What keeps me awake at night - Keep out! No parents allowed

21st September 2012 at 01:00

Parents, who'd have them? Not many senior schools, apparently, if they had any choice.

Junior schools know about parents. They see them in the same way that their pupils see them: indispensable. They know that they are hugely useful for tying laces, listening to reading and dealing with glue, and invaluable for cheery encouragement and mopping up tears. They welcome them with open arms, recognising the benefits that enthusiastic, involved parents bring.

Senior schools, too, often seem to share the same views of parents as their pupils. Like their adolescent charges, many find the presence of parents unnerving and deeply embarrassing. If they could, they would erect a "Keep out" sign. They head off any parent spotted approaching the building and communication is kept to the equivalent of the occasional grunt or mutter. Cries of "But you don't understand us!" or "Things are different now!" ring out at even the mildest of parents' comments. If a senior school does contact them directly, it is likely to use one of only three scripts: your child is badly behaved; we need money; we need help with transport.

The correlation between parental involvement and the achievement of children is well documented. Research shows exactly what you would expect: that children whose parents show an active interest in their education achieve more highly than those whose parents show little or no interest.

It is worrying, then, that the further children progress through school, the more difficult we make it for parents to remain involved in their education. Often, as soon as a child leaves the cosy world of junior school, they enter an almost completely parent-free zone.

Of course, this coincides with the age at which pupils begin to actively seek out parent-free zones whenever they can. Suddenly parents and home are perceived as less significant than friends and the world they inhabit with those friends. And that is part of growing up. But many schools appear themselves to be stuck in this stage of development.

By discouraging parents from stepping foot in schools, they imply that after the age of 11 parents can no longer play any useful or significant role in their child's education.

Isn't it time that senior schools developed strategies to enable parents to contribute more than just help with homework? Strategy after strategy is tried to improve achievement, but all too often the resource that has been resoundingly proven to have the greatest influence on achievement is completely disregarded.

There will always be parents who take no interest in their child's education, just as there will always be overbearing parents who take too much. But there are many who, if welcomed and invited by schools to contribute in specific ways, would willingly do so, to the benefit of everyone.

The writer is an English teacher from Essex. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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