Parents' Views on Improving Parental Involvement in Children's Education
CHAPTER THREE: CURRENT PERCEPTIONS AND EXPECTATIONS OF INVOLVEMENT
This chapter discusses current perceptions and expectations amongst parents about what "parental involvement" means and where parents expect the balance of responsibilities between school and the home to lie. The discussion also considers the expectations that parents have of the school, and what they consider to be reasonable expectations for the school to have of them. The basis of parental expectations and assumptions is then considered.
3.1 The perceptions of the silent majority
The majority of parents perceive a fairly distinct boundary between the role of the home and that of the school. Parents expect the school and teachers to be the principal educators of their children whilst parents play a relatively minor but important supporting role.
"The teachers are there to teach the children... they are getting good wages and good holidays to do it and we pay our taxes…we are the parents who bathe, feed and clothe them, look after them and make sure they behave themselves..." (silent majority, S1, C2DE, N Ayrshire)
Therefore, the average parent perceives a need for only a supportive involvement in their children's education with principle responsibility lying with teaching staff.
The following types of activities represent the involvement of the majority of parents:
- Ensuring that children complete their homework and helping with it when they can
- Attending the parents' night meetings at school
- Supporting their children when performing or playing sport
- Keeping track of their children's academic progress.
This relatively limited range of activity, much of which is supportive rather than active, is nonetheless considered to be "involvement". Clearly, this understanding of involvement varies from the definition described in chapter two, that was used at the outset, and which relates to more active participation outside the home. As such, "parental involvement" means different things to different people. This report has considered all types of parental involvement - whether active or less active - and seeks to identify ways in which to improve the quality of what is going on.
Moreover, the majority of parents assume that what they are currently doing is adequate, reflecting the particular needs of their own children , and that there is no requirement for more or better involvement.
"You can be involved without being near the school. We are involved with their activities. We're active parents in the home - you don't need to go near the school." (silent majority, S1, C1C2, Aberdeen)
This is particularly the case if their child does not seem to have any problems and the school is fulfilling the parents' expectations.
"If you're happy with the report card, the teachers and that your child is getting what he or she needs or expects and is doing well, why get involved? If the school is doing a good job you want to just stand back and let them get on with it." (silent majority, P1-P3, C2DE, Aberdeen)
In fact, some feel that there is danger of doing too much and being overly involved. They recognise that some parents tend to dominate too much, trying to have too much control.
"Too much interference from parents might rock the boat. Parents can't expect to control everything." (silent majority, P1-P3, C2DE, Highland)
Parents acknowledge that the principal reason to contact the school would be if their child was having a problem of some sort, such as bullying.
"It's when things go wrong, that is the only time that parents really want to know." (silent majority, S5 - post-schoolABC1, Aberdeen)
There is still also the assumption that the school will contact parents if there is a serious problem or issue, and for the most part this does appear to happen.
That said, the average parent also recognises that they have a basic responsibility to offer some level of support to their child's learning. Indeed, parents are aware that their input at home has a positive impact on academic achievement as well as the emotional well being of their child.
In addition, parents recognise that they have some fundamental responsibilities to ensure that their child:
- Attends school in a fit state to learn
- Is punctual
- Is appropriately dressed and adequately equipped
- Behaves well
- Respects the rights and interests of others at the school community.
These are generally regarded as basic expectations that schools can reasonably have of any parent.
There is a need for parents to understand the importance of building on what they currently do and to be encouraged to improve the quality of their involvement, through a clear understanding of the potential benefits of everything that they do, both at home and at school.
In many families, parents do not share the responsibility for school affairs equally, as one parent (traditionally the female, but not universally) may be more involved in looking after the children than the other. Thus one parent devolves responsibility to the other, and themselves may have minimal involvement. This too is regarded as an acceptable and practical way of operating that sufficiently meets the needs of most families.
It also important to bear in mind that many parents have more than one child and their level of involvement is affected by the fact that they have to consider the needs of all their children.
