The case of the disappearing parents;Digest;Opinion

Mary Jane Drummond

Who has the greatest influence on children's success at school - parents or teachers? The answer should be, both together.

A decade ago, when Barbara Tizard and colleagues asked parents and Reception teachers for their views about the main influence on a child's educational success, more parents credited the school and teachers, and teachers, by and large, thought success was largely attributable to the family and parents. But only 13 per cent of the parents and none of the teachers said success came from both parties working equally together.

Of course we know better now. Study after study has shown how children gain when both parents and teachers are committed to a developing partnership, Everybody knows that. Don't they?

Apparently not. When baseline assessment of four and five year olds starting school becomes mandatory in September, parents will discover that there has been a crucial omission from the official criteria for the accreditation of schemes. The only mention of parents is the requirement that scheme providers must give guidance on "explaining the outcomes of assessments to parents".

So what's gone missing? These words from the draft proposals, issued in September 1996: "The National Framework will require baseline assessment schemes to ... involve parentscarers in partnership with the school." In other words, there is now no requirement that teachers and other educators carrying out baseline assessment should involve parents in putting together an assessment which is to inform practice and provision in the child's first year at primary school. The only statutory duty is to inform parents of the outcomes. The parents have simply been written out of the process. Their intimate knowledge of their four or five year old children is just not deemed important enough to figure in the minimal requirements for an accredited scheme.

What's to be done? It is the responsibility of headteachers to choose a scheme for their school. They are instructed to consider first the scheme nominated by their own LEA, but they are not required to adopt it. Teachers - and parents (and many people are both) - will want to be absolutely certain that the scheme their school selects does involve parents. They will want it to help them all take an early step towards a collaborative relationship. If the recommended scheme does not involve parents, then teachers and parents will want to work together to go beyond the letter of the law, in the spirit of true partnership, whatever the small print does not say. And they will want to know why the people who wrote the small print regard the parents' involvement with such disdain.

Mary Jane Drummond is Lecturer in Primary Education at the School of Education, University of Cambridge

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