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2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Primary teachers must reach out to parents, says academic.

Schemes to improve ties between schools and parents work best if they are devised by teachers themselves, according to academic reserraxch.

But Professor Alan Dyson, of the education department at Manchester university, believes that teachers do not have the time or incentive to foster such links.

The Government has tried to get parents more involved in schools by promising clearer information and a better complaints system. It cites evidence that parents are up to six times more important to a child's academic success than schools.

Professor Dyson's investigation, conducted with consultants Emma Beresford and Erica Splawnyk on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, examined how schools could promote parental involvement. He concluded that while staff did see it as important, there was little incentive for them to make the effort when parents were hard to reach.

Professor Dyson said: "Schools have many other pressing concerns, and to expect them to prioritise parental involvement when it is not consistently or practically prioritised throughout national directives may be unrealistic."

Ofsted, for example, no longer requires a parents' meeting and there is little mention of the quality of work schools do with parents.

Professor Dyson's study found the problems were manifold: some parents were anxious or aggressive, some teachers were too busy or saw parents as threatening, and some schools had real difficulties engaging with certain individuals.

Classroom assistants, who often live locally and whose time is more flexible, should be an important link with parents, he said. But draft guidelines suggest only a limited role for higher-level teaching assistants in such work.

Professor Dyson said schools should be encouraged to develop their own ideas and there should be training for newly qualified teachers, who were often keener than more experienced colleagues.

He interviewed staff in six schools for the Manchester Transition Project - aimed at improving relations between primary schools and parents of Year 1 pupils. He also spoke to staff from two other schools in similar areas.

The project enabled trained staff to introduce ideas such as home visits or events where parents were informed about the school.

Lesley Maddock, head of Haveley Hey primary, one of the schools involved, said: "When I arrived in 2003, the school was in special measures. There had been a breakdown in communication between parents and the school. For children to do the best they can, schools and parents have to be working together."

The school came out of special measures in 2004. A project to involve parents began soon afterwards. Since then, attendance has risen, homework is completed and uniform is worn.

Professor Dyson concludes that such initiatives have been successful because they came from the schools themselves and staff were given time to carry them out.

In contrast, home-school agreements - a legal requirement for every school - were disliked and seen as off-putting to parents.

The Manchester Transition Project: Implications for the Development of Parental Involvement in Primary Schools www.dfes.gov.ukresearch

By Helen Ward schemes to improve ties between schools and parents work best if they are devised by teachers themselves, according to academic reserraxch.

But Professor Alan Dyson, of the education department at Manchester university, believes that teachers do not have the time or incentive to foster such links.

The Government has tried to get parents more involved in schools by promising clearer information and a better complaints system. It cites evidence that parents are up to six times more important to a child's academic success than schools.

Professor Dyson's investigation, conducted with consultants Emma Beresford and Erica Splawnyk on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, examined how schools could promote parental involvement. He concluded that while staff did see it as important, there was little incentive for them to make the effort when parents were hard to reach.

Professor Dyson said: "Schools have many other pressing concerns, and to expect them to prioritise parental involvement when it is not consistently or practically prioritised throughout national directives may be unrealistic."

Ofsted, for example, no longer requires a parents' meeting and there is little mention of the quality of work schools do with parents.

Professor Dyson's study found the problems were manifold: some parents were anxious or aggressive, some teachers were too busy or saw parents as threatening, and some schools had real difficulties engaging with certain individuals.

Classroom assistants, who often live locally and whose time is more flexible, should be an important link with parents, he said. But draft guidelines suggest only a limited role for higher-level teaching assistants in such work.

Professor Dyson said schools should be encouraged to develop their own ideas and there should be training for newly qualified teachers, who were often keener than more experienced colleagues.

He interviewed staff in six schools for the Manchester Transition Project - aimed at improving relations between primary schools and parents of Year 1 pupils. He also spoke to staff from two other schools in similar areas.

The project enabled trained staff to introduce ideas such as home visits or events where parents were informed about the school.

Lesley Maddock, head of Haveley Hey primary, one of the schools involved, said: "When I arrived in 2003, the school was in special measures. There had been a breakdown in communication between parents and the school. For children to do the best they can, schools and parents have to be working together."

The school came out of special measures in 2004. A project to involve parents began soon afterwards. Since then, attendance has risen, homework is completed and uniform is worn.

Professor Dyson concludes that such initiatives have been successful because they came from the schools themselves and staff were given time to carry them out.

In contrast, home-school agreements - a legal requirement for every school - were disliked and seen as off-putting to parents.

The Manchester Transition Project: Implications for the Development of Parental Involvement in Primary Schools www.dfes.gov.ukresearch

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