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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March 2008, 11:42 GMT
School is 'the last moral force'
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News, at the ASCL conference

Head teachers echo parents' own concerns about family life
Poor parenting and the erosion of family life are leaving schools as the only moral framework in many children's lives, says a head teachers' leader.

Schools were increasingly expected to "fill the vacuum", John Dunford told the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference, in Brighton.

They now sometimes had to teach social skills such as eating a meal together.

"Schools have a much stronger role in bringing up children than in previous years," Dr Dunford said.

'Disordered lives'

In his speech, Dr Dunford told heads and senior staff that for too many children, school was the "only solid bedrock in their lives".

He highlighted how schools were now expected to set rules about basic behaviour which once would have been the responsibility of parents and the wider community.

Celebrity culture makes the job of schools more difficult, because schools try to inculcate values such as hard work bringing rewards
John Dunford
Long working hours, chaotic home backgrounds and a lack of positive adult influences in children's lives, meant schools were being expected to patch up social problems rather than focus on educational issues.

"For some families, the focus of family life has been lost - such as eating a meal together - and the loss of a family conversation," he said.

Expanding on the themes, Dr Dunford warned that many children were not receiving a sense of right and wrong from their home backgrounds.

"The old certainties have gone and with them the institutions, such as the church, which articulated those certainties.

"So for some children, it is only the school that provides a framework that sets the line between what is and isn't acceptable."

Celebrity culture

The head teachers' leader also said that the fixation with celebrity damaged the efforts of schools to make pupils think they had to work hard to succeed.

"Celebrity culture makes the job of schools more difficult, because schools try to inculcate values such as hard work bringing rewards.

"The cult of celebrity makes it look all too easy. They don't realise how long and hard people like David Beckham or pop stars have to train and practise their skills," he said.

Dr Dunford's comments followed a speech earlier in the conference from the union's president, Brian Lightman, which also examined how schools were having to parent pupils as well as teach them.

Teachers were expected to teach pupils who "seem never to have the opportunity to have a conversation outside school with an adult", said Mr Lightman.

'Reach out'

These pupils "rarely sit down for a family meal" and are "left in their free time to go where they like with no adult control".

He said: "This places us in the professional quandary of balancing the need for support with the needs of the rest of the school community to be able to learn without disruption."

Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said parents were being offered access to information and support on parenting over the internet, by text message and over the phone.

He said: "Kids don't come with instructions so we all need a little help sometimes.

"These new projects are going to provide the answers in a way that suits parents.

"We want to reach out especially to those parents who struggle to get information and are in most need - for example, parents of disabled children, fathers and parents of teenagers."

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