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Anne Page

Policy Manager

National Family and Parenting Institute


all roads lead to rome
  • Charles Desforges influential research for DfES – his review was about parental involvement in children’s learning and showed that the one key thing it’s important for parents to do is to talk with their children
  • In the context of children’s services, extended schools and Every Child Matters, should we be asking what is the key to children and young people’s well-being (health & social care) and learning (educational attainment and achievement)?
first learning from recent research

Preliminary findings from the

NFPI parent-school partnerships

research project

funded by the Esmee Fairbairn foundation

practitioners concerns
  • Established ways of working with parents & many new initiatives since 2000
  • Concern about the speed of the introduction of new initiatives
  • Danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or on the other hand, continuing with established ways of working that only suit some parents/continue tradition/rely on one energetic or charismatic person
  • Concern about the place of nurturing the whole child in new initiatives, over concentration on targets and in schools on testing
  • Evidence to the Family Commission 2005 about work with parents in schools – key to taking forward is to ENGAGE with parents as a starting point
school parent policies
  • LA support for children/families with special needs – parent partnerships
  • Parents as consumers – right to choice and information
  • Home-school agreements
  • Parental involvement in children’s learning
  • Parent support – implies deficit model of parenting?
  • Partnerships between families and schools and how it fits with the development of extended schools
school parent partnership project

A qualitative research project

  • to explore established and innovative ways of schools working with parents and families
  • to explore the commonalities and differences in the perspectives of parents, children and school staff
  • to explore what terms in current use mean in practice
what works well on the ground to engage parents
  • Text, e-mail, phone calls, school website
  • Encouraging parents to become classroom assistants, take qualifications, work at the school
  • Home-visiting
  • Onsite services, before and after school activities
  • Regular multi-agency meetings
  • Energetic (and tired) individuals who make things happen quickly
  • Parents feel done to by professionals
  • Parents and schools both feel it can be difficult to communicate with each other
  • Parents’ busy lives
  • Some aspects of family life are outside of the school’s influence and families may want to preserve ‘switch off’ time to spend together
  • Children have a role to play in telling their parents about school life
  • Need for clearer definitions of the variety of approaches being used in schools – multi-agency working, parental involvement, family learning, PTA/governors, extended schools menu
  • Tensions between school ethos and community climate
  • Parents disengaged with schools or any kind of formal learning
  • Funding, time & resources
the research study
  • Five schools – three secondary & two primary
  • Two rural & three urban
  • Two with a mix of ethnic origin
  • One with 90% plus minority ethnic population
  • Two struggling to build stronger links with parents
  • Three with established links with parents and wanting to build on existing strengths – family learning, parents’ association, fathers’ group, learning creche
Total of 125 interviews
  • 50 parents in five discussion groups completed
  • 50 children and young people in five discussion groups completed
  • 12 staff in individual interviews – currently being completed
  • Follow up interviews 6 months later with a smaller sample of parents and children
Definitions of partnership between families and schools
  • Triggers for developing positive relationships between families and schools
  • Barriers to effective relationships between families and schools
  • Overcoming barriers
  • What has to happen for parents and families to feel part of the school community?
parents perspective
  • Good working relationship rather than partnership
  • Clear roles and communication channels
  • Information about school diary, uniform, trips and so on – how the school is organised
  • Support for the transition into secondary school
  • Appreciate being welcomed into school and consulted
Family learning builds confidence and improves relationships with children
  • Coming into school and meeting other parents is enjoyable, helps forge real friendships
  • Parents and grandparents as a resource eg entrepreneurs, local business people, crafts, local history – could broker links with schools
  • Existing structures eg PTA, school governors don’t reach the majority of parents
  • Parents give time and help to their own children, but may ‘get lost’ in the school structures, especially in large secondary schools
parents in their own words

“Once parents come through the door and see it’s a laid-back atmosphere within the school, then you’re half-way there. I think for a lot of people if they’ve got that feeling where, I dunno if I can go to school, the headteacher there…Once you’ve got past that, if you can get them into school, there’s usually no stopping them.”

Parent volunteer, primary school

“..there should be meetings where they (parents) come and find out ways of how to deal with their child or other children that are disruptive in class or, you know what I mean, they know how to deal with it and how to approach another parent….When somebody goes up to you and says, “Your child has really been provoking my child,” sometimes they’re shocked for a period and then backed up and they’re like, “Well, you know,” but they’ve probably had enough, that’s why they’re going up to parents so if they sort of had these meetings and stuff like that and you know there’s a procedure you go through and you can talk to the parents and say well like…And lots of times we’re not united and the kids can play up one parent to another and tell lies and stuff like that, you know.”

Parent, secondary school

“ ..I’ve been here when parents have broken down…just come to the door and they’re just in tears…I try and tell the parents that whatever they’re going through in their life, they’re not on their own…..Some people haven’t got grandparents, families, friends they can rely on.”

