Home support is vital

7th May 2004 at 01:00
The boundaries are blurred: where do teachers take over from parents in helping children learn? Four pundits offer their views

Like it or not, parents matter. Research has consistently shown that parents have a significant effect on children's achievement and can substantially offset the impact of social class and poor schooling. This holds true for pupils of all ages.

When I was a primary teacher, working with parents was something I hadn't thought about. I was ill-prepared to deal with threats, advances and everything in between. In five years of teaching, I learnt more about parents than any other aspect of school life. Above all, I realised that contacting parents, especially over behaviour issues, had to be an early option.

Working with parents is a small part of initial teacher training, part of an overloaded professional studies strand of learning. Many courses give only one lecture on the subject. Child development, a key foundation for understanding the role of parents, has been squeezed by pressures to make training more curriculum-focused. During teaching practices, many schools seek to avoid student-parent interactions.

Proposals that "every child matters" may change this. The idea of children's professionals undertaking parts of their training together is being explored. If this happens, an obvious common theme would be around communicating with parents. What should you do with parents, especially the "not yet reached" whose own experience of schooling may have been negative?

The research also shows that what matters is parents who create a positive, supportive atmosphere in the home and raise their children's motivations and aspirations. The parts a teacher has influence over are the ones which matter least.

In the end, your actions will be guided by the philosophy of your school.

Ask about this when you are choosing. After all, schools that treat parents well probably take a similar attitude to their staff.

Joe Hallgarten is the author of 'Parents Exist OK!?', available from ipprcentralbooks.com; tel: 0845 458 9910

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