There was a time when a teacher’s legal duty to act in loco parentis was a profound duty- our own version of the Hippocratic oath. In those days, children were parented. Not by two people but, for most children, by lots of adults who knew each other and knew them by name. The parenting relationship mostly but not entirely fulfilled by females was nurturing and educational. It was important to society that, in the classroom, teachers took on that parenting role in all its sobering reality. Education was founded on the most profound human relationship known.
Nowadays children are parented by one or two people sometimes supported by a grandparent. By and large, they do a good job. Men spend more time with their children than previous generations although still nowhere near as much as women (and for a significant group of children there is no father). What has changed significantly is that parenting as an activity has been devalued. Parenting is far too long-term and vocational to be of interest to those in power. For society, for the media and for policy-makers, being a consumer and being known and accessible online are far more important aspects of an adult’s life than being a parent. If parenthood is not valued then neither is the teacher being in loco parentis.
The term loco parentis speaks of a relationship of significant knowledge of the child. The problem is that the parenting relationship involved is expensive because it involves an investment in time and care over a period. This is the relationship that is partly responsible for primary schools looking like they always have done because it is a relationship that relies on a classteacher being with children for most of the time. The dramatic cuts being imposed on schools over the next three years are designed not just to save the treasury money but also to free schools from the past by ending the reliance on one class teacher for 30(ish) children. Why pay a qualified classteacher to get to know children when parenting is no longer a valued activity.
Whereas I think the majority of parents do a remarkable job, policy makers see parents as both consumers and flexible workers for the service economy. These two roles are crucial. If parents reduce the money spent on goods, the post-industrial economy will fall into recession immediately. If parents do not undertake part time, flexible work, labour costs will hit company profits hard. This is why politicians do not criticise parents: there are too many of them who have a vote and are needed to fulfil key roles in consumption and employment. Teachers, on the other hand, are relatively few, tend to vote the same way whatever (in England) and are fair game for a good bashing. In the past, teachers were blamed for a great deal of what had once been the parents’ responsibility. Now that politicians do not see the importance of parenting, they don’t see the need for teachers to play a significant role in children’s lives beyond giving knowledge that can be tested. Enter the uber instructor. Armed with a script and a smile from the customer service handbook, these unqualified staff will be summoned by app to deliver to children. Online feedback will rate both delivery and the school. Self-employed with no sick pay or pension, the uber instructors will save the treasury, and through the cost cutting MATs, a significant sum of money.
In DfE documents the term ‘headteacher’ is increasingly replaced by ‘system leader’. Once again relationship is being removed. If headteachers focus on the systems which allow uber instructors to deliver knowledge, they will no longer need to get to know staff and maintain effective staff relationships. In the future, the interaction between system leader and instructor will be through the rating system of delivery and school.
Along with the teaching script, the key system in the school of the future will be ‘exclusion’ in order to quickly remove misbehaving pupils. Unless the system to remove those children who misbehave is slick, the instructor will not complete the script and the rating given on both sides of the interaction will suffer.
The problem with removing relationship from schools is that it changes the basis of education and also leaves a significant number of children excluded from learning.
My view is biased by my faith, my upbringing and my experience. Relationship is key to my concept of learning but is not in itself always good. As I grew up, my friends and I spent most of our spare time out of our houses learning about the world through petty crime and some fairly antisocial behaviours. These experiences were part of our relationships. Now people spend most of their time inside, crime has fallen and relationships have changed. The problem is that the adults (neighbours, shopkeepers, police) in my childhood who kept us in some sort of check and dealt with us when we got into trouble have no online equivalent today. Both those friends and the adults we knew outside of the home played a role in nurturing and teaching us. As we are confronted with a significant increase in attachment disorders among children, stripping relationship out of primary pedagogy is another step to removing the structures through which people have always learned and which offer all children including the most vulnerable hope of future opportunities. Uber instructors and system leaders will only meet the needs of those who are compliant and able to memorise easily. I may be wrong (and I hope I am) but the low cost education of the near-future may see a much larger proportion of pupils consigned to the underclass.