10th April 1998 at 01:00
In the second of two articles on home-school agreements, Victoria Neumark talks to critics of the proposals while Mark Whitehead looks at the reservations of staff working with ethnic-minority and special needs children

A written agreement may seem the ideal way of cementing the relationship between parents, their child and the school. In Coventry, a city with a large (mainly Asian) ethnic-minority population, it hasn't quite worked out like that.

As Sheila Karran, a home-school links worker in the city, points out, many parents do not speak good English and would find an agreement of the kind proposed in the Schools Standards and Framework Bill hard to understand.

More than that, the cultural assumptions underlying such an agreement could seem alien. Punctuality, for example, often placed at the heart of home-school agreements, may not have the same importance in another culture.

And, says Mrs Karran, a formal agreement involving the parents could be incomprehensible to people whose own experience may have been in the Indian sub-continent or the West Indies.

"There are still many parents in awe of the teachers who undervalue their own part in their children's schooling," she says. "Their experience of school is that it is the teachers who provide education, and they wouldn't understand why the teacher might need help. Home-school agreements in this kind of situation would only cause confusion."

Another particular problem can arise over the long-standing issue of Asian families taking their children back to visit relatives in India or Pakistan on extended leave.

In Coventry, as elsewhere, the practice is discouraged - but if parents do insist on withdrawing their children from school for long periods, they are asked to ensure pupils have work set to do during the loss of formal schooling.

The answer, says Mrs Karran, lies not in formal home-school agreements but in making sure there is active dialogue between the school and the home. Coventry has recently taken on more specialist teachers and education assistants to help in its inner-city schools.

"I'm not happy about the bureaucratic signing of a piece of paper defining what the school and the home ought to be doing," says Mrs Karran. "It could become a substitute for concentrating on developing good relationships between real people."

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