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.