Keeping in close touch

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Edward Terry finds an Essex primary determined to let parents have their say. The governors of Steeple Bumpstead County Primary School are so keen on involving and communicating with parents that they have drawn up a comprehensive policy designed to improve homeschool relations.

Stanley Drapkin, chair for eight years, remembers the first governors' annual report and subsequent annual parents' meeting in 1987. "It was viewed apprehensively and with a sense of foreboding: we said little and kept our heads under the parapet."

Now the headteacher, her staff and governors make communicating with parents a priority. "We can only be successful if we all work together," explains Alison Fiala, the head since 1988.

She is anxious to share information with parents and understands that, however sophisticated the home-school policy becomes, there will always be some parents or, worse still, prospective parents, who are ill-informed or get the wrong end of village gossip. She is keen to get rid of undercurrents and wants parents to voice issues openly.

Stanley Drapkin, also chairman of the parish council, says there is strong local pride in the 225-pupil primary, situated in a relatively prosperous rural Essex village.

Alison Fiala places much emphasis on the role of parents as co-educators, valuing their contribution and wanting them to know that their child will have valuable learning experiences in the school's care. She leads briefing meetings with parents (present and prospective) on topics such as the future of nursery education and large classes - "the biggest issue". Central to her approach is "wanting parents to voice an opinion and know it's safe".

Steeple Bumpstead's, home-school policy aims: * to develop and strengthen the partnership between home and school with the common purpose of providing pupils with the best possible educationIbelieving that children progress best when both work closely and harmoniously together.

* to develop effective two-way communication encouraging constructive comment.

governors also recently issued a termly news review in an effort to foster "a warm live relationship". This supplements the school's annual report which last year won a first prize in The TES Annual Report Award. Issued during the second half of each school term after committee meetings, the review deals comprehensively with parental concerns such as school transport, staffing changes, large classes and shows parents how governors pursue such concerns at local and national levels.

Julia Smith, a parent governor for three years, chairs the committee responsible for liaison with parents.

Her committee has wide-ranging functions including reviewing the curriculum, admissions, discipline, attendance, pupil support, parent liaison, and health issues. It meets parents "as and when necessary" inviting representatives of local toddlers and play groups.

Recent topics have included the school's admissions and special needs policies, concerns about supply cover and long-term sickness and large classes. She is convinced that involving parents empowers them to be just as effective a lobby as governors.

Steeple Bumpstead's teachers and governors are confident enough to raise parents' - and pupils' - expectations as consumers. It challenges them to use their collective voice by making them politically aware about educational issues; both groups know they can influence school policy.

As Alison Fiala says: "We can only be successful if we all pull together. I want parents to feel they can share the school gate with us."

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