No progress without parents
Posted: 8 March, 2010 by Caroline Millar
If you have children in school you may want to cancel your plans and set aside some quality time to be involved in a quick consultation this August. This week the Conservative Party announced that if they get into power after the next election they will pass legislation which will allow many schools to become Academies by September of this year. Talk about hitting the ground running! “Unless we act now our children will lose out in the global race for knowledge.” panted Michael Gove hotfoot from the glassy classrooms of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney.
Sometimes it feels as if, in the quest for education reform, we and our children have got caught up in a the great caucus race in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You remember: all participants have to run in circles until an arbitrary end is called and everyone is declared a winner; Alice has to give prizes to them all, and being declared a winner too she is solemnly awarded back her own thimble. Sounds like the way education reforms work to me!
If they win the election Mr Gove expects a new Education Act to become law by the end of July. Stop and catch your breath Michael. Didn’t you say something a few weeks ago about the importance of involving parents in decision-making in schools? I assume you would want them to be involved in a decision which will “free” their child’s schools from “political control” and allow them to” take over” other schools not to mention totally change their governance and accountability arrangements. I trust you will be following the widely recognised good practice guidelines for public consultation: twelve weeks minimum and ideally not over a holiday period. Mmmm, not sure 31 days in August (including a bank holiday) quite fits the bill but I know heads and governors are always looking for more to do in the summer holidays.
Progressive or just depressing?
So if this is what the Conservatives are planning to do to help our benighted children keep up to speed in the global race, what are other lot up to? February saw the launch of the Progressive Education Network with a suitably schooly presentation at the House of Commons: many, many teachers sitting neatly in rows – a few recalcitrant trouble-makers chatting at the back – while a string of other teachers (and teachers turned politicians – eek!) demonstrated their enthusiasm for our schools as they are. Their launch document set out their stall: ”It is our conviction that what is needed now is to deepen the partnership between schools, government and local communities, not to put it aside and replace it with a complete change of direction.”
It is good to know that politicians and teachers are kissing and making up (or at least some of them are) but I can’t help thinking they don’t really want “local communities” or parents anywhere near this special relationship. In the first forty-five minutes of this inaugural meeting the word “parent” was not mentioned. A quick speed read of the 12 page closely- typed manifesto revealed that the”P” word did not appear once so I grabbed the mike and asked them where parents were in their thinking. The bad boys at the back pricked up their ears ready for a fight – but it was not to be. There was much nodding and smiling at me and some thinly veiled irritation that a parent had found her way past security and into the staffroom. I don’t know if they had been forwarned that one of us (Them?) had got in but the party line seemed to be that schools were now terribly good at involving parents – we only had to look at the Building Schools for the Future programme to see just how good. Then they went back to talking about how much schools and teachers are valued by their communities. It was tempting to ask them how they knew but I think I might have been given a detention.
It is depressing to see that something proudly calling itself “progressive” should be so unthinkingly reinforcing the outdated notion that public services should continue to be controlled by politicians and professionals even in the face of increasing evidence that educational attainment depends more than anything else on getting families involved in their children’s lives at school. The recent Marmot Strategic Review of Health Inequalities Post 2010, states that “evidence on the most important factors influencing educational attainment suggest that it is families, rather than schools that have the most influence. Closer links between schools, the family and local communities are needed”. Certainly we need to find the right balance between politicians and professionals but there is a third leg to this stool that schools ignore at their peril.
It is great if it really is the case that “communities” (students, parents and local people) are being allowed to have a say in what their new school buildings look like but this matters far less than how they get involved in what goes on inside those buildings and what their children bring with them when they come home.
A consultation post-script
A fourteen year old child I know well was recently asked, as part of a school-wide exercise, to come up with a name for their new dining room (recently built as part of Building Schools for the Future). Here is her response:
Suggested name for the dining hall: ”Dining Hall”
Reason for suggesting the name: ”So people know what it is and don’t get confused looking for a place with a silly name. Everyone will call it the dining hall anyway”.
I doubt she will be winning the £50 voucher but look forward nonetheless to hearing the outcome of this particular consultation exercise.Tweet