I had a phone call from a parent this week asking for advice. The person is a member of their child’s school’s Parents’ Council. She had joined the Council with a view to learning how she can support her child’s learning and also to help the school.
Her concern centred around her perceived lack of focus on learning and teaching and the role of parents in helping to develop that key purpose. In her opinion the Parents’ Council was almost exclusively focused upon what might be described as the “technical” aspects of the school, i.e. budgets, class sizes, composite classes, maintenance issues, resources.
Such was her concern that she felt she would be left with no alternative but to resign as she felt she couldn’t raise this matter with the Parents’ Council as she described her interest, in her own words, as “softer” issues to do with learning, than the more substantive issues of budget, class sizes, etc.
I promised to give this matter more thought and was given her permission to refer to the phone call in this Learning Log.
I think I understand why Parents’ Councils perhaps focus on those issues which are more “black and white” than the complex business of how we help our children achieve. Not that I’m suggesting that concern for class sizes, or composite classes, or budget don’t have any connection with the quality of the learning experience. But it’s just that by their very nature they can give a concrete rallying point around which parents can gather and feel they are doing something constructive to support the school.
Perhaps the challenge is to strike a balance between the “technical” issues with the “developmental” issues? Research into parental involvement in education conclusively supports our intuitive understanding that parents make a difference in terms of children’s educational outcomes . So what type of parental involvment makes a difference? I came across this research paper which explored the impact of parental involvment and distinguished between two types of parental involvement:
Spontaneous activity and induced activity are very different phenomena. The former is entirely voluntary whilst the latter might not be, at least initially.
Spontaneous activity is quintessentially ‘bottom up’; it is grass roots in origin, self motivated and self sustained.
Intervention programmes are, almost by definition, initiated by some non-parental source. They are, at least initially, ‘top down’. They are played out characteristically to solve some problem (in this case a perceived insufficiency of parental involvement). pg 85
Such research has shown that the “top down” interventions do not have the impact of “bottom-up” spontaneous parental involvement.
The authors go on to describe the features of spontaneous parental involvment:
9.2 Research on spontaneous parental involvement has revealed a range of activities in which parents engage to promote their children’s educational progress. These include:
– at home pre-school good parenting providing for security, intellectual stimulation and a good self concept
– at home enduring modelling of constructive social and educational aspirations and values relating to personal fulfillment and good citizenship
– contacting the child’s teacher to learn about the school’s rules and procedures, the curriculum, homework, assessment and the like
– visits to school to discuss issues and concerns as these arise
– participation in school events such as fêtes
– working in the school in support of teachers (for example in preparing lesson materials, supervising sports activities) and otherwise promoting the school in the community
– taking part in school management and governance
Evidence indicates that parental involvement has a significant effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors (such as social class, maternal education and poverty) have been take out of the equation between children’s aptitudes and their achievement.
In fact one of the key findings of research is that
“Differences in parental involvement have a much bigger impact on achievement than differences associated with the effects of school in the primary age range. Pg 86, 9.2.2
If the key factor in achievement is parental involvement then how might we create an environment which supports and enables all parents to be involved in the development of their child?
Yet such research presents a dilemma for someone in my position, i.e. if “top-down” interventions intended to improve parental involvement don’t work, how do we “at the top” support “bottom-up” self motivated parental involvement which do have such a positive effect on the outcomes for children?
The other factor to be considered here is how such an agenda might be perceived by parents who might be focused upon the “technical” issues of budgets, class sizes, etc. Quite rightly someone in my position needs to be held accountable and I would support parents’ right to question and discuss such matters. However, it might be worth reflecting upon how we might balance such “technical” concerns with an equal focus upon supporting parental involvement in the “developmental” issues relating to child development and the learning process.
At this point in time time I’m unsure about how to go ahead but I do hope to discuss this with the East Lothian Parents’ Councils Association to consider if there are any steps we might take to collectively address this issue.