Genuine parental partnership must guide the way forward

9th December 2011 at 00:00
It's time to pay more than lip service to collaboration

Headteachers and directors of education claim to want better partnership with parents but we see little evidence of a consistent approach across the country. There is a real reluctance to let parents lead change as equal partners and this underlying defensiveness is erecting barriers which do not make it easy for parents to contribute ideas or feel they are welcomed.

True partnership working demands trust and unfortunately there are too few examples of this in Scottish education. Young people need to be supported in a spirit of teamwork, collaboration and openness by the main players - school leaders, teachers, parents, pupils. This needs to be underpinned by clear support from local authorities and central government. Educational provision solutions need to be driven locally within learning communities.

There are many examples of very good school leadership, excellent classroom practice and real involvement of parents, but they are not widespread enough and not well communicated outside the "education bubble". For an industry which is based largely on an ability to communicate and inform, it is amazing that "poor communication" fromto school is often at the top of many parents' list of complaints.

I have been fortunate to work with some excellent education directors in West Lothian and we established a network of parent representatives covering the 82 schools, but even this only scratched the surface of what is possible. Someone needs the courage to commit funds and other resources to the parental involvement agenda on a pilot basis to see if parent-led initiatives on major topics can produce better results than we have today. Surely it is worth trying if we want improved outcomes for pupils, including more comprehensive understanding of long-term destinations, improved job satisfaction for teachers, more opportunities for meaningful parental and pupil involvement and the establishment of the best possible learning environments for all.

The starting point must be to understand what we have in place today and how it is working. Do we really know what level of involvement teachers and school leaders want from parents? At a recent conference, The Real David Cameron claimed there were too many vested interests and too much caution in the industry to make the necessary improvements, and that current structures were not very effective. This seemed to be welcomed by those in attendance who were from outside the "education bubble", but less so from those within it.

Is it not time to burst the bubble and for all stakeholders to work together to create long-lasting solutions which will improve the outcomes for young people, educators, local communities and Scotland as a whole?

David Mitchell is a parent in West Lothian.

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