Ofsted chief says schools are being asked to do things that should be done at home by parents

Watching kids in a classroom is great fun. Most are keen and eager to learn. That’s why teaching can be a really rewarding job, but there’s no doubt it is also a tough one.

Today I will be launching my annual report, which will show that, overall, schools in England are doing a good job.

The vast majority of children are attending good or outstanding schools, which is as it should be. Young people get just one shot at childhood — leaving no room for complacency.

Yet in recent years it feels like more and more is being asked of schools and teachers, which could put this improvement at risk.

They are being asked to do things that should be done at home by parents, as they used to be.

This is making the job of schools harder. It takes up too much precious time and stops teachers from doing their actual job — teaching.

One of the most shocking examples I hear about is the growing number of children beginning their reception year still in nappies.

I’ve asked about this in primary schools this year, and each time I’ve asked I’ve been told it is a real problem.

This is difficult for teachers, embarrassing for the children concerned and disruptive to their classmates.

Quite simply, it is wrong. Toilet training is the parents’ job. It should not be left to schools. Only in the most extreme cases should parents be excused from this most basic of parenting tasks.

And this isn’t the only area that concerns me.

We all know about the growing problem of childhood obesity. By the start of primary school, almost a quarter of children in England are overweight or obese. This is at the age four or five.

This rises to more than a third by the time they go to secondary school.

It is estimated that nearly 7,000 young people in the UK are now suffering from type 2 diabetes, an unpleasant disease normally only seen in people over the age of 40.

Schools have an important role to play, teaching children about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. Kids need to get out of breath during PE.

But schools can’t do it all. It is lazy for us to rely on schools to change kids’ habits.

And the reality is, that as Ofsted research shows, schools on their own can’t make the difference. The answer to the obesity crisis, particularly among younger children, lies in the home, and parents need to make sure their offspring eat healthily, go outside, and don’t spend all day playing on electronic devices.

There is no point in teaching about healthy choices, making sure school meals are healthy or having rules about what goes into a packed lunch, if for breakfast, dinner and all weekend children have a supply of junk food.

One of the saddest things I’ve heard about recently is cases where children have leftover fast food, cold chips or chicken nuggets, in their packed lunches the following day. With the best will in the world, schools cannot fight this single-handedly.

Sadly, in some parts of our country, schools are also at the forefront of tackling a very different kind of risk: knife crime and gang culture.

Thankfully most schools are safe, and of course they can help educate young people about the dangers of knives and how to avoid being drawn into gangs.

But they cannot be expected to solve the problem alone. Preventing knife crime requires people working together — police, youth services, health services — to protect children and to do everything to bring those who cause harm to children to justice.

However we must not forget the role of parents here either. This is about taking responsibility for your child. I accept that many families are busy and that some children have difficult and complex problems to deal with.

But that doesn’t excuse parents from the basics of teaching their children right from wrong, giving them proper boundaries and security. And that means not trying to be their “best friend”.

One answer may be to introduce more parenting classes. We know these can work and help parents who might otherwise be struggling.

These shouldn’t be for schools to run, but perhaps to run in schools. Maybe now is the time to look again at the ambitions of the Life Chances strategy or the ideas behind the Sure Start programme.

But parents must recognise they cannot off load their responsibilities at the school gate.

Every minute we ask teachers to spend on these issues is time children aren’t learning the 3Rs, studying our nation’s history or the scientific forces that shape our world.

I want schools to be able to do their proper job, and to let them do that, parents have got to step up.

  • Amanda Spielman is Ofsted’s Chief Inspector
    Ex-Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says absent dads are to blame for a rise in knife crime

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