Are problem parents becoming a bigger issue?

There was once a time when the word of a teacher was final. If you were unlucky enough to find yourself in trouble for breaking a rule or two it wasn’t only the school’s punishment you had to worry about but also that of your parents.

The hardworking parents of yesterday trusted their child’s school to get the job done. Education was important and any kids jeopardising theirs found themselves in a mess of hot water once they got home.

Somewhere along the way, however, the focus has shifted from our individual responsibilities and social conscience to our entitlements and rights. Most teachers have suffered the backlash of pushy parents when it comes to disciplines handed out to their child, poor grades and poorer behaviour. Increasingly, teachers and schools are being forced to explain themselves, retract punishments, re-evaluate grades and allow students free reign. It’s not hard to raise the ire of parents who feel their child should have special treatment but what is hard is pleasing everybody all the time.

This no-win situation has become worse in recent years as problem parents have become increasingly litigious, taking their complaints to the courts. Whether solicitors and lawyers are brought into the mix as a way to threaten a school into action or these parents believe their complaints are really that serious, the result is always the same: the school, the children and even the parents end up suffering.

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In the last few years, there have been a number of cases from around the world that have made headlines along with the growth of this worrying trend.

These include:

  • Pushy parents harassing their children’s school and eventually suing them when they were asked to enroll elsewhere.

In the UK, the threat of litigious parents has caused some private schools to start interviewing and vetting parents of new students, filtering out those who don’t understand the school’s ‘core values’. School governors have even been told to insure as protection against parents.

In response to these reports, David Smellie, head of the schools group at law firm Farrer & Co, has pointed out how common the problem has become:

“Twenty years ago, a head could quite safely expel a pupil with no realistic expectation of an appeal, or a solicitor’s letter. Now, at the very least, for every 10 pupils you expel, you will probably get at least one solicitor’s letter and two or three appeals.”

Not all parents are problematic, just as not all problem parents are litigious. However, as teachers find themselves wearing more and more hats in the classroom – educator, social worker, counsellor, etc. – the more responsibilities they shoulder, leaving themselves open for harsher criticism. Teachers do need to be held accountable but so do parents.

Schools stand as a place for instilling not only education into the minds of the young but also behavioural standards. Children learn from examples set by both teachers and parents – the interactions between the two are paramount. As two parents have to present a united front so should parents and schools.

There are many ways to deal with litigious parents but, if we can all work together to prevent our relationships breaking down and reaching that point in the first place, we can save a lot of heartache and even a little bit of money.

New Feature: Duplicate Form Templates

The Form Templates in ParentPaperwork are extremely flexible, enabling you to capture all manner of information from parents. Many schools have built quite complex Templates with many fields, but one obstacle has been the inability to re-use a Template by copying it.

We have now enabled a feature to copy a Form Template.

Click Form Templates on the main menu at the left hand side, then click to Edit the Form Template you wish to copy.

Click the Action drop down at top right, and select Duplicate Template.

A complete copy of the Template will be created.

Eco-Schools: Keeping Australia Beautiful

Educating students about environmental issues, sustainability and the impact we have on our surrounds is a challenge that many schools have tried to tackle over the last few decades.

Introducing new programs and setting school-wide goals such as going paperless have helped raise awareness of these issues while educating youngsters, and getting both parents and staff involved. However, for a lot of schools, creating and implementing such programs without having a framework to help guide them can be a difficult task.

Now, one program that has been running internationally for over 20 years is being trialled in Australia and, if its early successes are anything to go by, schools all across the country will soon be getting involved. Hailed as the biggest school environmental program in the world, Eco-Schools is being run in more than 45,000 schools with over 14 million students participating worldwide.

2014 saw Eco-Schools biggest year yet, celebrating its 20th anniversary and being positively acknowledged at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainability in Nagoya, Japan. That year also saw the program being introduced for the first time in Australia, with The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) inviting Keep Australia Beautiful (KAB) to run the program in New South Wales (NSW), Tasmania and the Northern Territory (NT).

