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Issues - Education - Non-resident parents

Education matters

As a teacher of special needs and science, these notes are written from personal experience both within and outside the system. There is a dearth of male role models at Primary and an imbalance at Secondary level. Indeed, there is a lack of teachers nationally of either sex. This has implications for the workload of which teachers complain. So the first piece of advice is please don’t bite off our heads. The next is to recognise that schools are not centres for child welfare as the national curriculum, paperwork and league tables have forced teachers to deal much more pragmatically with the ‘attainment’ and ‘league tables’ and ‘targets’ rather than with the social and emotional welfare although now the latest buzzword is emotional literacy created by our own successive Governments. Almost any teacher will tell you of the effects of divorce and separation on children, few are willing to take sides and this is only to be expected. Whilst schools do have child protection procedures, the training in child protection is woefully inadequate. Many of the signs and symptoms are not recognised early enough and often only become prevalent at a late stage of crisis point or of manifestation of the symptoms from the previous or long-term abuse. Many teachers are in a state of crisis management due to the increasing misbehaviour and broken homes are a major factor in this.

Some general advice on dealing with schools:

Contact the classteacher or tutor if you have any concerns. Keep the school informed of any adverse goings-on that may affect the education of your child or their behaviour.

Go to parent evenings. If there is likely to be fireworks go at a different time to your ex-partner.

Show willingness and interest in your child’s development, the school activities eg. fetes, open days, school plays, parent/ teacher meetings and offer to help. Many schools find parental support difficult to muster.

Help with your child’s homework and ask the school if there is anything you can do to help your child learn outside of school.
If teachers appear not to be interested, ignore us, we’re just running around doing our job. Try to make it easy for the school to help.

Offer to join the parent/teacher association or become a school governor.

Provide the school with stamp addressed envelopes.

Make sure the school have your full contact details should an emergency arise.

Make sure they know you exist as most Local Authorities operate on a resident parent basis which is unfortunate when faced with a hostile ex or serious concerns involving biased Child protection workers.

Parental responsibility:

The June 2000 guidance to Headteachers on parental responsibility (that was only sent to Headteachers so many persons including educational welfare are unaware of this document’s existence). It is a useful document to acquire. Ref: DfEE 0092/2000, This guidance is not law, but it is the most comprehensive definition of parental responsibility so far: ‘everyone who is a parent as defined (all natural parents whether married or not, anyone with parental responsibility and anyone who has care of the child).

Many Local Authorities have their own guidelines that rely on the resident parent status to dictate access to full information. It is worth quoting but don’t expect miracles as it is not law. Try contacting the LEA and asking them for their guidelines or ask that they adopt equal recognition as the June 2000 guidance suggests. The guidance gives the right to information on your child e.g. copies of school reports, attendance records, governor’s reports; to participate in school activities, to be asked to give consent to the child taking part in extracurricular activities and to be told about any meetings on the child.

If the issues become difficult then you need to know your rights and how to enforce them:

The actual law is based on s.408 Education Act 1996 ‘provision of information’ and SI 2000/297 ‘Education (pupil information) (England) Regulations 2000.

If your requests for information are met with a blank wall, then complain to the Chair of the Governors direct. If that does not work go the LEA. Probably best to copy letters to the LEA initially as it tends to get the ball rolling quicker. The next step would be to invoke s.409 of the 1996 Act ‘complaints and enforcement’. This makes the LEAS have a complaints procedure which would deal with complaints about requests for information not being dealt with. One has to go through this complaint procedure before going to the secretary of state. A route here is to refer to section 409 and ask for a decision within 21 days with the warning that you will approach the secretary of state to complain. If there is no response or the answer is unsatisfactory, then complain to the SOS under section 496,497 asking him to exercise his powers to give directions to the LEA or Governing body in regard to the exercise of their powers and their performance of their duties. If you have a complaint about the way your complaint was handled then after the school/ Governing body/ Council dealt with your complaint then you can go to the Local Government Ombudsman but remember they ONLY deal with maladministration.

I hope that taking the matter to the secretary of state is not necessary but the recognition of parental responsibility as a concept worthy of full recognition is a right that only seems to go with shared residence in law and in practise despite what the media tells us. We can encourage Local education authorities to start acting on this guidance which is the intent of the DfEE.
Useful sites: http//:www.nrpa.telinco.co.uk and http//:www.dfes.org.uk

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