Our elder son starts primary school in January, two months before his fifth birthday. One of the innumerable forms we’ve been given to complete is a “Home School Agreement” by which we agree, as parents, to various basic requirements (try to make sure our son turns up, that he does his homework etc) and the school likewise agrees to do its job properly.
All well and good – though scarcely likely to make much impact on the sort of parents who need to be asked to play a constructive role in their children’s education – but then I reached the bottom of the page, where I found this:
I will try to:
- Keep the school’s Golden Rules
Our Golden School Rules – how we behave:
- We are gentle – we don’t hurt others;
- We are kind and helpful – we don’t hurt anybody’s feelings;
- We listen – we don’t interrupt;
- We are honest – we don’t cover up the truth;
- We work hard – we don’t waste our own or other people’s time;
- We look after property – we don’t waste or damage things.
Child’s signature: __________________ Date: ___________
A blameless list of requirements, but what’s got me feeling very uncomfortable is this business about having four-year old children signing a form like this.
Various reasons for this. First, I’m a lawyer. So I’m aware that signing things is a serious business – which is precisely why we don’t normally let four-year olds do it. By signing an agreement you state irrevocably that you have read, understood and agree to all its terms (even if none of those things is actually true).
Second, what is this “agreement” for? Say our son breaks one of these rules and is facing some disciplinary consequence as a result. Will his signature on the form be used against him (“You’ve broken your agreement”)? If not, then the exercise is pointless. If so, then it’s reprehensible.
Third, I’m all in favour of teaching children responsibility and good behaviour, but I’d appreciate it if the school could present me with the peer-reviewed developmental evidence that confirms that this is a constructive and beneficial way to teach this to children. Rather than being, say, an exercise in bureaucratic back-covering combined with Blairite social engineering.
Fourth, aren’t children allowed just a few years of their lives without being introduced into the world of form-filling and contractual obligations?
Finally – and here I’ve got my lawyer’s hat on again – what’s the benefit to my son in signing this? If we don’t make him sign the form, the school will still accept him. If a client came to me with a list of obligations they were being asked to sign, without there being any negative consequences for refusing to do so or any real benefit for doing so, then I’d advise them not to make a rod for their own backs and to decline to sign.
Now I’m not out to make a big scene about this – there’ll be no newspaper front pages about “Father’s fight against school form reaches the High Court”. After all, it’s important for our son that we have a positive relationship with his school. My inclination is to amend the form so that it reads, “We will try to ensure our son knows, understands and keeps the school’s Golden Rules”, and then sign it ourselves as his parents.
So this is where I’d appreciate feedback. Am I being over-scrupulous, making a fuss about nothing (“Just sign the d*** form!”). Would amending the form be a craven cop-out to an intrusive and obnoxious process (“Give me a pointless-form-free school or give me death!”)? Or is my proposal the best way to meet the school’s reasonable expectations without putting inappropriate expectations on my son? Replies welcomed in the comments.