Having delivered environmental education and programs such as the Tidy Towns awards for almost 50 years, KAB was a perfect fit for Eco-Schools, helping to introduce the initiative to almost 100 schools in less than a year.

eco-schools logo
KAB logo

Focusing on sustainability education, Eco-Schools provides a 7-step framework that schools follow to gain accreditation, allowing students to be actively involved in managing the school buildings and grounds in a sustainable way. The program’s slogan is ‘empowering students to be the change our sustainable world needs by engaging them in fun, action-orientated learning’.

“The ultimate goal for an Eco-School is for their students to develop knowledge, capabilities and a personal desire to positively contribute to a sustainable community,” says Eco-Schools Education Programs Manager Stacey Passey.

“It’s a straightforward framework that breaks down the huge ‘sustainable school’ challenge into manageable and achievable steps. An emphasis on teamwork and inclusivity encourages everyone to get involved, not just the hardcore eco warriors and sustainability specialists.”

The program is already seeing successes at schools around the country. Appin Public School in the small town of Appin, NSW, is one to look out for – they’ve recently achieved Bronze accreditation in the Eco-Schools program. The highlights of their program so far have been reducing electricity use by 24% and landfill by over 80% through composting and recycling.

However, one of the main benefits of the program is its links to curriculum, something that Stacey and KAB see as its greatest strength.

“We saw a great opportunity for a nationally consistent framework and accreditation of this type. With changing governments and curriculums, we like the longevity of the Eco-Schools program and how it’s flexible enough to be integrated with any curriculum,” says Stacey.

“Students enjoy the Eco-School approach of learning about environmental issues in a positive and active, hands-on way, by doing real projects in their school and community, while teachers like the emphasis on student leadership and curriculum linkages. School environmental management improvements are important but a teacher’s primary focus is always going to be on learning outcomes and their students’ confidence and wellbeing. Having a strong emphasis on those things, not just carbon emissions, is a key strength of the program, and avoids additional admin and extra-curricular duties for teachers.”

Although the program has only been running in NSW, NT and Tasmania for under a year, there are already plans to bring it to the rest of the country. Eco-Schools has also recently introduced an interstate and international school connect program creating partnerships between participating schools across borders. Getting more schools involved will be the key to helping Eco-Schools grow throughout Australia and the world.

“Flexibility is key for a school program like this,” says Stacey. “There are always new kids and new teachers with different interests and strengths, new ideas, new challenges, new syllabuses and varying levels of resources. Eco-Schools welcomes them all.”

Schools wanting to join the Eco-Schools program can register online at www.eco-schools.org.au/register. Organisations that support schools with sustainability initiatives, such as a local council or environmental education centre, can also register on that same webpage.

When registering with ParentPaperwork, you can download a free eBook on How to Reduce Paper Waste in Schools

Teaching: is there such a thing as work-life balance?

For most of us, achieving a true work-life balance teeters somewhere between a tangible, attainable reality and the outer fringes of pure fantasy. Is it really possible to work full-time and still have the means to live a fulfilling life?

Looking around at our friends and family, it would seem so (especially if you’re judging it by their Facebook updates) but, in reality, finding that balance is an ongoing challenge. It’s also a challenge that constantly changes with our situation.

When it comes to a work-life balance for teachers, the profession itself has a bit of a PR problem. Ask anyone who has taught and they’ll be able to reel off stories of envy from strangers and friends alike that usually start somewhere along the lines of ‘Oh, you’re a teacher? It must be great to have all those holidays!’ and finishes with them fighting the urge to put the offender in time-out for good.

It’s not just false envy that drives these kinds of comments. More often than not, it’s the sense of dismissal that goes along with it, as if teachers have found a way to freeload professionally or perhaps aren’t as hardworking as ‘regular folk’.

