Parental responsibility for the children they choose to have

4 Jan

(a)       Children don’t have parents…….

When my partner and I were on the cusp of having our first child over three decades ago, at the get-together we had with my parents, I told them in as sensitive a way as possible, “Mum and Dad, when the child comes along, we will be putting the child first in all that we do, giving her/him priority and showering the kid with all our love – although, we hope, it won’t be indulgent.   This will mean, mum and dad, that we will not be able to give you the kind of attention we are doing right now.   I will (as also my other half) continue to love and care for you.”

I had to get home the message to them diplomatically that parents have children, not the other way around.  Children don’t have a choice about appearing on this planet.  Parents make that possible and parents owe everything to them in relation to tough love.  This is not to say, being Jewish, that I was not going to abide by the fifth of the Ten Commandments – Honour thy father and thy mother. 

The reason for this exchange with my mother and father was because we came from India and were of Jewish heritage where it is custom and practice that parents rear their children so that when the youngsters are adults and the parents are aged, they (the children) can look after and care for them.  In other words, parents have children as an investment for their old age.  However, it is possible for sons and daughters to honour their fathers and mothers while simultaneously putting their children first.

Many in the West have children, willy-nilly.  It’s easily done as they fall in and out of love with free and often unprotected sex.   And when children arrive, they become others’/society’s responsibility.   Schools and academies are important segments of that society.

When children fail, it is the schools’ (and academies’) fault.   When they succeed, many parents many parents are inclined to take the credit.

At the other end of the uncaring spectrum, is the inordinate and crazy pressures helicopter parents place on their children to flourish because they live through their children.  Their children’s successes are theirs (the parents’ successes).   They cause undue stress and trigger mental ill-health.  Failing is not an option for these young people.

Some schools and academies are lucky to have parents who bring a sense of balance in their attitude towards their children’s growth and development.   We know from good governance that the ingredients of a successful educational approach towards staff members is a combination of support and challenge. It is no different in the interactions between parents and children.  Parental love for children must be unconditional.  However, it must be tough love.   When a daughter scores 70% in a science test, her parents must praise her and follow the praise with the question, “Now, darling, how can we learn from the mistakes you made that caused you to miss out on the 30%.”

(b)       Schools’/academies’ strategies to involve parents

Parents’ involvement in their children’s education improves opportunities for them to live fulfilled lives as young people and succeed when they become adults.  It’s a no-brainer.

Parentkind carried out a survey in 2018.  It showed that nearly 88% want to play an active role in their children’s education.  A second Parentkind survey revealed that teachers overwhelmingly thought that parental engagement had a positive impact on children’s learning.  Only 2% stated that it had no impact at all.

Both, schools/academies and parents, want the latter to be more involved in children’s education, care and general development.   Given that parents have more time with their children than schools/academies, they will have more opportunities to capitalise on that time.  The Parentkind survey revealed that

  • 66% of parents wanted schools/academies to be more accountable to them;
  • 77% wished to have a say on their children’s education at school level; and
  • when it came to how much of a say
  • 53% believed their schools/academies listened and
  • 55% believed schools/academies acted – based on their views.

Where there is a gap between parents’ wishes and school/academy practice there are problems.

The four main areas of school/academy life on which parents would like to be consulted are:

  • the curriculum (56%);
  • pupil behaviour (51%)
  • homework (44%);
  • budgets/school/academy costs (30%).

Despite this, 71% of parents stated that they were happy about the overall quality of their children’s schools/academies, 67% were positive about the school’s effectiveness in communicating with them, and 62% in the school’s ability to help parents support their children’s learning outside of the school/academy. However, only 57% reported that they were satisfied with the opportunities to get involved in their children’s schools/academies.

It is much easier to involve parents in their children’s education in the early years.  However, the interest tails-off as children grow older. The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) described how schools/academies can sustain this involvement.

(a)        Provide a flexible approach to allow parental engagement to fit around parents’ schedules.  Parents of older children may appreciate short sessions at flexible times.  But given how busy headteachers and staff members are, this is easier said than done.

(b)        Establish welcoming protocols and images for parents, especially those whose own experience of school may not have been positive.

(c)        Offer practical support, advice and guidance to parents who are not confident in their ability to support their children’s learning, such as simple strategies to help early readers.

There is no question that parental involvement in children’s education helps youngsters succeed.  What is at issue is the “what and the how” of this engagement.

First schools/academies that don’t have explicit plans on how to involve parents and teachers need training to do this effectively.  The gap between aspiration and ability exists.

Second, teachers are busy engaged in a multitude of activities dictated to them by the children for whom they have responsibility – balancing this with responding to directions coming from their senior managers, agencies (such as Children’s Social Services) and government.

