Beyond the School Gate
Teacher Support Network and Parentline Plus (now Famliy Lives) reviewed the extensive literature and many studies examining the link between parental engagement and pupil attainment, behaviour and attendance. The report was discussed at a Westminster event featuring Diane Abbott MP, Baroness Walmsley, Baroness Verma and London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) supporters on 3 March 2010.
The importance of good schooling and parenting is well recognised, but the importance of how schools and families relate is much less understood. Parentline Plus and Teacher Support Network - two leading charities with expertise in parent and teacher wellbeing respectively - have collaborated to research how schools and families can work better together.
As this report shows, the impact of the relationship between schools and families reaches far and wide; affecting wellbeing, behaviour and attainment to name a few. If we are to harness the potential of this relationship, much more must be done to overcome the barriers that exist between teachers and parents today.
Previous studies have convincingly shown that parental engagement in a child’s learning, rather than simple involvement in school activities, is the most effective way for parents to improve their child’s attainment, behaviour and attendance. Sadly, surveys of parents and teachers by Parentline Plus and Teacher Support Network have told us that poor parental engagement is having an adverse effect; also taking its toll on pupil, parent and teacher wellbeing. Whilst the majority of parents and teachers said that parent-teacher relations are ‘good’ or ‘very good’, there is considerable scope for improvement. Many parents said they had felt patronised, sidelined or ignored by their child’s school, and an equally worrying number of teachers said they had been verbally or physically abused by a pupil’s parent.
Parents and teachers must work as a team to enable parents to connect where it is most important - beyond the school gate, as active agents in the learning of their children in the home. Taking an interest in their child’s education, helping with homework, backing school disciplinary practice in the home and being a source of moral, motivational support are all ways in which parents can effectively engage in education, but such engagement is much easier said than done. If school communities want to see better engagement, multiple barriers must be overcome.
Poverty can severely limit the extent to which parents can engage in their child’s education. Parents who are not in poverty can still find engagement difficult, namely because of a lack of time. Inevitably, engagement suffers when money or family and work commitments come into the equation. Of course, teachers’ time is under strain too. In a profession that works 50 hours a week on average, there is little opportunity to help parents to engage in their child’s learning.
Teachers and parents recognise the difficulties that each other face, but they also recognise that relations must improve. Teachers and parents both recognise that more should be done for families that have a chaotic, disordered home environment which can significantly impact on a pupil’s performance and behaviour in school, but they agree that teachers are not best placed to intervene. Teachers and parents both recognise that parents with a negative attitude to education may have been affected by a negative experience in their own upbringing, but they agree that existing structures cannot address this issue adequately. Teachers and parents both agree that teachers need increased training in order to appropriately and effectively engage with parents. And most of all, both recognise that home-school communications need to improve significantly.
Parents, teachers and pupils must have the right resources to overcome these barriers, meet each other’s expectations and benefit education overall. In this report, Parentline Plus and Teacher Support Network recommend that:
- Every school should consult the whole school community fully to create and implement a meaningful Home School Agreement which can be recognised on all sides. The Government should critically assess the effectiveness of existing Home School Agreements and implement improvements at a local level.
- Every school should have adequate access to a parent support worker who is trained to deal with a spectrum of family and emotional issues. Parent support workers should be a visible member of the school community, ensuring that all parents, teachers and other staff understand their role and remit and are a named contact, available when required.
- All school staff should be trained about the best ways to engage parents in education. This will help to develop positive relationships between schools and families and ultimately help pupils to succeed. Parent support workers are ideally positioned to play a positive role in the delivery and tailoring of such training.
- Overall, there must be a step-change in communication between schools and parents. Home School Agreements should set out clear expectations regarding the frequency, method and content of communications, which should accurately appraise a child’s progress rather than reporting just the positives or negatives.
- Communications must detail how parents can help their child’s education in the home. Teachers must be given adequate time to undertake this work, which will not be as time-consuming for teachers or parents if new technologies can be used to their potential.
As the evidence and the case studies in this report show, there is a clear need for these changes in our school communities. Parentline Plus and Teacher Support Network call on stakeholders to implement our recommendations and enable schools and families to work better together, benefiting them, their children and education overall.
Launch Event at the Houses of Parliament
On Wednesday 3 march 2010 Teacher Support Network and Parentline Plus launched their report 'Beyond the School Gate' in the Houses of Parliament with the assistance of Diane Abbott MP's London Schools and the black Child (LSBC) initiative. The report calls for stronger partnerships between parents, pupils and teachers to increase parental engagement in schools. Speakers included Diane Abbot MP, Baroness Verma, Shadow Minister for Children, School & Families (Conservative) and Baroness Walmsley, Lords spokesperson for Children, School and Families (Liberal Democrats). You can watch highlights from the meeting here.