Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Parental involvement in schools

The Scottish Parliament has passed the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 - to encourage and support more parents to become involved.

The main aims of the Parental Involvement Act are to:
help parents become more involved with their child's education and learning
welcome parents as active participants in the life of the school
provide easier ways for parents to express their views and wishes
The Education and Culture Committee met 31 March 2015 to discuss how parents and schools could best work together to raise the attainment of all pupils particularly those at the lower end of the scale.

MSP Siobhan McMahon reminded the committee that Renfrewshire Council had said in their submission that there was "no evidence that parental involvement alone raises attainment". The Poverty Alliance reported mixed views but highlighted one comment that "the Parental Involvement Act has actually widened inequalities as more confident parents took control while others were pushed to the side."

It was agreed that it was the least confident and engaged parents who most needed support.
Our biggest challenge is the parents who did not respond to the survey. Many parents are not engaged, and it is their voices that are most relevant to this session. (Ellen Prior: Scottish Parent Teacher Council)

We should target those most in need if we want to make a difference in the attainment gap...We have a parenting strategy to roll out parenting support. Parents objected to the idea of the offered support because it seemed to be stigmatising, so we are now trying to badge things as `opportunities for parents`. It may seem to be a moot point, but the language with which we try to engage parents is very important; we have to get the language right and offer opportunities across the board, so that the support is not targeted but universal. (Shona Crawford: West Dunbartonshire Council.)
The idea of universal services being imposed on the population in order to manage the few is reminiscent of the named person scheme. That the language has been carefully crafted in the literature about the named person is no doubt true also.

Despite Siobhan McMahon`s reservations that parental involvement does not necessarily improve attainment, the general consensus was that it did. Yet attainment itself proved difficult to pin down.
On the point about how we measure attainment, we ran a working group last year that produced the document Sharing Learning, Sharing Assessment: Report for Parents. A lot of parents did not know where their kids were in broad general education. In the old system, with A to E grades, they knew exactly where they were, but now they do not know which strands their child is working on." (Eileen Prior (Scottish Parent Teacher Council)
It does not help that teachers do not understand the new system either. Curriculum for Excellence, with its plethora of `outcomes and experiences`, personalised learning and continuous assessments is hardly accessible to parents who engage, never mind those who do not.

In any case, the committee decided that attainment is not just about qualifications.

In many schools it is evident that they celebrate wider achievement. There are all sorts of outdoor activities, such as forest schools and nurture groups to meet the needs of the wide variety of children. The challenge for schools is to get parents to understand the benefits of all those activities, because some parents are still very focused on exam results. (Shona Crawford)

Part of it is about selling to teachers what parental engagement can achieve. That is not just about better exam results and higher attention rates but about pupils behaving better, attending more regularly, adapting better and having better networks...We need to change the nature of the dialogue so that attainment is not everything and it is about wider achievement and participation in the school community. (Dr Morton)

We need to educate the parents and everybody else in the country, including employers, or things will change only when my daughter has a child going through school, because her experience is different. (Iain Ellis) [Yes, that`s the idea ! ]
So the committee meets to discuss how parents and schools can work together to improve all children`s attainment but during the discussion this changes from all children to disadvantaged children. At the same time, attainment is not about educational attainment at all, but nebulous ideas about outdoor activities, nurture groups, forest schools, behaviour, attendance, adapting better and having better networks. Never mind how this is supposed to be defined and measured. Parents should engage.
At the end of it, ultimately the parent wants the confidence to be the best parent that they can be for their child. That is what draws people to organisations that support them. They know they need it and that they are vulnerable. [Do they ? ]
However, there might be something more to do population-wide, along the lines of saying, " Well, actually, you should be involved." The norm should be that parents are involved. (Jackie Tolland)
I certainly agree with that. I was hoping that some sort of expectation would be built into the increase in hours for the early years. I know that a lot of that increase is about enabling parents to get off to work, but many of our parents are not in work. I would like to see an expectation that they will become involved with their child in nursery. (Shona Crawford)
At what point does `expectation` become `compulsion`?

It is obvious that the committee is more interested in `parenting` than it is in the education of children at school. There is a shocking statistic which they do not mention and that is that twenty percent of children leave school unable to read fluently. Many of them are boys. If they were really interested in closing the attainment gap there is one intervention that could make all the difference: Teach children to read.

The teaching method that works is well understood; so there is no excuse for that shocking statistic. Unfortunately this is a committee with a different agenda.


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