In reality, nothing is further from the truth. With teacher stress levels at an all-time high, the rise in workload for teachers has had them abandoning the profession in droves.

A recent survey of 3,500 teachers in the UK conducted by the BBC showed that two-thirds of respondents considered quitting the profession in the previous year, with 89% citing workload as their main concern. In the USA, the ‘revolving door’ of teachers entering and quickly leaving the profession is costing upwards of $2.2 billion each year.

We’ve covered the high number of teachers quitting over workload in a previous post, along with the number of hours worked by teachers in Australia and around the world. We also looked at measures of other countries to tackle bureaucracy but, despite the best efforts of some, it seems teachers are still facing the same hardships they did a year ago.

New figures are showing that four out of ten new teachers quit within a year and, even for those who love the job, the lack of work-life balance is forcing them out.

Another survey conducted by the Canadian Teacher’s Federation showed that 93% of respondents felt torn between teaching and home responsibilities. A further breakdown of their findings can be found in the infograph below.

Teachers-Survey-infographic

Balancing the ever-growing workload of teaching with home life is one of the great struggles that all teachers face. Along with growing attrition rates, a new solution is being sought by many in the profession: reducing hours, reducing responsibility and, unfortunately, reducing pay.

One anonymous teacher, whose husband is also in the profession, recently told The Guardian about their voluntary pay cut of almost AUD20,000:

“To have a life outside work, we’ve both had to effectively commit career suicide and head down the ladder. We both want to pursue our hobbies and spend more time with our daughter, and we can’t save these things up for the few weeks in the summer when every waking minute isn’t consumed by school. And we certainly can’t wait until we retire.”

“But demotion shouldn’t be the price to pay for having a reasonable work-life balance. Teachers need time to do their jobs properly. Without time to plan, prepare, reflect and deal with the admin, parents, staff and pupils who need us, then we are simply being set up to fail.”

Indeed, teachers are being set up to fail. The more we are able to reduce workloads, reduce stress and give educators the working conditions they deserve the closer we’ll come to finding that elusive work-life balance.

Stressed parents create stressed children

Each one of us strives to live a stress-free life. Some of us even succeed. But, no matter how much of a Zen master you may be, when it comes to keeping your cool with kids in the picture, all bets are off.

Just having a small human you created wandering around the world can be worrisome enough. As parents, we spend much of our time hoping we’re doing everything right and that our ‘little responsibilities’ are safe, well-mannered and equipped to handle the everyday challenges they face. But, regardless of what we do, the build-up of daily stresses is inevitable and, when it comes to stress, the feeling is contagious.

A US study from 2010 identified Generation X (those aged between 34 and 47) as being the most stressed out in the country. Jump forward a few years, and that age-bracket has shifted. No longer are the Gen X-ers the disaffected, it’s their kids that have taken the mantle.

Evidence is showing that stressed out parents are creating stressed out kids, and the sources of stress are hard to pinpoint.

We’re all tethered to our mobile devices and reachable at any hour of the day. A lot of us read our work emails at home, not giving ourselves time or permission to switch off. Thanks to social media, keeping up with the Joneses now includes the Jones family and a veritable smorgasbord of ‘people you may know’, each with a sunny online personality, seemingly endless array of holidays and fun outings – none of which you ever have time to do yourself.

We put enormous pressure on ourselves so it’s no wonder this can transfer onto our kids.

Parents often forget or fail to recognise stress in their children. We wonder what they could possibly have to worry about – no bills, little responsibility, food on the table each night, etc. But stress doesn’t discriminate and every age comes with its own problems and stressors.

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For many families, school can be a great source of stress.

When children first start school, their excitement can quickly wear down and, for the next 13 years, you can expect a common cycle of moodiness and irritability that comes with school life and its pressures.

For parents, an endless stream of forms to fill out, activities to plan for, school lunches, uniforms, books – not to mention keeping on top of kids’ grades and homework – all take their toll.

