Parents on the naughty step
by Mona Bani
After a survey claimed that classroom behaviour is at the worst it’s been in 5 years, the Association for Teachers and Lecturers’ (ATL) conference has seen a motion to cut the child benefit of parents with children who misbehave at school. ATL says that bad behaviour in schools is down to bad parenting and that parents and children aren’t facing any consequences. Stuart Hart, of the ATL's Cheshire branch, which put forward the motion, said that they want parents to feel they are being ‘hurt’.
Aside from being counter-productive for already disadvantaged families and likely to cause greater hostility and difficulty for those children affected, it’s also inconsistent with other arguments they put forward. Last week they argued that one of the biggest problems was ‘middle class’ parents ‘buying off’ their children with TVs and computers, claiming that the quick fix mentality of wealthy parents is leading children to undermine classroom discipline, as they are used to getting what they want, when they want it.
But what’s most unclear is how cutting benefits will target the problem - it seems unlikely that punishing parents will directly affect children’s behaviour and even less likely that the well-off families in society are the ones relying on their child benefit. If targeting the well-off (which makes for a change in the debate on anti-social behavior) has been a clever tactic to gain new momentum, then the attack on child benefit has undermined it. If it really is the well-off who are spoiling this generation of pupils, then the attack on benefits is irrelevant - unless they think docking all parents’ child benefit will make them spoil their children less. Either way, disadvantaged families would have even less; creating more deprived home lives for pupils, more stressed parents and more hostility between children and parents who blame them for the cut. Meanwhile the middle classes would still be able to spoil their children.
Unless ATL can prove that cutting child benefit directly improves children’s behaviour, then the motion is not only punitive - but also pointless. Greater communication between parents and schools would all be more productive than simply ‘cutting treats for naughty parents’ as well as offering support for parents who are struggling to run their family lives, parenting classes, for those on benefits and for those with too much wealth to supposedly discipline their children properly.