3.2 Varieties of perceptions
Of course, there are variations in opinions about what constitutes involvement, and what the extent of parental responsibilities in their children's education should be.
Some parents are not at all satisfied with current levels of active participation and are keen for change. For example, a small number of parents emphasise the importance of developing a strong partnership with the school and the teachers, and see themselves working as part of a team to ensure that their children behave well, perform well and that their needs are met appropriately. These parents expect the school to keep them informed of their child's behaviour at school and will take action at home to punish their children for misdemeanours at school.
"I think education is a shared responsibility…mainly because if a child doesn't have a stable background at home, I don't expect the child to be able to learn in school." (asylum seeker, primary, Glasgow)
Usually, parents with this view are those who are the keenest to be actively involved in many different aspects of their children's learning. These are also the parents that are most likely to be found volunteering to help at school events or to participate in representative bodies.
Some of the respondents taking part in our research, perceive that there are a small number of "other parents," who fail to fulfil their minimal parental obligation and lay excessive emphasis on the role of the school. These parents are described as taking a back seat in the education process, expecting even greater input from the school than the average parent. It should be emphasised that this is a perception held by some of the parents we spoke to, and is not necessarily indicative of the real situation.
"I do think that parents want to pass the buck. Too many parents are working full time. (They are) too tired when they get home…and they think that the children are at school - and that the school is a safe haven and that the teachers' are in charge of discipline and everything." (parent with disabilities, secondary, Aberdeen).
Some respondents also perceive there to be some parents who do not care enough about their children and do not give them the attention and support that they need.
"There are parents who don't give two hoots about what the kids are doing - at home or at school… and they will remain not giving two hoots, no matter what you do with the rules; they're not going to be the slightest bit interested." (silent majority, S1, C1C2, Highland)
There are also perceived to be a very small number of parents who are utterly negligent, who do not look after their children properly and are not able to control their children. Very often, the reasons suggested for negligence are drug problems, extreme poverty, or because they are teenage or single parents.
"Some children bring themselves up. Some of them are just trying to survive. You know, they don't have time for homework…you wouldn't believe how some of them are living. They go home to feed mum and dad." (non silent majority, S1, C1C2, Aberdeen)
There are also a small minority of parents who are hostile to the school and the teachers, and consequently they are disconnected from the social life of the school and take very little interest in their children's learning. Such families are particularly adverse to any suggestions that they should be more actively involved. If anything, these parents tend to have been disassociated from the school when they themselves were a pupil and adopt an attitude of 'it never did me any good…'
3.3 Parental Expectations
Although they may never formally have thought about this issue, parents do hold a number of expectations in terms of how schools will interact with them and their children. Firstly, in their relationship with the school, parents expect the school to communicate with them on a regular basis and to keep them informed of any issues or changes affecting their child. They also expect to be informed immediately if their child is facing any problems. Parents also expect to get feedback on the progress of their child in the form of an annual school report and bi-annual parents' evenings. They also expect to be informed of events or activities going on at the school. The types of information that parents require are discussed in greater detail in chapter six.
Parents also have expectations about what type of relationship they should have with the school and these should include:
- Being made to feel welcome and comfortable in the school
- The school responding quickly if they raise an issue about their child
- Knowing how to seek help, advice and support when things go wrong or they wish to make a complaint
- Receiving information specific to their child when they request it.
Whilst most parents regard these as fundamental parental rights, some recognise that, in reality, teachers may struggle to provide these efficiently when there may be as many as thirty children in a given class.
"There's no way. To have this information to hand for thirty children straight away… they're not going to have time to do it." (silent majority, P3-7, C1C2, Dumfries)
3.4 The basis of parental expectations
Parental expectations about the level and type of involvements reflect their own upbringing and experiences of schooling, and the level of involvement of their own parents. As mentioned earlier, those individuals whose own parents were not involved in school activities are less likely to perceive a need for their involvement in their own children's education. Parents who have had a negative experience at school are also less likely to be interested in getting involved or playing an active role in school events and activities.
