Breaking through the 'glass doorway';Opinion

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
Fran Stevens on why teachers should work with parents.

What do parents want for their children? The simple answer is the best; we all want the best for our children.

How can teachers support parents in ensuring that their children have a broad and fulfilling education? The starting point is to recognise that schools are there to provide a service to parents and to children, not the other way round! Parental involvement in a child's education lies at the heart of the process; it is not an added extra.

Often when teachers refer to parental involvement it appears to be some kind of concession. And when you ask what they mean by involvement, they talk of using parents as classroom assistants - rather than referring to the ways in which parents can participate in their own child's education.

We have to overcome the prejudices and misconceptions that exist on all sides and create a new and positive working relationship between parents, children and teachers. The "white line on the playground that parents are not allowed to cross" may be a thing of the past but in many schools there is still a "glass doorway" that prevents parents from joining in. If parents are going to pass through this doorway then more often than not schools will have to take the initiative because sadly, after years of separation between home and school, many parents don't value their role in their child's education.

The door should be open from day one. The initial contact that parents have with the local school sets the tone for all future encounters. Early on, parents and teachers need to meet and talk about the educational and development needs of each child. The results of baseline testing can be shared and a specific learning and development programme put in place. Educational plans for children with special educational needs are now established but the idea ought to be extended to all children. The plan should be a joint one, in which parents acknowledge their contribution as well as the school's. At a later stage, children should be directly involved in the planning process.

Children's progress can then be measured against their plan and against other appropriate benchmarks. This should make parents' evenings or review meetings much more productive and enlightening for teachers, parents, and children. Success can be celebrated and difficulties uncovered, sooner rather than later. This will help schools to value each child's achievements and help all parents to connect with the learning process.

To make this work we need good teachers who are committed to working with parents. As an active parent and long-time governor, I fully appreciate the difficulties of the last 15 years of change. But from a parent's perspective many of these changes have been positive in intention, if not always in execution. Teachers need to embrace the opportunities that now exist for transforming our approach to teaching and learning. Enthusiastic teachers and informed parents working together can make a difference, even in the most challenging situations. For those teachers who find it difficult to adapt to the new frameworks of performance and accountability, I have a great deal of sympathy. The pace of change has been frantic and the bureaucracy is excessive.

But ultimately the needs of children are paramount and if teachers are disenchanted and if they do not wish or are unable to move forward then they must move over.

Where will this partnership lead us? What kind of outcomes should we expect? At present parents tend to value academic achievement above all. This is understandable; we all want our children to acquire useful knowledge and skills, and qualifications are an inescapable part of our education system.

But most of us know from our real-world experience that there is a great deal more to education. Parents and teachers working together can develop a shared vision of a broadly based and inclusive education system. Together they can help children to think creatively, to develop understanding and respect for other people's values, to appreciate the importance of teamwork and to learn how to deal with the different circumstances they will encounter in the outside world. In doing this we will have to confront our own limitations and prejudices, but in partnership we are much more likely to raise standards and to achieve a broad education for our children. It is time to break the glass doorway so that we can work towards the best for all children.

Fran Stevens is a parent and chair of governors at Harborne junior and infant school, Birmingham

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