Anarchy 43/Primary courtesies

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Primary cour­tes­ies


Everyone knows the dis­crep­ancy between private and public ser­vices in England in Health and in Edu­ca­tion. In many cases the es­sen­tials—medical or teach­ing skill are no better in one or the other.

  But some of us like to pay, quite a lot even, for being treated as an in­di­vidual with feel­ings and pos­sibly even ideas of our own.

  With more and more com­puls­ory edu­ca­tion greater ef­forts must be made to make it as pal­at­able as pos­sible or else the funda­mental aim of pro­du­cing able and civ­il­ised in­di­viduals is de­feated. A change in atti­tude towards the parents and chil­dren by the local Edu­ca­tion Au­thor­it­ies is es­sen­tial.

  The Welfare Clinics seem to be able to com­bine cour­tesy and ef­fi­ciency and achieve the co-oper­ation of the mothers in the current phases of medical hygiene. Their pos­it­ive ap­proach must be carried on in the edu­ca­tional field at the primary school stage.

  In my own area, London, which has had a pi­on­eer­ing, en­lightened
Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee for years, the parent of the five-year-old is con­fronted with the most un­enthu­si­astic, un­wel­coming and clumsy note straight away:
From L.C.C. School . . .      
“Dear Sir/Madam,
  I am to inform you that if your child X is not at­tend­ing school and there has been no infec­tion or con­ta­geous illness in the home during the last three weeks he/she can be ad­mit­ted to the above named school.”
  Of course this is purely formal and un­im­port­ant. Never­the­less it re­flects the whole at­ti­tude which is most im­port­ant. From a Private school the parents might get a slightly dif­fer­ent letter:

  “We are pleased to tell you that we have a vacancy for your child start­ing next term . . .”

and only then a sen­tence to the effect—please inform the school if there has been an in­fec­tion or a con­ta­geous disease in the house.

  The em­phasis, the spirit is so dif­fer­ent.

  Most Edu­ca­tional Au­thor­ities seem only to under­stand if you write to them in their own lim­ited lan­guage. On the fol­low­ing point I myself have had ex­peri­ence in London only, but a friend in Norwich and one in Cambridge have found the same in their areas.

  We all thought (quite in­de­pend­ently) that for our five-year-old chil­dren the morning at school would be suf­fi­cient and that in fact spend­ing the whole day at school was very tiring and pos­sibly doing more harm than good.

  Our ideas as par­ents were of no in­terest to the heads of the schools. Only a doc­tor’s letter, that the child had started bed wet­ting again or some­thing sim­ilar was under­stood and ac­cep­ted as reas­on­able.

  In the Middlesex area some schools make it very dif­fi­cult for the parent to meet the teacher of the child without com­pli­cated ap­point­ments. The school has no tele­phone number avail­able to the parents. Every call has to go through the Town Hall.

  We have found in the private school an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

  Any problem, please let us know at once—we are here to help, to work to­gether with you.

  I should point out that Parent Teacher As­so­cia­tions are not the answer. They can have in­ter­est­ing meet­ings and help in edu­cat­ing parents in the work of the schools. But my ex­peri­ence of this is that parents join together in a kind of minor plot to re­dress griev­ances. This Trade Union atmo­sphere is also wrong and no sub­sti­tute for a direct and trust­ing con­tact between parents and the schools.

  The state primary schools are still per­meated with a crit­ical ap­proach towards the parents. In fact col­lec­tion of dinner money, taking numbers in a class, medical in­spec­tions have an im­port­ance in the minds of the poor child quite out of pro­por­tion with actual im­port­ance.

  The whole bureau­cratic, slightly bul­lying, we-know-how-to-do-it, keep-out-of-it tone has, of course his­toric reasons, but it must be changed now and quickly. Un­neces­sarily, the gap between private and public edu­ca­tion widens. And if private edu­ca­tion should be ab­ol­ished, all the more reason that the civ­il­ised ap­proach towards the chil­dren and their parents must win through and not the au­thor­it­arian.