That's what I think of, every time I hear a news story about Sir Michael Wilshaw.
His latest words of wisdom were spoken to the Times, and include:
If parents didn't come into school, didn't come to parents' evening, 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.
I'm almost at a loss as to where to start with this one.
What if you can't make it to parents' evening because you're working every available shift at work, in order to keep the wolf from the door?
What if you can't make sure your child does their homework because you're at work, then cooking dinner, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, collapsing in a heap on the floor? You know you should make your child do their homework, but you only see them for a couple of hours a day and don't want that to turn into a battle of wills where you try and force them to do something you can't help them with because you're not so good with academic things?
The headline on the front of today's Times reads:
Fine parents who don't read to children, says schools chief.
I understand where Wilshaw is coming from on this one; I know that teachers really have their work cut out for them if parents aren't doing their best to encourage learning and discipline in the home... but just as putting a child in detention doesn't make them want to learn, fining a parent will not suddenly make them inclined or able to read with their child. It makes them both resent the system.
Wilshaw accuses white working-class families of "no longer valuing education as a way to improve their family's prospects."
Wait a moment... if this country has come to the point where white working-class families do not think education can improve their prospects, whose fault is that? Who should be punished? The people who are disillusioned with the system, or the people who created that system and allowed that disillusionment to take root and grow?
If you've grown up in a situation where you have little choice but to believe you are stuck here, detested by the government that rules over you, assuming you are a feckless loser who defrauds the system for all you can get from it, why would you think going to school would make a difference to you? Why would parents send their children to school every day, when their own schooling amounted to the situation they are in at present?
In the same way that many older people are advising their children to put their money anywhere other than in a pension, because "look what happened to my pension fund," many parents do not see a great deal of value in education these days.
Apparently "too often deprivation [is] used as an excuse for low achievement."
Or perhaps it's a valid reason for low achievement.
Perhaps white working class children are not achieving a great deal because they're constantly hungry, their parents unable to provide balanced, healthy meals every day? Perhaps white working class children look around at the situations they live in, and think perhaps this is just their lot in life. We're working class; we're relying on benefits to make ends meet; middle class Britain resents and despises us for it.
Yes, of course there are some parents who need a bit of a shove in the right direction, but I really don't think fines are the way to go. Very few people in this world intentionally hurt their children, intentionally do things that may damage their future prospects. Some parents don't know any better. Some can't read with their children, because they can't read themselves. Surely we would be better off identifying parents who are not helping their children, and providing them with the skills and support to help with this.
In my opinion, we don't need tougher sanctions, fines, punishments; we need more teachers like Mr Drew from Channel 4 TV shows Educating Essex and Mr Drew's School for Boys. This man, and many like him, work hard at what is more vocation than career to them. I believe people like this, given the right tools and powers, can make infinitely more positive difference to our schools, and to society as a whole, than any arbitrary fine or sanction.
Imagine a situation where a child is not performing well; his parents have not been to the last few parents' evenings, the child is disruptive in class.
You could fine the parents for their child's behaviour and hope they will suddenly start doing whatever was lacking in the child's life in order to create an improvement.
Or you could call up and speak to the parents. Find out why they didn't attend parents' evening; can they perhaps come in for a meeting at a different time? Has something happened at home to cause their child's disruptive behaviour? What can the school do in order to work with the parents, and help the child to achieve his true potential?
Once this has been exhausted, once you've spoken to the child's parents and they've shown a distinct lack of interest in their child's wellbeing... call Social Services! Isn't that why they exist? Yes, you could fine them - but if the parent is really that bad at their job, who do we think that fine will hurt? The parent, or the child?