This Thursday will see thousands of teachers striking as another row over diminishing pensions continues.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has encouraged parents to volunteer to help out in schools in order to keep them open and cause less disruption to children.
Of course, when schools close it can cause all sorts of headaches. Working parents have to take time off or make other childcare arrangements. The knock-on effect is not insignificant.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of strikes, seeking help from parents raises some interesting dilemmas.
For as long as I can remember, parents often helped out on school trips and volunteered for certain administrative roles. Yet stepping in to look after classrooms of children is quite different.
Regular volunteers must all be police checked before they can work with or near children. However, ad-hoc volunteers (which parents helping out on Thursday would generally be) don’t require these checks so long as they are with a qualified member of teaching staff and are not left alone with children.
Unsurprisingly there has been a backlash from the unions. Mary Bousted of the Association for Teachers and Lecturers said that it was “very rich” of Michael Gove to suggest “anybody can come in and babymind” after describing teaching as a professional job.
In reality, that twists the issue. No-one is suggesting that parents have the skills and knowledge to teach a group of children. There’s no doubt that, whether a school remains open on Thursday or not, kids will face disruption. Lessons will not go ahead as on a normal school day. The issue is more about seeking help from parents who do have the time to volunteer, in order to help the whole school community, and particularly those parents for whom an unexpected school closure would present real difficulties.
That said, some parents aren’t happy about untrained strangers (albeit other parents) looking after their kids.
There was also some anger from a number of working parents on very low wages who don’t have the right to strike and are unlikely to get any decent pension.
There’s no ideal solution other than for the strikes to be called off. Children’s education won’t be irrevocably damaged by a single day’s strike action outside of major examination times.
What do you think? Should parents be allowed to help out in order to keep a school open, or is the disruption necessary in driving home the teachers’ cause.