Why Involve Parents? : Best Pracetice for School and Parents

Nowadays it is rare to find anybody who doesn’t think that parental involvement in education is a ‘good’ thing. But defining quite why this is so is complex. Here are some suggestions, drawn from Robson (1996).

• Parents have rights and schools and settings need to be accountable to parents. The Children Act 1989 states that all parents have responsibilities towards their own children, and these include concern for their care and education. More importantly, however, is the fact that parents are their child’s first educators and have a continuing concern for their child’s education away from the home. This view enshrines the rights of all parents to be consulted and informed about their child’s progress, and makes institutions involved in the care and education of children accountable to parents.

• Parents can have a positive effect on their children’s attainment and progress. Tizard et al. (1988) showed that 97 percent of parents of children in the reception class helped them at home with reading. They had similar findings with regard to parents helping their children with mathematics. A number of schemes for involving parents more directly with their children’s work in schools have revealed gains. Working-class parents are as keen and able to help their children with learning at home as more middle-class parents. The fact that all parents want their children to do well at nursery and school has important implications for how workers relate to parents.

• Parental involvement in the school can help minimise conflicts between the values of home and school. We have touched on this in earlier chapters. Since all schools and settings serve diverse communities with different value systems, the more that is known about these values and beliefs, the better the relationship between parents and workers. Where workers are able to understand and consider different styles and expectations, they are more likely to be able to arrive at a shared and common way of approaching both care and education.

• Parental involvement in the school can have positive spin-off effects for parents themselves. Where parents are invited to become actively involved in the life of the nursery, they gain insights into what it is the workers are doing and why. So, where a school or setting takes time and trouble to explain to parents the reasons for providing play opportunities or why reading to children is important, for example, parents themselves learn and may be able to implement some of what they have learned at home.

• Parental involvement in the school can have positive spin-off effects for teachers and workers. Where parents are actively involved in the nursery, workers have the opportunity to learn more about the parent and child, about the values and principles operating within the child’s life out of the setting. Since one of the underpinning principles of high-quality early learning is building on what children already know and can do, the more that is known about the child’s life in all its aspects, the better the provision within the nursery or setting is likely to be.

• Parents can offer workers and teachers support. Where partnerships with parents are established, the support of parents can be a powerful tool when change and improvement are sought. There are many examples of parents taking action in order to ensure that a playgroup acquires better premises or in supporting workers’ requests for better pay and conditions.

Implications of this for settings

It is clear from this that establishing a close and respectful attitude between parents and workers is crucial to the well-being of the children. Research shows that all parents, regardless of class or cultural group or social position, want what is best for their children. Let us repeat that all parents are keen to help their children and many will give up a great deal to see their children succeed.

One of the difficulties, however, is that there are parents who do not know the best way in which to do this and who lack the confidence to approach staff. There are also many parents who have a limited command of English and who are often dependent on getting a second-hand version through translation. These may be very real barriers to establishing partnerships and are issues that are certainly worth addressing. This places some responsibility on settings to help parents know that the staff in the setting are approachable, keen to listen and eager to help.
This brings us to another very real barrier: the attitude of staff to parents. Where parents are perceived as being ‘too pushy’ or ‘not interested’, establishing relationships can be difficult. It is worthwhile examining your own attitudes to the parents of the children in your setting and seeing if you can honestly define parents who make you uncomfortable for one reason or another.
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