“It’s interaction with other parents. We sit down and we problem-share. Somebody’d been up all night with a little ‘un, she’d say, ‘Well I tried so and so, that works for me.’ “

Parent creche worker, primary school

“I don’t need to ask. As soon as they (the children) sit down, as soon as it’s gone quiet, you can guarantee one of them will say ‘and today….’ I’ll sit there for about ten minutes while they tell me about school and their friends and what’s happened. It’s fun sometimes, but sometimes it goes on and on and on.”

Father, primary school

“…partnership? I mean I’ve got four children and half the time I don’t have time to go to the toilet. Each child has one to one time with me. We want more of a working relationship than a partnership really.”

Mother, secondary school

“In this community it’s always been that the dad has not looked after the children…It used to be years ago that the father went out and earned the money, and the mother stayed in the house. And now roles are changing, I mean there’s more women going back to work and going on courses and what have you. I can’t argue, cos my wife owrks here (at the school). But that’s the element of it that I mean and more men are now getting involved with their children, because their wives or their partners are going back to work or going to work.

Father in dad’s group, primary school

“The school works very good because every time there is a new thing they will let me know by writing and sending home. Every time she is involved in the programme they will let me know, every time there is a new thing, every information they will, the school will let me know before I find out myself….Even though she (daughter) tries to hide I will getting it by the end of the day…the school will let me know that.”

Parent, secondary school

“My son came home and said, ‘Oh I’ve got the day off tomorrow, Mum.’ ‘Are you sure?’ So I rang the school and asked how come I wasn’t sent a letter to say? ‘Oh, we don’t do that any more, it’s in the front of the logbook.’ As year seven parents, we don’t know that. It wasn’t the way it used to be. So you’re relying on your child telling you.”

Mother, secondary school

children young people s perspective
  • Appreciate more ‘cheering on’ from parents and family
  • Would like to see parents come into school for a taste of classes and school life – reality TV show where swap places for a day
  • Bullying/building self-confidence continues to be an issue
  • Real pressure in exam years
Parents don’t understand what school is like now, what grades for work and effort mean, how the school works
  • Parents help with problems
  • Parents talk about school most days
  • Busy parents can still keep in touch by phone
  • Parents can be embarrassing in school
children young people in their own words

“When you’re in school you can talk to your friends, mess around and do what you want to do. But when parents are around you, you’re just quiet. That’s why they say like I’m quiet, but I’m actually not that quiet at school.”

Secondary school student

“Well first of all they (parents) ask about like relationship and I’m like,’Mm, no, I don’t have any boyfriend.’ And just like make all this story up like bad boyfriend, got dumped, got another one. So it’s actually quite annoying to like argue with them about school, education, stuff like that. And they always like tell me, ‘Go upstairs and study’, which I will do, but they just don’t believe me studying because they say I’m too lazy and the only thing I’ll do is go upstairs, play guitar, listen to music and drum. Which is not actually quite true. I think school is the only place if you want to reach your dreams, you can start from going to school, learn about it and then you got to try harder and you can get what you want.”

Secondary school student

“You could have a day when you swap places with your parents and they have to do all the work and everything.”

“…they could tell us all the answers.”

“…they’d see what other children do and how much strain it is.”

“….they would know what a simile is.”

Primary school students

school staff in their own words
School staff in their own words

“ So re-establishing that idea that education is a good thing and that your children are worthwhile, you know, and that you ought to spend time, be more involved with them, is a critical thing as far as this school is concerned. Every school and every headteacher will tell you that, you know what I mean, it trips off the tongue, you know. I just wonder sometimes about how serious if you like they are about it, you know. When I established the dad’s group here…a good friend of mine and a headteacher, he said to me, “What’s this, you’ve got a dad’s group?” I said, “That’s absolutely right…he said, “What do you want to bother with a dad’s group? Haven’t you got enough trouble with the mothers?”

Headteacher, primary school

“ There are some parents whose children are, they really are facing exclusions …..and so you’ve got to try and get that message across that actually this is a problem…..I’m trying to get support for you but then where do I go with it because there’s very few groups that are able to do that and one of the ideas that I had was somehow trying to get the parents to support each other for parents……but I don’t think we’ve got the culture for that yet, I don’t think we’ve got the forum for doing it.”

Deputy head teacher, secondary school

“ Well I would say if another school’s thinking about starting something like this, then to go for it. Cos initially you haven’t got the ideas there, once you start meeting, the ideas just come and one thing leads to another. And then like three years down the line you’ve got you know, you’ve got your little team to carry on doing stuff that the teachers need doing, but haven’t always got time to do. And it’s nice to feel that the parents can be asked to do things…..You just need someone with enough confidence to say, “Well come on, do it.”

Parents’ group volunteer co-ordinator, primary school