Parents and schools: an educational relationship?

Clio Whittaker's picture
Is there a school in the country that doesn’t want to work in partnership with parents? If so, I haven’t found it. Since schools seem universally to accept that children learn best when parents and teachers support each other, it is important to make this relationship work as well as it possibly can.

In the past, most schools did not do more than provide parents with the statutory periodic reports on children’s academic progress. The view was that parents were best kept at a distance while the professionals took charge of the real business of learning took place at school. Now there is overwhelming evidence to confirm that what happens at home, particularly when children are young, has a huge impact on their achievement at school. This raises the question: can schools have an impact on children’s at-home experience, so that they can get the most out of school? And, if so, how should they go about this?

The Department for Children, Schools and Families, as the education ministry was named between 2007 and 2010, encouraged schools to engage and support parents. People who had the skills and qualities to inform, inspire, engage and – sometimes – challenge attitudes and beliefs became a common part of the school landscape, particularly those serving disadvantaged families. When this worked well, parents were better understood what went on at school and got support with helping children with learning and behaviour at home. Relationships within families improved, as well those between parents and teachers. And a greater understanding of the reality of many families’ lives (often very different to that of their children’s teachers) was brought into schools.

Now this kind of work is no longer promoted by the Department for Education (the change of name indicates the change of priorities under the new administration) and teachers are held solely responsible for whether children achieve academic success. Teachers’ experience is about working with children rather than adults, so even if they have the time and the desire to engage in working with parents, they are not likely to have the training, skills and resources to do so. When schools come to make their difficult budgetary decisions, I hope they remember the aspirations expressed in their prospectuses and on their websites and support those roles so essential to successful partnership with parents. The real test of a relationship is commitment and support – particularly when times are tough.

Clio Whittaker
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Anon for professional reasons's picture
Tue, 13/05/2014 - 21:05

In theory the current government expects that family support will be funded by the pupil premium rather than via the LA.

This is a problem where middle class schools have insufficient funding to build a pastoral framework and skillset that meets the needs of the the school's few cases of disadvantaged children sufficiently.

I know a school in one of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK where both the schoolleadership and the LA advisers have failed to deliver the strategic management needed to integrate the sure start centre with the adjacent primary school's nursery into a single productive community that can engage with vulnerable parents form the moment their child is born. This is in stark contrast to the adjacent LA who have spearheaded the integration of the new two year old funding into their local primary schools.

The truth is that the money is there but the strategic decision making integrated across all the schools in a locality is not.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/05/2014 - 06:50

A DfE report (commissioned before the Coalition came to power and which, therefore, might not reflect the Government's views) about parental engagement said:

1 A whole-school approach was needed.
2 Parents needed "clear, specific, targeted" information from schools.
3 Staff needed training especially when working with parents whose background is different to theirs.

But this Government thinks teachers don't need any training. It also wants schools to encroach further into family time by shortening holidays, increasing school times and even encouraging the development of a boarding school which would take children not on basis of need (ie parent working away, carer ill) but based on where the children live (ie in a disadvantaged area - therefore, the logic goes, all such children are better off living away from their family).

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