Thirdly, the research is thin on the ground about what are the most effective strategies to involve parents.  Will showing parents how to read with their children at home have the same impact as that of parents who automatically read to their children, for instance?

Finally, what complicates matters are the natural abilities of children.   Stephen Scott, professor of child health and behaviour at King’s College London told The Times Educational Supplement, “Expecting strategies that are designed to engage parents in children’s learning to transform academic outcomes overlooks the role that natural intellectual ability has to play in achievement. There is quite a heritability for intellectual ability, which still seems to be politically unacceptable [to say] in some circles. It seems to be okay for height and strength and athletic ability and music ability, but for some reason not academics. But when we do twin and adoption studies, it’s clear that there is a heritable element to it.”

Simply asserting that parental involvement drives pupil achievement may result in disappointing outcomes.  “I think it’s difficult because schools are expected to cure all of society’s ills, but I’m not sure schools should be responsible for stuff they have no control over, which is what’s going on at home,” he says.

(1)        Critically review how the school/academy works with parents

Schools/academies have been held responsible for myriad aspects of young people’s lives over which they have little control. The EEF feels that parental involvement is one.   However, there are four things that a school/academy can do, according to the EEF.

The report states that a written plan can “…..“turn parental engagement from something accidental or peripheral to school improvement into an intentional programme”.  School/academy leaders must be clear about what they want to achieve vis-à-vis the skills and knowledge they wish the children to garner.

There is merit in talking to parents and ascertaining from them what practices are working well and what aren’t and stop doing what is not bearing fruit.   The next step would be to discuss with parents what is not being done that could work.    Seek the views of as many parents as possible, those who are clued up about engaging with their children as much as those who aren’t.

Schools and academies can benefit from taking account of the support and resources that are available and the time implications required of the staff members who will be involved, including the availability of training bearing in mind that teachers are already working long hours.

(2)        Provide practical strategies on how parents can work with their children at home

Guide and encourage parents on the different activities they can do at home, state the authors of the report. The strategies will be different for different age groups.   Also, it would be useful to promote those strategies where the research has demonstrated that they have been successful in the past.

Shared reading is one activity that works for young children.  The report also advises staff to advise parents about the strategies they could use to make that reading effective, such as parents asking children questions about the books they read together and talking about links between the story lines and real life.

With older children, shared reading is no longer suitable.   Rather, parents could show an interest in children’s learning – something that’s more important than direct involvement.   This is the case with homework.  Children who complete homework do better than those who don’t, says the report.  In this respect, the report states: “Evidence suggests that schools/academies should encourage parents to know about homework and support their children to do it, rather than get directly involved.”

Where parents attempt to help older children do their homework, they may come a cropper, as the homework could be far too challenging for the parents.  But setting a framework of where and when homework is to be done helps the teenager to develop a work ethic.  Praising and rewarding her/him when it is done, especially if done well, will act as a further spur to learning.

(3)        Tailor school/academy communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning

Improving home-school/academy communication could be effective in helping pupils’ progress and achievements.   The EEF researchers mention that text-messaging programmes promote conversations about home-learning, enabling staff to give tips on and information about the children’s learning to their parents.  Texting is low-cost and straightforward to introduce.   Most people now have mobile phones. While mobiles are often used for the wrong purposes – especially regarding social media – here is an area where can they be incredibly useful.

However, a school/academy needs to consider the frequency, timing and targeting of messages as well as the tone in which they are delivered. Acknowledging children’s successes in messages to parents, is encouraged.  Praise can be as helpful as expressing regret on poorly done work.    Further, communication must be two-ways. For instance, the school/academy could ask parents what they think is helpful to support children’s learning.  When parents are invited to help develop school/academy practices, they are more likely to be engaged in their children’s learning.

(4)        Offer more sustained and intensive support where needed

Finally, and by far the most daunting of the recommendations, is that schools/academy may need to give more intensive support to children struggling with early reading, and others from disadvantaged backgrounds or with behavioural issues.   The research shows that structured and targeted interventions for parents to improve children’s social and emotional conditions do work.  But they are time-consuming and costly.

So, how should a school/academy begin the process, bearing in mind that taking the first step could be the most challenging one of all.   Assess need and talk to the parents about how the school/academy can help them to help their children.   Reflect on these exchanges and develop a package of support for the parents.  Take care about targeting.  It must be done sensibly “to avoid stigmatising, blaming and discouraging parents”.

The help schools/academies proffer parents into taking more responsibility for the children is a win-win strategy.   It will make parents realise that bringing their children into this world is one of the greatest responsibilities they have.  Equally, it can be very rewarding for the parents.   The children are the future of parents and schools/academies.  If we are to make the world a better and less chaotic place, parents must be assisted to start supporting and aiding their children.

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