It is also important to note that parental expectations of the school, and what it can feasibly do, are affected by a perception that teachers have excessive workloads and face limitations in the additional time they can offer to engage parents in the learning process, or foster links between the school and home. Some parents are, therefore, sympathetic to teachers and reluctant to make any suggestion that could put greater pressure on teachers' time.
3.5 Differences in expectations from parents in specifically targeted groups
The expectations of most of the specifically targeted groups match the opinions listed above. In addition there are some group specific expectations and these are dealt with below.
Minority ethnic communities, asylum seekers and refugees
Parents from different cultural backgrounds, such as minority ethnic communities, asylum seekers and refugees seem to have differing views about the level of responsibility that the school should have. In some countries the boundaries between the school and the home are much starker, and the relationship between the home and the school is more formal. For example, a Nigerian parent told us that Nigerian schools have a clear set of educational responsibilities in which parents are not expected to get involved - to do so would be considered "interference".
In other countries parents are expected to be far more involved in comparison with Scotland. For example, parents from Lithuania and Russia emphasise the importance of parental presence and assistance in many different aspects of school life and this is considered to be a parental duty. Their involvement helps parents to become integrated into the local community.
There are also differing ideas about the limits of the school's responsibilities. For example, some parents have issues with the school providing sex education or drugs education for their children because they feel that it is "putting ideas into their head". An Indian father emphasised that he would like this responsibility to be placed back in his hands.
Several parents from different cultural backgrounds also mention what they feel is a lax attitude to discipline in Scottish schools, compared with the schools in their own country. They expect the school to play a stronger disciplinary role.
"I think there is too much freedom for the kids…even if they go in ten minutes late they are just signed down but it doesn't matter. They don't bother. In our country if the child is late today, then the next day he will get a punishment." (minority ethnic, primary, Edinburgh)
Foster carers are more used to a partnership approach with the school which involves a range of personnel from different bodies who play a role in securing the welfare of a foster child. These carers can be involved in planning education for a child with social workers, psychologists and other local authority personnel.
Gypsies/Travellers place less importance on education and therefore have lower expectations of what schools should provide for their children, as traditionally they have not used their services and prefer to be responsible for the care and welfare of their children themselves. There are fears for the negative consequences of children attending school such as bullying, racism or discrimination and these fears (whether realised or not) may lead Gypsy/Traveller parents to withdraw their children from school.
However, there is evidence of changing attitudes towards schooling. The majority of Gypsy/Traveller parents that we spoke to indicate that they wish their children to attend primary education to obtain basic literacy and numeracy skills that have become increasingly important for survival. In turn, this has necessitated an improved relationship with the local primary school, as parents want to keep an eye on their children and ensure that they are being treated fairly.
There are a range of parental expectations concerning the nature of the relationship they experience with the school and the range of roles and responsibilities they expect the school to offer, with some parents committed to a closer relationship with the school and the teachers than others. Most parents accept that they are required to fulfil some fundamental responsibilities and these are generally regarded as basic expectations that schools can reasonably have of any parent. Parents also have expectations about the type of relationship they should have with the school. However, for the most part, parents currently have relatively low levels of involvement, whilst perceiving that what they do is all that is needed.
Additionally, in two parent households it is often the case that one parent is more involved than the other. This again is considered to be adequate and is the most practical approach for many families especially if one parent is the breadwinner and the other the home-maker. There are some differences in expectations amongst parents from specifically targeted groups such as parents from minority ethnic backgrounds, asylum seekers and refugees and Gypsies/Travellers and these have been detailed in the text.
One of biggest challenges facing SEED is to overcome the fixed assumptions held by the majority of parents. It is very hard for parents, who have a deeply engrained mindset about their responsibilities, to visualise themselves playing a more active role. This report, therefore, aims to establish the key messages that are meaningful to parents that SEED can use in its future communication in order to bring about change.