The other day I skipped something called a parent progress evening. It was for daughter three and I’d been to one the year before for daughter one and it seemed essentially to be about telling parents to make their children work harder. So I thought why spend half an evening being told the same thing again.
We got sent the pdf a couple of days later. It was what I expected and included some suggestions of how to help with maths and English homework, but there was also an intriguing list of things under the heading “How can you help”. They included punctuality [not our strongest suit], learning behaviour, uniform, homework, revision, social media and “work/life balance”. At the bottom. I was not initially sure if it referred to the students or their parents. I took it as an order to the parents, but I may have been very tired at the time ie ‘make sure you have some time for your kids; your kids will learn from your example, etc, etc’.
On second reading I think it is probably directed at the kids. So parents have to ensure their kids are working really really hard to attain their targets so the school can get funding, etc, but they also have to ensure that in those tiny amount of hours which have not been scheduled for homework eg Sunday morning [when they are asleep] that they get some ‘balance’, even if while they are doing that they are subconsciously aware that they are teetering on the brink of failure. Daughter three announced the other day that she could not be sick because every lesson missed meant a dropped grade.
Call me disillusioned, but my experience of the current education system experienced through my kids has been that they are constantly being hammered about GCSE results from the moment they step into secondary school and that telling them to have some work life balance [at the bottom of the list] is not going to make very much difference. It’s similar to how I feel about some of the discussion about mental health at work. If the intensity of the work is what is making you ill surely a good fix would be to reduce the intensity of the work – or at least give people more control over their hours – rather than talk about how stressed you are feeling?
I have got a bit impatient with promises of action from all sorts of people over the years. What matters is what gets done, what changes. For that reason presenteeism for presenteeism’s sake is not something that I hold in great esteem, though in some jobs, of course, being somewhere specific at a specific time is a vital part of the job. What matters generally, though, are results and if that means rethinking every aspect of systems that don’t work rather than tinkering at the edges then so be it.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.