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Barriers in place for working-class families

The Government's parental "empowerment" policies may have increased middle-class parents' opportunities for enhancing their children's education, but they have done little for working-class families.

Middle-class parents are still far more ready to call teachers to account than working-class parents, according to researchers at Bath College of Higher Education.

They are also more likely to help in the school library, or involve themselves in parent-teacher associations. Working-class parents, on the other hand, often regard PTAs as "cliquey". While usually prepared to attend parents' evenings and help their children with homework, they still tend to feel marginalised by schools. They often do not know which sets or GCSE tiers their children have been placed in, or appreciate the implications.

"Working-class parents' diffidence may be interpreted by teachers as lack of interest," says Dr Gill Crozier, who has led a three-year research project on parental involvement in two city secondary schools. "But in most cases this is not so. Many parents in our study, irrespective of class, said that they would like more information about what their child did at school and, in some cases, how they might help their child make progress."

Dr Crozier says that schools should perhaps couch information for parents in simpler language and try different methods of establishing contact with them, such as local radio and free newspapers.

Some secondary schools should also consider appointing a community teacher or parent-school liaison officer, she says, and concerted efforts should be made to encourage - but not coerce - more working-class parents to become more involved in school life. "Familiarising parents with teachers and the structure of the school are ways of breaking down the barriers and fears," Dr Crozier says.

There is, however, another obstacle to greater parental involvement that may be harder to overcome. "Parents repeatedly spoke about their children not wanting their help since they regarded this as 'interference'," Dr Crozier says. "Given that teenage children are striving for independence, this kind of stance is not surprising. However, it can make the involvement of parents more difficult to achieve."

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