Top head attacks parents

The Times, 29/11/04, HMC member Clarissa Farr, Head of St Paul's Girls' School tackles the modern parent.

Parents at Britain’s leading private schools are terrified of their children’s failure and how it will reflect on themselves, one of the country’s top head teachers has said.

Clarissa Farr, head of St Paul’s Girls’ School in west London, also accused high-achieving parents of “affluent neglect”, where children were not shown enough attention in the evenings.

In a series of outspoken comments Mrs Farr said that many parents showed a “frenetic anxiety” and refused to accept their child coming second. She warned that children were growing up unable to cope with failure as a result.

She said: “Parents have very high aspirations — they have a kind of ticking, frenetic anxiety — even the ones who are delightful to deal with are on edge because they haven’t really got enough time to have the conversation they’re trying to have with you.

“Anything that might result in success not happening for their son or daughter, in however small an arena, they’re very frightened of.”

Such “snowplough” parents cleared all obstacles from their children’s path and tried to boost their self-esteem at all costs, Mrs Farr added. Their children were left over-protected and unable to cope with failure.

Some parents saw school as a “bespoke, consumer service”. She said: “Again at the more extreme ends I’ve certainly noticed an increase in the expectation among parents that what is arranged for their daughter will be specific and bespoke. If she happens to speak a language that you don’t offer, it will be expected that you provide appropriate tuition. Something that shocked me quite a lot, and I’ve seen it more in the last few years, is the naked impatience with the idea of putting other people first that you see coming from parents. I think that’s a growing trend among city parents who have a sort of Darwinian attitude to their children’s education.”

The urban environment intensified competitive instincts among parents, Mrs Farr said. Although pupils were happy to do voluntary work, some parents were annoyed if this did not count towards an award or the university admissions form. City schools had to train teachers how to deal with high-achieving people used to getting what they wanted.

Despite her school teaching some of the highest-achieving pupils in Britain, Mrs Farr said that today’s generation was unused to concentrating for long periods. She said of them: “They are over-protected. Snowplough parents is a great description: clearing everything away in front of the child so that nothing can go wrong, self-esteem valued above all other attributes, anything that might threaten self-esteem must be moved to the side.

“Protection from failure: not being selected for a play or the first lacrosse team etc or having the utter disaster of getting only 10 A*s instead of 11.

“A lack of perseverance — when they do come up against some failure or difficulty they don’t have the equipment to deal with it be-cause parents have prevented this.”

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