Just one more piece of paper?

20th October 2000 at 01:00
Research shows that new home-school contracts are making little impact, reports David Budge.

THE Government is likely to be disappointed if it thinks home-school agreements will improve relationships between parents and schools.

All schools in England and Wales have been required to have such agreements since September 1999. But a national study suggests that they are having little effect.

Researchers Suzanne Hood and Janet Ouston, who surveyed 1,385 schools in England and Wales, found that teachers, governors, parents and pupils shared a "considerable degree of scepticism" about the agreements.

The consensus was that they "may possibly make a small difference to a few parents and students who will benefit from being informed or reminded of their responsibilities".

Advocates of the agreements claim they also give parents a better understanding of schools' aims and ethos. But schools do not believe they will make "unsupportive" parents and pupils any more co-operative - whether or not they sign.

"Since neither parents nor students are required to sign agreements and there are no adverse consequences to either signing or not signing, their main impact may be through any changes that result in school values," Hood and Ouston say.

Pupils were asked to sign agreements in 83 per cent of secondary schools, 41 per cent of primaries and 32 per cent of special schools. Older pupils (Year 10) were more critical of agreements than pupils in Years 6 and 7. But there were exceptions. One secondary boy said: "Now we know what is expected of us..." But a primary girl was dismissive: "It's a kind of waste of paper because your parents read it, sendthe bit at

the bottom back and chuck the rest

in the bin."

A lawyer quoted in a second study by University of Derby researchers was equally critical of the agreements, claiming they are "not worth the paper they are written on".

The Derby survey of 24 primary schools found that opinions were polarised. Some schools welcomed the agreements while others saw them as yet another bureaucratic burden.

"While most schools appear to have implemented the policy, this can be at a very superficial level for some schools," the researchers conclude. "They now have a document detailing key elements of government guidance but it is rarely used."

However, a third study involving four inner London primary schools suggests that parents and children have a far higher opinion of the agreements than teachers do.

Greta Sykes, an educational psychologist, found that refugee parents had benefited from the discussions about the agreements.

"This is an example of how the agreement can be used positively as a process, rather than allowing it to become a mere product," she says.

"Home-school agreements: a true partnership?" by Janet Ouston and Suzanne Hood is available, price pound;10 (plus 75p pamp;p) from the Research and Information on State Education Trust, 54 Broadwalk, London E18 2DW.

"One year on: the implementation and impact of the home-school agreement in Derbyshire primary schools", by Marie Parker-Jenkins, Doug Briggs, Viv Taylor-Basil and Dimitra Hartas. Contact: 01332 592089, e-mail M.Parker-Jenkins@derby.ac.uk

"Home-school agreements and parent power and partnership", by Greta Sykes. Contact Greta.Sykes@camden.gov.uk

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