The Institute for Public Policy Research recently held a "home-school communications" seminar. Responses which were drawn from the ranks of education directors, deputies and lead education officers showed unanimous agreement on the following points:
* the importance of parental involvement for meeting the Government's aim of improving educational standards;
* time outside school hours is as important to children's learning as what happens in school;
* schools cannot do all the work to raise attainment without parents sharing responsibility.
Such a development will only successfully happen if those involved are clear about why they are trying to build a stronger partnership between home and school. For some this might be linked to a desire to improve examination performance, for others it may be directly linked to supporting a disadvantaged community. But the end result of a successful initiative is almost certainly that of raising standards.
If you take all ICT issues and add them to those of dealing with parents you have a rather scary cocktail. Yet ICT provides a dynamic and appropriate focus for the development of closer home-school relationships. The Internet is the most significant educational resource we have ever had in terms of its capacity to be shared between schools and homes. Yet many parents, like teachers, feel threatened due to a lack of understanding of new technologies and are thus excluded from an aspect of work which children obviously relate to and enjoy.
The relative newness of the technology means that ICT provides a legitimate route into learning for adults. We all have to learn more about the values of the technology. If parents are to maintain and develop their traditional roles as supporters and co-educators, we need to consider ways of enabling them to become computer literate and to understand how a resource such as the Internet can support and enhance learning. Witout this, the dramatic increase in home computer ownership could conceivably result in a rising population of computer gamers with little impact on any other gains. This in itself will inevitably affect how the technology is perceived and used in schools by children.
Another potential stumbling block presented by ICT involves those on the wrong side of the "digital divide" who do not have access out of school. They are fast becoming a distinct and more profoundly excluded minority and we should be very concerned to ensure their inclusion. ICT literate parents can contribute to after-school provision for these children and families. Without drawing parents in to support both home and after-school provision, I believe schools will be facing growing issues of disadvantage and will struggle to achieve the standards increasingly required of them.
The future of schools is very much about a partnership with parents and the community and ICT will play a key role. I recently had the privilege of hosting a conference about the provision of ICT workshops for parents. Attending were representatives from schools around the country who are interested in finding manageable ways of providing support for parents. To me the most significant feature of the conference was that participants included head-teachers, deputy heads, parents, ICT co-ordinators, classroom assistants and governors.
This has to be an indication of the partnerships required for successful schooling in the future. A great deal more can be achieved if schools are able to tap the potential of parents, by supporting and also involving them.
Jacquie Disney worked as a teacher and ICT advisory teacher. She is the director of PIN (Parents Information Network) www.pin-parents.com (see also The TES' Learnfree website www.learnfree.co.uk) Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org From this month, case-studies will be published on the PIN website, demonstrating what some schools are doing, exploring the extent to which closer home-school partnerships in ICT can make a difference to raising achievement.