Paper for peace in our schools;Governors

3rd April 1998 at 01:00

* Written out commitment sets out goals for everyone

The Government wants all schools to have written home-school agreements, in the first of a two-part series, Mark Whitehead reports on two success stories.

Headteacher Ian Morgan says governors were crucial in developing the home-school agreement adopted by King's Park primary last year. They were involved at every stage of devising the scheme and implementing it.

An Office for Standards in Education report last year praised the Bournemouth school's friendly atmosphere and purposeful learning, but said that a small minority of trouble-makers held other pupils back.

Mr Morgan devised the home-school agreement and consulted the governors. "I wanted to say to parents very publicly that we would commit ourselves to delivering an effective education for their children if they would enable us to do it by supporting their children's learning and maintaining high standards of behaviour," he says. "We worked very closely with the governors on it, because we know they are very involved in the school and would put a lot of effort into making it work."

King's Park two-page Pact sets out the commitments of the school, the parents and the children. The school will provide a caring environment, clear learning objectives and a behaviour policy. The parents agree to support their child's learning by, for example, making sure homework is completed. Each pupil agrees to work to the best of their ability and behave well.

A meeting, hosted by the governors, explained to parents how the pact would work. So far, about two-thirds of parents and pupils have signed and the school aims to increase the total to 100 per cent.

The most important role for the governors, says Verity Hoare, deputy chair of the governing body, was as a bridge between the teachers and the parents. Some parents feel intimidated by teachers, and governors can help explain school policies to them. And governors can put parents' views clearly to headteacher and staff.

Building the Pact took almost a year. "We had to make sure that we had enough in it to make it worthwhile but not so much that it would put parents or children off. It had to be acceptable to as many of the children as possible, taking into account the wide age-range. (All pupils from Year 3 up are asked to sign). We had to make sure it was written in language they could understand." The agreement will be reviewed annually as new pupils join the school.


* Fostering co-operation and partnership with parents

When Archbishop Thurstan comprehensive was set up 10 years ago in a reorganisation of Hull schools, teachers and governors realised they had a lot of work to do to win parental support. The school Archbishop Thurstan was replacing had a bad reputation. Many parents in the new catchment area were unhappy about sending their children to the new school. And, says chair of governors Christine Rablen, the fact that it was to be run by the Church of England made some suspicious.

"We felt increasingly that the educational process had to be a partnership between the parents and the school," she says. "Parents had to see that they had a role in the education of their children, and we wanted to show them what kind of things they could do."

The school set up a working group called Parents in Partnership to foster a spirit of co-operation, and one of its first ideas was to draw up a home-school agreement.

The group worked with John Bastiani (see above) of Nottingham University and the RSA, to devise a document which set out the responsibilities of parents or guardians, the school and the pupil. It was introduced in September 1991.

The process helped to clarify what was the school's role and what the responsibilities of pupils and, crucially, their parents. Mrs Rablen says:

"The home-school agreement showed parents that the school was serious about wanting to involve them in their children's education. It says what the school expects of them but also what they can expect of the school. It tells them that they've got a contribution to make and that we value that."

The agreement is signed by all three parties when a child starts at the school and is occasionally used as a reminder of what is expected if a child behaves badly. Take-up is 100 per cent. Year 7 pupils celebrate their agreement in an annual competition to illustrate the document.

Barrie Wyse, former deputy head who headed the working group, says governors' involvement is important. But it is over-optimistic, he thinks, to expect all the governors to be closely involved. A special sub-committee, with governors, co-opted staff and parents, may need to be set up to monitor and develop the agreement, which must evolve.

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