Harnessing parent power

20th October 2000 at 01:00
Teachers should get more training in how to communicate with parents, says a new report from a policy think-tank. It also says schools should have to develop two-way complaints procedures in consultation with parents and pupils.

In the book, Parents Exist, OK!? - Issues and Visions for Parent-School Relationships, Joe Hallgarten of the Institute for Public Policy Research, also calls for more to be done to target fathers, including those who don't live with their children.

The report says that, in terms of the sexes, changing parenting patterns have not kept pace with changing employment patterns. "By targeting paternal involvement, schools could play a role in moving families towards greater gender equality in childcare," it says.

Parental involvement in schools is a complicated issue for overworked teachers, for whom communication with parents is only one of some 30 professional duties. A survey of teachers' views by the IPPR and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers came up with mixed responses:

* "Some parents are absolutely marvellous - caring and supportive of pupil and school. Some parents want one rule for their child and one rule for everyone else."

* "If parents are to have a greater say in how a school is run then they should be aware of what the school is trying to achieve for the whole child instead of forming their opinions on the basis of published league tables."

* "As a late entrant to the profession, most of my skills in dealing with parents and general communication with parents ome from my personal experience as a parent, teacher and governor. I had no help or training."

Hallgarten, a primary teacher and research fellow, says his proposals are based on the premise that "the onus for change to improve parent-school relationships must fall on the school, not the parent. The aim should be to create family-like schools, in all their shades of diversity and complexity, not school-like families".

He stresses, however, that the boundaries should be recognised: "Asking teachers to be parents and parents to be teachers is a major cause of overload for parents, teachers and especially children."

Initiatives should be debated and their value seriously evaluated by individual schools. The only mandatory initiative he calls for is grievance procedures. Children should be consulted closely by schools on home-school initiatives and policies.

Other proposals are:

* Educational publishers and the Government should ensure home- learning activities are wide-ranging and don't merely replicate schooling.

* Teachers should be able to specialise in parental involvement.

* All professionals working with children should undergo some common multi-agency training, to encourage networking and help them understand the diverse needs of families.

* Funding should be available for schools to employ home-school link workers to act as "neutral brokers", especially in disadvantaged areas.

Parents Exist, OK!?, pound;10.95, plus 75p pamp;p from Central Books, 99 Wallis Road, London E9 5LN.

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