-time’ reporting systems. The schools minister, Jim Knight, insists that the daily reports ‘should not add to staff workloads’ (1). One thing is for sure – pupils, teachers and especially parents are all set to lose out by such creeping surveillance.

Although a necessary and useful feature of the school diary, annual school reports on all the pupils you teach are inevitably time-consuming. So how daily school reports on a child’s ‘achievement, progress, attendance, behaviour and special needs’ would not add to a teacher’s workload is never properly explained. More worryingly, daily reports could also be used as a further disciplinary threat against teachers in the same way that a failure to keep existing school records already is. The existence of such a scheme will also contribute to classroom disruption, as pupils will be more preoccupied by the content of a daily report than the content of a textbook.

A daily report will also erode further any space that a pupil needs away from the prying eyes of mum and dad. It is only in exceptional circumstances that parents need to be informed by the school about poor behaviour or lack-of-progress issues. A recording of every slightly cheeky comment, minor disruption or wind-up with other pupils will be counterproductive because it will inevitably undermine the development of a good working relationship with teachers. It will also undermine a teacher’s authority even further in the classroom, as they will be perceived as babysitters merely keeping an eye on kids for their parents, rather than getting on with the job of teaching knowledge and understanding. And far from creating a climate that develops mature behaviour in children, it is likely to have the opposite effect.

It is a fact of life that adolescents can be obnoxious and mean to teachers and each other. Teenagers only grow out of playground spite when they begin to have an awareness of how their actions impinge on others. That awareness can only develop via the push-and-pull of the classroom and the schoolyard. It cannot be magically switched on via a stern email home. Indeed, school pupils develop a ‘conscience’ when they’re aware they have transgressed the ‘acceptable’ boundaries that have developed between teachers and among their peers. If every minor action automatically results in a parental ticking off, pupils will never develop the skill to judge how they behave in situations outside the home. The result is to infantalise teenagers even further and, even more alarmingly, the measures will put parents on almost the same level, too.

Tucked away in the blather about ‘improving parents’ access to detailed information about their children’, Jim Knight let slip that ‘schools could also monitor how often parents checked their child’s progress’. The idea of schools monitoring parents monitoring teachers’ reports monitoring their children’s behaviour seems like something dreamt up by the Stasi in Stalinist East Germany. The obvious and creepily threatening implication here is that parents must be snooped on by schools in order to check that they’re acting as ‘responsible’ parents. As it happens, the vast majority of parents have an in-built radar regarding whether their children are progressing well or not at school and care deeply about their welfare. When they are concerned, they will simply phone up or visit the school to enquire accordingly. How dare the government imply otherwise and that it is somehow up to local education authorities to coerce parents into showing ‘concern’ about their child’s education?

Already a number of measures are in place that reveal deep contempt for parents. Increasingly, parents have to sign homework sheets to show that they’ve checked their children’s work. And in September 2007, Ed Balls gave headteachers the power to obtain parenting orders forcing them to keep their expelled children indoors and off the streets. A failure to do so could lead to prosecution, a £1,000 fine and a criminal record (2). Although the online reports are only in their initial stages, it is inevitable that they will come equipped with some draconian log-in code in the future. Is it too fanciful to suggest that a child could be suspended or expelled if parents ‘fail’ to check out the daily ‘progress’ reports? Or that fixed penalty notices could be served up by local judges if parents don’t comply with the measures?

As an indicator of where the wind is blowing on social control, it was very significant this week that while the police’s pay rise was shunned, secondary school teachers received theirs – with a bit more than expected on top. Clearly, if teachers are expected to be both social workers to children and state snoopers on parents, the government has to make sure it’s in their best interests to do so.

Leaving aside the huge waste of teachers’ time and efforts involved in this ridiculous and pernicious measure, it will also socialise future generations to see routine surveillance as normal, while tightly binding parents to the state in ways that might prove impossible to log-off from.

Neil Davenport is a writer and politics lecturer based in London. He blogs at The Midnight Bell.

Previously on spiked

Neil Davenport noted how the Brownites were using schools to police parents rather than educate kids and explained why the school classroom shouldn’t be a social engineering laboratory. Emily Hill surveyed the wreckage of Tony Blair’s ‘education revolution’. David Perks said the teachers, pupils and parents don’t need no thought control. Mick Hume said no thanks to ‘parent power’ in education. Or read more at spiked issue Education.

(1) Parents to get daily class reports online, The Times, 9th January 2008

(2) Detention, Detention, Detention by Neil Davenport, 10th September, 2007

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Topics Politics


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