How much to tell mum;Platform;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Parents are widely encouraged to become involved in their

children's education but Miriam David, Rosalind Edwards and Pam Alldred found that children have their own ideas about the relationship between their school and home lives PARENTAL responsibility for their children's education has become one of the most important tenets of New Labour's education policies, and parents' involvement is widely regarded as necessary for educational success. But the fact that children and young people have their own views about these relationships is often ignored.

We recently completed a study of children and young people's experiences, and their views of parental participation in their education, and we found that they play an active part in their parents' involvement - whether at home or at school. Most of them commented constructively on home-school relations, and did not respond passively to their parents' involvement.

The 70 children and young people we interviewed came from different social, ethnicracial and family backgrounds. They were from Year 6 and Year 9 in six schools - two inner-city and two suburban schools in London, and two from a town in the South-east of England.

They dealt with their parents in many different ways, and four main strategies emerged from their accounts:

some children actively solicited their mothers' involvement by, for example, asking for help with homework, telling them about their school day, and encouraging them to come into school.

"Say something really interesting has happened at school, I go 'Mum, guess what's happened at school today,' and she goes 'What?' and I go 'Guess!'. But in the end I tell her 'cos she won't guess." Natasha, suburban secondary school

some were relatively passive; they would respond to questions about the school day and pass on communications between home and school.

"You should tell your parents about your school day because they have a right to ask you about it." Pooja, suburban secondary school

a third strategy was for children actively to discourage, evade or resist parental involvement, by rebuffing offers of help with homework, "filtering" communications from teachers, or discouraging parents from coming into school. This was not necessarily for negative reasons; sometimes they saw themselves as responsible for their own schooling.

some children and young people said that their parents were not the type of person to get involved in their education, or did not understand their schooling, or did not speak much English. Some fathers were said to be unable to participate because of their long working hours. The children saw these as legitimate reasons for their parents to be uninvolved in their education.

"If it's like a parents' meeting my mum wouldn't go, she doesn't like it. She doesn't like anyone knowing about her feelings. She doesn't like anyone knowing. It's up to her really, isn't it?" Emma, urban primary school

As might be expected from the literature on gender differences, girls talked more about initiating their parents' involvement - especially getting their mothers' help and support. Boys were more likely to see how well they did at school as their own business. When boys did involve their parents, they were more likely to focus on the formal aspects of their education such as homework.

"If I get stuck on my maths I normally ask my dad, and if I get stuck on anything else, I normally ask my mum." Bob, urban secondary school

Social class also made a difference. Children from middle-class backgrounds were more likely to talk about helping their mothers to get involved .if they expressed an interest. Some children from working-class and minority ethnic backgrounds resisted their parents' involvement, because they wanted a separation between their home and school lives. Others were aware of their parents' inability or unwillingness to participate and did not force the issue.

Children and young people want to control how much their teachers know about their families and home lives.

Different value systems underlie their views of home and school. They often see home as a place to relax and do what they want; school is viewed as a place of rules and timetables - but also as somewhere to mix with friends.

Our findings suggest that if policy-makers and practitioners wish to pursue closer links between home and school, they should take the views of schoolchildren much more seriously and be aware that they often value the differences between their home and school lives.

Successful policies should encourage children to co-operate in involving their parents, and respect the fact that children are active partners in home-school relations.

Miriam David is professor of policy studies at the Department of Education, University of Keele, Rosalind Edwards is professor of social policy at South Bank University, and Dr Pam Alldred is a researcher in social sciences at South Bank.

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