Parental Involvement: Key to Children’s Success

29 Aug

I           Exemplars of good parents

Most parents are keen for their children to succeed in life. Two pairs of parents I have been privileged to know are exemplary.  One is from Sri Lanka and the other from the Philippines. Both pairs arrived in London as refugees – their impossible circumstances causing them to leave their countries.

The father of children in one family has two part-time jobs – one in Tescos and the other in a BP garage.   The mother looks after the home and holds down a part-time job.   They have two daughters.   Father works all hours of the day and night.  When I last saw him it was at the BP garage from whether I sometimes buy my newspaper.  It was early in the morning and he had just completed his night shift at Tescos.

I asked him how he was.  He was beaming from one end of his face to the other.   His older daughter had just secure an upper second class honours degree in Bio-Chemistry from the University of Kent and was on the cusp of embarking on a Masters degree.   He proudly showed me on his I-phone pictures of her shaking hands with the Vice Chancellor at the awards ceremony.   The younger daughter was waiting for her GCSE results.  She sat for papers in 11 subjects and was expected to do very well.   He has told his daughters: “I am unable to study for you or help you in your academic work, but what I will do is support you in every other way.”  Both, the parents and the girls have heeded their father’s exhortations and flourished.

The father in the second pair works as a carer for someone with Parkinson’s disease.  His wife does part-time domestic work too.   They have three children – all girls. The eldest has just completed three successful years (out of five) to qualify as a doctor. She begins her practice – training in a hospital – in September 2016.  The middle daughter completed her A Levels, in which she achieved top grades and began her university studies to qualify as a solicitor.   The third, is 10 years old and doing well at school.

The parents have not bemoaned their fates. They have not blamed society for the adversity they have encountered.  They have not claimed social benefit but worked hard.  Most important of all, they have cared and been ambitious for their children – supporting and encouraging them in every way.   They are outstanding models for all of us.

Parents are the first educators of children – their children.  Like others in different professions, some excel in parenthood and others not.  Parents are not required to be trained or be educated before becoming parents.   They don’t have to apply for these positions neither are they subjected to a selection process.

The upshot is that some children receive a head-start to life and living because of the seriousness with which parents take their responsibilities and others (in common parlance) are “stuffed” because of parental ignorance and neglect.  In the early days of my sojourn in this country, I was always enamoured of the looks, curiosity, actions and words of little children.  They continue to remain magical to me.  The words of William Wordsworth in his Ode to Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood resonate.

“The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,…..trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

And then, so many young people morph because of parental neglect.  By the time they get to school, teachers have a job to do to re-shape, re-mould and re-fashion them.  There is another kind of parents. They don’t give their children space to breathe leave alone develop.  They are intense about wanting their children to succeed. They operate as low-flying helicopters over their children’s lives, suffocating them.

What schools would ideally like of parents, is the Goldilocks type of involvement in children’s education – not too much, not too little.  But achieving this kind of balance is difficult, and in some cases, impossible – because there is no legal requirement for adults to receive initial training before becoming parents and later to engage in continuing parental education, as teachers are required to do.

II          Ofsted’s survey findings on working with parents

So how are schools doing in encouraging parents to partner with them in educating children?  In 2010, Ofsted carried out a survey of 47 schools to assess this area of provision. The watchdog’s key findings were as follows.

(1)        All the schools visited valued the key role of parents in their children’s education but put this into effect in different ways, with very varied quality and outcomes.

(2)        In the best cases seen, joint working between the home and the school led to much better outcomes for pupils; in particular, this helped pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities, those with low attendance or who were potentially vulnerable in other ways.

(3)        All the schools visited were using, or experimenting with, new technology in their communications with parents. Such work complemented more traditional methods such as face-to-face meetings and paper-based communication.

(4)        Seven of the 47 schools visited had parent councils or forums. These provided helpful routes for parents to raise issues or contribute to policy development on the initiatives of the schools but such councils did not represent all parents fully.

(5)        In the best practice, complaints were used as an opportunity to improve services and understand better the wishes and views of parents. These schools had clear, straightforward complaints procedures that were well known to staff and parents.

