Fair Education Alliance report card: don’t fine parents, engage them

SSAT is delighted to join the Fair Education Alliance and welcomes its 2016 ‘state of the (education) nation’ report card. This blog, authored by senior education lead Kikelomo Agunbiade, highlights some of the opportunities and challenges illustrated in the report’s recommendations, and discussion about them, at the launch event on Thursday 13 April.

The event highlighted some important challenges in relation to the issues affecting the educational success of young people, and also how they might be tackled.. After his opening speech, Sir Michael Wilshaw (Ofsted) was joined in a panel discussion by Professor Sonia Blandford (Achievement for All, College of Teaching), Ella Cox (sixth form student, Debate Mate champion and member of Hackney Youth Parliament), Russell Hobby (NAHT) and Will Kennard (co-Founder of East London Arts and Music 16-19 Academy). Some fairly contentious opinions were expressed.

‘Fine uncaring parents’

The topic provoking the most reaction (mostly gasps and tutting) was the role of parents in closing the gap. Sir Michael Wilshaw asserted that schools should be fining parents who don’t engage in supporting their children in school and that some parents don’t care (read Sir Michael’s speech). Despite the gasps, some informed discussion ensued: yes, of course it is important to engage parents and for parents to care. But define what care looks like and from what perspective.

Sir Michael Wilshaw asserted that schools should be fining parents who don’t engage in supporting their children in school.

It is very easy to accept the authorities’ notion of being a caring parent from a comfortable middle-class perspective. But without standing in the shoes of some of the parents who are most often criticised, perhaps it’s too easy to judge and conjecture how they feel about their children from how they behave. Love manifests itself in different ways in different circumstances.

Beyond those cases which are matters of neglect or abuse and need to be dealt with by social services, surely we should be willing to engage with parents, starting from where they are at? Interestingly on the night examples were given of how positive engagement with parents has resulted in increasing their support for their children’s schooling.

Provocative

It was unclear whether Sir Michael really believes that some parents genuinely don’t care about their kids, or whether he simply wanted to provoke a reaction. However the very nature of the attendees – partners of the Fair Education Alliance – should have indicated a general desire to close the gap by being fair to all parties.

Student Ella Cox’s contribution provided probably the most refreshing moment of the evening. Ella I think reminded all of us about the point of being in the room – that it should be all about the young people, so we should listen to them and take note.

When they are telling us that they want a more rounded curriculum, more extracurricular activities and a less tick-box approach to teaching, we must remember that we are there to serve them first and foremost (though we would not necessarily agree with everything they say on how that is to be achieved).

Some solutions

The meeting took a more positive turn with discussion of some factors that might be used to help resolve these issues. Will Kennard explained how engaging business can help to motivate parents as well as their children. And Russell Hobby referred to the vital role of proper support and funding for schools and teachers.

I believe that when children or their parents struggle to engage with school and the system, it is not because they don’t want their children to succeed. Rather, it is because factors such as poverty, poor experiences with the education system (sometimes over generations) and social exclusion make it hard for them to engage.

How to engage

That ability to engage with young people and their parents was highlighted as a key area of focus in the report card’s recommendations. There was a clear and positive theme – more CPD and support for teachers. This is definitely something SSAT is keen to support.

The report called for CPD for all staff in schools in the following areas:

  • character, wellbeing, mental health
  • careers and enterprise
  • access, aspiration and achievement linked to higher education
  • parental engagement
  • primary and early years numeracy and language development.

The challenge then is how to deliver even more and diverse training for the school workforce, at a time when school budgets are being cut. There is great goodwill from the profession on this issue, backed by strong moral purpose.

How do we ensure we support them and invest in them through effective professional development to lift their heads above the parapet as well as find ways to unlock the barriers to social justice in a measured and balanced way?

The answer will definitely involve greater collaboration between schools – whether as part of teaching school alliances, MATs or other cluster arrangements. The challenge then is for system leaders across the country to face by identifying and sharing the best practice across the country.

SSAT for one is up for this challenge and hopeful about the difference we can make when we work together with our new fellow alliance members and the education community.


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