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Yes, parents should be on governing bodies: but their engagement in schools should be much more

parent-and-child-walkingSylvia KingIt is vital that parents have wide-ranging and deep engagement with their children’s school, and the school should determine what and how that is best achieved, writes Senior Education Lead Sylvia King…

The recent white paper, Education Excellence Everywhere, has stimulated new concern about the future of parental engagement, particularly with the removal of the requirement for parents to be represented on academies’ governing bodies.

The white paper stated that in the ‘move towards a system where every school is an academy, fully skills-based governance will become the normal [sic] across the education system’.

The reaction from schools, parents and local authorities did not support this view; many re-emphasised the importance of parental engagement in the governance of schools.

In a letter published on the Conservative Home website, Lord Nash declared that removing reserved places for parent governors would not mean that parents had less involvement with their children’s schools.

Indeed, he claimed that the government wanted ‘parents to be more involved in their child’s education – not less.’ But rather than as governors, parents would be involved with schools through ‘a new expectation on every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, so that they not only listen to but also act on their views and feedback.’

A good thing?

Both the reaction to the plans and the swift response to allaying fears of a lack of parental engagement demonstrate acceptance of the notion that parental engagement is a good thing for schools and students.

However, while it is generally acknowledged that actively involved parents support schools and academies in raising achievement, it is often difficult to find evidence that parental engagement has a definitive impact on student achievement.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) cites some evidence on impact in its toolkit. The toolkit recommends that schools should consider the following when planning parental involvement:

  1. Involvement is often easier to achieve with parents of very young children.
  2. What approaches will you take to support parents in working with their children?
  3. Have you provided a flexible approach to allow parental involvement to fit around parents’ commitments and schedules?
  4. Parents of older children may appreciate short sessions at flexible times to involve them.
  5. How will you make your school welcoming for those parents whose own experience of school may not have been positive?
  6. Have you provided some simple, practical suggestions for parents to support their children in ways that do not require a high level of ability, eg by ensuring that students have an environment where they can work at home?

It seems that we defend automatically the rights and responsibilities of parents to be actively involved in their children’s schools. And most people, parents and educators alike, would agree this is right.

In fact, it may well be time to invest in more research to provide schools with a blueprint of how effectively to achieve this. A hurriedly introduced requirement for parent councils and access to a ‘parent portal’ may be far from adequate.

Read The nature of parental engagement.

Find out more about EEF’s work on parental engagement.

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