For children, starting at a new school surrounded by new people, new responsibilities and new worries are potentially stressful. Add to that worries about grades, popularity and physical appearance, along with pressures from their parents, and you can quickly see how our kids can be having a hard time of it too.

Parents are often quick to snap at their children, acting out without first thinking about what might be causing it. If battles over school and homework are becoming a daily occurrence, it’s possible that stress may be a factor.

Behaviours to watch out for include:

  • Irritability or moodiness;
  • Withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure;
  • Clinging or being unwilling to let parents out of sight;
  • Crying;
  • Aggressive behaviour;
  • Regression to earlier behaviours (i.e. thumb-sucking or bed-wetting);
  • School refusal; and
  • Unwillingness to participate in family or school activities.

There are many resources online that can also help you identify stress in your child. But that’s only half the battle – if you’re stressed, there’s a good chance your child will be too.

Dealing with your own stress is often the first step in helping your kids. If you’re able to identify and reduce stresses in your own life, you’ll be happier and so will your kids… and school won’t seem so bad afterall.

Tackling Bureaucracy: a lesson in cutting through education’s red tape

The myth of the seven-hour workday for teachers has well and truly been busted with the sector now seeing record rates of attrition, especially in those starting out in the profession.

Our previous post on teacher workload came as reports emerged from the UK that more than 4,000 teachers were quitting monthly with over 80% citing workload as the reason. Previously, we’d looked at the unworkable hours Australian teachers were facing along with just what exactly was keeping them chained to the desk.

While around a standard eight hours a day are being spent in the classroom, studies have shown that a further three to five hours were spent by teachers in a bureaucratic mire of paperwork that includes writing extensive reports on students to measure their progress against established benchmarks.

The issue is not one that is unique to Australia or the US. Scotland has recently shone the spotlight on excessive bureaucracy and red tape faced by teachers with the government responding to complaints about what was labelled an “Amazonian forest” of paperwork that was preventing teachers from getting on with the job.

Poll from Mirror Article

The amount of bureaucracy in schools around the world is large with long-winded processes being entrenched in the culture of institutions of all sizes. As a result, a new initiative in Scotland, Curriculum for Excellence, has been undertaken in the name of “tackling bureaucracy”, offering a framework that intends to meet the problem head on.

The key tenets of the initiative are:

  • Promoting better teaching and learning, unobscured by bureaucracy and unnecessary paperwork;
  • Keeping paperwork to the minimum required to support this process;
  • Proportionate planning processes focusing on the most significant aspects of learning and teaching, and supporting professional dialogue;
  • Self-evaluation focused only on the key information required to support improvement;
  • Holistic approaches to profiling and reporting that support good quality dialogue with parents; and
  • Tracking of pupil progress and moderation being proportionate and assessment judgements being based on evidence drawn mainly from day-to-day teaching and learning.

Scotland’s schools minister Alasdair Allan said: “It is unacceptable that hard-working teachers should have to cope with pointless paperwork.

“Our message is clear – everyone in education has a responsibility to root out unnecessary bureaucracy and this can be done by simplifying processes and focusing on major priorities.”

The initiative came after the launch last year by EIS, Scotland’s largest education trade union, of an online application to provide teachers with a user-friendly method of keeping track of their workload as part of the larger Make Time for Teaching campaign.

The high profile initiative had come as a result of the ten-year high in attrition rates for teachers across Scotland and the UK. While the initiative has been accused of not going far enough by some unions, schools have been urged to cut bureaucracy and reform their processes with inspectors visiting classrooms to highlight processes that could be done in a more efficient manner or dropped altogether.

Overall, the campaign shows an awareness of the problem at a higher level, as it has only just begun to roll out in Scotland. The world will be watching closely to see if these kinds of measures can help save the sector and discourage unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy from overtaking our schools. Only time will tell but it is initiatives such as these that can be the first steps in permanent change.