Parents and schools: a potted history

The role of parents with regard to the education of their children out of the home has a long and difficult history. There were those who held that teachers were professionals who knew best about what young children needed and that parents should be happy to hand over their young children without question into such capable hands. Home and school were kept separate, with no recognition of the fact that learning begins at home and that parents are fundamentally involved in the education process.
When the importance of the role of parents began to be recognised, it was in the sense that ‘good’ parents are able to help their children’s learning by supporting what happens in the school or nursery. ‘Bad’ parents were seen to hold children back. For several decades it was believed that it was the role of schools and teachers to educate these ‘inadequate’ parents (who were invariably poor or black) and to compensate for the perceived inadequacies of the home. This view was exemplified in programmes like the Head Start programme in the United States. Even the Plowden Report in 1967, which advocated partnership with parents, saw the role of parents as limited to that of raising funds and being informed about their children’s progress and development by teachers through regular meetings. So, parents continued to play a largely passive role— receiving information rather than contributing to children’s progress. In the 1980s a different view of parents emerged, and much of that was to do with the work of researchers like Tizard and Hughes (1984) and Gordon Wells (1987), who demonstrated effectively that most homes, regardless of socioeconomic level or other factors, provide rich learning environments. Alongside this came a recognition that parents know more about their own children than teachers and playgroup workers do, and if children are to be offered rich learning experiences in the nursery and playgroup which allow them to build on what they already know, this expertise of parents needed to be made accessible to all those working with the child. More recently still, a complex view of parents has arisen. There is a recognition that parents need to be involved in the care and education of their children, but there is also a view of parents as being in need of knowing how to parent. This is a contentious and a patronising view— one that suggests that someone, somewhere knows what makes a ‘good’ parent. The reality is that ways of parenting are as various as ways of dressing or cooking or dancing. Economic factors, educational levels, position in society will all affect how well parents are able to parent, and it is important to remember that parents will, almost by definition, want what is best for their children. It follows from that that they will do the best that they can. That seems a basic principle for all practitioners to hold to.
The changing role of parents is reflected at the official level. Under the 1944 Education Act parents were seen as having a duty to ensure that their children received education suitable to their age and ability. The Taylor Report (Department of Education and Science 1977) emphasised parental responsibility, but did recognise that individual parents might need to band together in order to have a collective voice. The report advocated that parents should have equal representation with teachers, the local education authority and the local community on school governing bodies. The 1980 Education Act, which followed this report, only partly implemented these recommendations, and it was only with the 1986 Education (No. 2) Act that parents were given equal representation with local education authority members. The Act further required that all schools furnish parents with an annual report and hold an annual meeting for parents.
The most important piece of legislation recognising that parents have rights as well as responsibilities came in the late 1970s with the Warnock Report (Department of Education and Science 1978), which looked at children with special needs. This report recommended that teachers and schools should be required to seek the full involvement



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