(6)        In the few cases seen where the schools said that parents had contributed or initiated ideas for strategic improvement, and these ideas had been taken forward, they had been successful.

(7)        Although parents often worked helpfully alongside staff (especially in the primary schools visited), the various skills, qualifications, experience and insights of parents were underused to enhance the schools’ provision and curriculum.

(8)        The schools’ evaluation of the impact of their work with parents was poor.

(9)        Home–school agreements had a low profile and their impact on the day-to-day work between parents and the schools was very limited.

On the basis of the above, the inspectors recommended that schools should

(i)         consider auditing, and then using more widely, parents’ skills and specific expertise as a resource to improve the school;

(ii)        tailor their communications with parents to suit individual circumstances;

(iii)       use parental complaints as a stimulus for improvement and record them to identify trends;

(iv)       evaluate better the impact of parental involvement and engagement on outcomes for pupils and use this information to focus further improvements; and

(v)        in the secondary sector particularly, enable parents to engage themselves more directly with their children’s learning.

III        Good practice in schools

Schools take what Ofsted has to recommend seriously as they are keen for their pupils to succeed.    Some have appointed Parenting Officers who organise coffee mornings for parents and their headteachers so that they can exchange news and views.   Other Parenting Officers visit family homes when children don’t turn up at school to wake parents up from their slumbers so that they can ready their children for (the late start to) the working day.  Others spearhead home visits prior to children joining their schools.

Jane Goodall, an academic at the University of Bath, has written extensively on good practice vis-à-vis parental involvement – focusing especially with parents who are reluctant to become involved in their children education. She makes 10 proposals which are worth considering.

(a)        Professionals consider holding initial meetings with new parents in their homes rather than at school.

(b)        Some parents are reluctant to come into school but are still interested in what goes on there.  Accordingly, there could be merit in screening filmed highlights in a public place like a supermarket.

(c)        Stage demonstration lessons for parents.

(d)        Provide a sample sheet of questions for parents to ask their children’s teachers at open evenings.

(e)        When scheduling events, check what time the last bus leaves so that parents are able to go home in good time.

(f)        Encourage teachers not to stand in groups in the playground.  It is much less intimidating for a parent to approach a single teacher if disturbed by some aspect of her/his child’s education.

(g)        Check that parents appear in school policies – not only regarding homework and uniform, but also teaching and learning.

(h)        A weekly newsletter could include regular thanks to parents for attending events, reading with their children and so on.

(i)         Encourage parents to ask children about their day at school. Teenagers may not answer, but knowing someone cares makes a difference to the children.

(j)         Ring parents and ask how you can help them. The school may be able to provide learning resources or emotional support.

Talking about the importance of parents is important.  Acting to demonstrate that one walks the talk is even better.  Accordingly, when parents write to schools or send them missives by email, reply to them as soon as possible. Where serious consideration is required before replies are constructed, send holding replies and follow up with fuller letters/emails as soon as possible.

Technology has made vast strides.  Many schools are exploiting this to send homework and communicate with parents better.  Some do not.

Often, schools waste no time when they have to contact homes where they have concerns about the pupils.   They need to be as enthusiastic and on the ball when communicating good news too.  Teachers are busy professionals planning, setting and marking work and tests and providing pupils with feedback.   As important, but often neglected, is letting parents know how much schools care about their children and how well (or not) they, the children, are doing.

It is not always the case that schools benefit from having parents such as those of the three Filipino and the two of Sri Lankan girls mentioned at the start of this article.  But there are sufficient ways in which they could be trained to develop that amazing involvement and care for their children. After all, they are their children’s first educators.

Wordsworth’s children trail clouds of glory.  When they are very little they are so enchanting that we feel like eating them up. Sometimes, because of poor parentage and upbringing, when many become adults, we wonder why we didn’t.

A health warning, before I conclude: children, like all of us, have free will.  Some turn out diabolically despite brilliant parenting and the good, if not excellent, education they receive at their schools.  Others, who are resilient, buck the trend and do very well, despite parental abuse and neglect.  If you have been a conscientious parent and disappointed with how your child has turned out, don’t beat yourself up just yet. There is just so much you can do.


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