Parents should be fined if they miss parents’ evenings, fail to read with their children or allow homework to go undone, the chief inspector of schools said.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said that teachers must confront “bad parents” who do not support their children’s education as he accused white working-class families of no longer valuing education as a way to improve their family’s prospects.
Children with immigrant parents outperform poor white British children in the classroom as many hold a deep cultural belief in the importance of doing well at school, he added.
Sir Michael’s comments, in an interview with The Times, will provoke anger from poverty campaigners who say that poor families are least able to pay fines and that their children would suffer.
However, he said that too often deprivation was used as an excuse for low achievement.
Drawing on his own experience as a head teacher at inner London schools, he said: “I was absolutely clear with parents; if they weren’t doing a good job, I would tell them so. It’s up to head teachers to say quite clearly, ‘You’re a poor parent’.
“If parents didn’t come into school, didn’t come to parents’ evening, didn’t read with their children, didn’t ensure they did their homework, I would tell them they were bad parents. I think head teachers should have the power to fine them. It’s sending the message that you are responsible for your children no matter how poor you are.”
The Ofsted chief criticised some TV programmes for “celebrating” bad parenting, singling out Shameless, a Channel 4 comic drama featuring a family on a Manchester housing estate. “It’s almost glorifying fecklessness,” he said.
Poor white working-class children are the lowest performing group in England’s schools. In contrast, many pupils from immigrant families were doing “astonishingly well” in some parts of the country, boosting Britain’s position in international league tables, he said.
Michael Gove, the education secretary, is drawing up his own plans for tougher sanctions on parents, seeking chiefly to improve behaviour in schools by targeting families who refuse to discipline their children or support their schooling. These include controversial powers to dock child benefit payments from parents whose children are absent from school without good reason.
Head teachers or local authorities already have the power to issue penalty notices of £60 to parents who fail to ensure that their child attends school regularly up to the age of 16.
They can issue similar fines if a child is excluded from school and parents fail to stop their child from going out for five days during school hours, as they are required to do.
Mr Gove appears to want to extend these powers to make parents guarantee their child’s good behaviour at school or face a fine.
He also wants fines to be deducted from the child benefit of parents who refuse to pay. Presently parents must pay a fixed-penalty notice within 28 days or it doubles to £120. If they have not paid after 42 days they can be prosecuted but the process is time-consuming and many cases are dropped.
Last year 52,370 fixed-penalty notices were issued to parents, of which just over half were paid within 28 days. Some 7,806 cases led to prosecution.
Governing bodies are required to produce a home-school agreement, which each pupil and a parent must sign as a condition of accepting a place, agreeing to attend on time, behave well, do homework as required and respect the ethos of the school.
There are no legal sanctions, however, if a child or parent breaks their side of the contract. Guidance issued by the Department for Education last summer says: “Breaches of the terms of the agreement will not be actionable through the courts. Furthermore, a child must not be excluded from school, or face punishment, as a result of a parent’s failure to sign the agreement or abide by their declaration. Furthermore parents should not face any sanction for either not signing the home-school agreement or failing to abide by its requirements.”
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