The English schools inspections agency, OFSTED, has just published the findings of a study into schools relationships with parents.The reports supports some of what we’ve been saying in the Learning Futures programme: that we need an extended range of relationships with students, and a wider cast of people involved in a students learning. But it also paints a fairly limited picture of what is supposed to be ‘best practice’ in this area. Too often parents are used as stakeholders who need to be informed of their child’s ‘performance’ (test scored, attendance & behaviour) and rarely as people who might be able to join the Learning Commons which schools ought to be. The report also chimes with my own observations on one important point: parents are more often seen assisting in the primary classroom, but hardly ever in secondary schools. I suspect that this is because of the role of ‘subject expert’ which typifies secondary teachers, against the generalist, more holistic, nature of primary teaching.
The report complains that few schools actually evaluate their work with parents, which is pretty damning, if understandable given the pressure to raise standards.But it seems to me that a pretty fundamental mindshift needs to happen if we’re to really involve parents in being ‘commoners’ in a genuine learning community. Whilst the change in heart has major implications, the ways in which we can achieve transformation, can be remarkably simple. Here’s just a few:
1. Get rid of parent’s evening. Firstly, they’re not parents evening’s – they’re teachers, exercising their authority, and boring themselves silly, reciting a bunch of actual and predicted grades. Few parents bother to attend, and they remarkably manage to please no-one involved. Yet still we persist with them – what other profession would do that?
2. Replace them with presentations of learning, where students (not teachers) can show what they’ve been working on, and what they’ve produced They’ve been doing this for years at High Tech High, and parents come in their droves when PoLs are happening. We’ve also known this in the arts for years. What, after all, are concerts and shows, if they’re not presentations of learning?
3. Ban any whizzy techno way of informing parents of their child’s latest score, the minute after their work has been graded (and many schools are starting to do this). It simply triggers an impoverished conversation later that evening of the ‘Hepatitus B’ variety (‘why couldn’t you get Hepatitus A+?’). Instead use the technology to regularly alert parents to one great thing their child did in school, or the thing they learned – and how it could be discussed when they get home.
5. Carry out a skills audit of every parent (and carer) whose child is attending school.Find ways to bring thos skills into the classroom and the curriculum. Repeat yearly (yes, it’s a lot of work, but think how it could transform the learning experience for students)
6. Set up ‘Coaching for Learning’ courses for parents (as has been done in Learning Futures’ Noadswood School) so that professionals, parents and students alike can start to speak the same language of learning.
7. Do as OFSTED recommend: regularly review the extent to which parents are partners (active, not passive) in the learning community.
Doing any of these things will begin to radically shift the locus of both power and responsibility in the critical triangle of school/student/parent. Doing all of them would transform the business of teaching and learning in school, and beyond.