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This small scale research is to consider parental involvement in a child's education and how parents' contributions help children to achieve while at school and examines the barriers of parents' and school which prevent successful partnerships flourishing.
In order to carry out a study that would be relevant to my own practice I have focused on both parents, and teachers' perception of parental involvement and the type of partnerships that exist between home and school. I have also briefly looked at the government role, the initiatives and policies that encourage schools and parents to work together. My main focus however, is the barriers that prevent parental involvement. In my proposal, I noted initial key findings, that I wanted to research further, however, after reading a vast amount of literature, time-scales prevented me to look at all areas in depth.
My interest in this area first began when in a parent role I used to listen to children read once a week at a local primary school. Over the years in my role as a parent, I have seen more encouragement to be involved with my local primary school that my own child attends. Offers of courses in Maths and Literacy have been available, as well as many after school activities such as clubs, or invitations to school events outside of school time.
My initial reading, led to me research commissioned by DCSF (2007) which showed that 51% of parents questioned felt very involved in their child's education, compared to 27% in 1963 (DES). This would indicate that parents are now seen as an integral part of a child's school life. Government policies involve parents through consultations about aspects of behaviour and school uniform, and the White Paper (2011) has further still increased parental power.
There are still barriers, however, that prevent parents becoming more involved fully in their child's education. In the same research (DCSF 2007) found that 61% of parents indicated that they would like to be more involved with school. I wanted to understand why parents perceived that they were not involved enough with their child's education. I also wanted to see how teachers felt when working with parents and their perceptions and what barriers, if any teachers' also had.
My study focused on two primary schools, one rural school serving villages in Lincolnshire with 100 pupils, and a large town school serving mainly a large council estate with 400 pupils. Research (Quote) suggests, that parent engagement is higher when a child is attending primary school, and this lowers as children enter the secondary sector. For purposes of my study I have not included this element due to size and time constraints. I have also not considered socio- economic background but I have found that this area has overlapped in much of my reading. However Cosin & Hayle (1997) indicate that if a child has a parent who feels involved, and participates with their child's education, benefits will be seen regardless of background.
Schools also have a part to play and Ofsted (2007) suggest that all schools value parental involvement but the best schools offer resourcefulness, flexibility and determination in their engagement with parents. In order to assess how schools encourage parents to be involved, evidence was collected through interviews with both Head-teachers of the schools. Class Teachers were also invited to take part in interviews; however of the eight teachers invited only two were interviewed with rest offering to complete a questionnaire. Time constraints were the general reason for this.
The importance of parental involvement
It has long been recognised since the publication of the Plowden Report (1967) that the importance of Parental involvement in education brings lots of benefits to children. This term covers a wide range of issues but generally is defined as how a parent uses available resources with the intention of improving a child's learning. (Docking, 1997) This involvement may take place in or outside school.
Parental involvement at home may include activities such as discussions with their child about school, helping with homework or reading, or working on tasks such as cooking, 'make and do' projects or being part of the wider community and using the facilities that may be on offer. Involvement at school may be attending parents' evenings, volunteering in the classroom, or helping with decision making, such as belonging to the PTA or on a higher level working within a Parent governor role.
Studies have shown that children who have parents that take an active interest in their education benefit in a number of ways. These children are usually higher achievers (Ballantine, 1999; Docking, 1997 ;) attendance is higher, (Haynes, Comer, & Hamilton-Lee, 1989), homework is readily completed (Rich,1988;) and self- esteem and confidence is high. (Hoover-Dempsey,1997; Walker,2000; Jones & Reed, 2002).
The Labour Government also recognised the importance of parental involvement, they emphasised that 'parents are active partners in the production of educated children' (McNamara et al, 2000; p474). Excellence in Schools (DFEE, 1997) states that parents 'are a child's primary educators', and parents are key partners in the modern school system. Many initiatives have been aimed at parental involvement such as Sure-Start.
The Barriers of Parental Involvement- Parents perceptions
Parents' beliefs and how they view education, can act as barriers to effective parental involvement. The way parents view their role in their child's education is crucial. Parents', who believe that their role is to ensure their child attends school, and the rest is up to the school, are often not willing to be actively involved in their child's schooling. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) reported that this attitude is more prevalent in some communities than others, but did not attribute low income as a factor. Clarke (1983) found that if pupils were high achievers, the parents supported their learning at home and interacted with school in a positive way. Clark found that parents' of high achieving of pupils had a greater belief than other parents because they feel their help makes significant contributions. All the parents in Clark's research were from low economic backgrounds- this research would indicate that income is not a factor for lack of parental involvement. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) point out that parents' who have low levels of belief in their ability to help their children are likely to have little contact with school because they feel that such involvement will not give positive outcomes for their children.
There may be many reasons for the lack of confidence that parents' may feel. Language barriers may lead to a parent feeling they cannot communicate effectively with teachers, or negative experiences through their own schooling can often be the problem. Parents may also take the view that their academic competence is not high enough to effectively help their children. This view is expressed more often as children progress from primary to secondary school and academic work becomes more advanced (Eccles and Harold, 1993.). All of the above views act as a barrier to Parental involvement, despite research that acknowledges support for a child's learning does not need a high level of education from parents. (Clark 1983; Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler 1997; Hornby 2000)
Another barrier, which is important to involvement in their child's education, is the views parents hold about their child's intelligence. (Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler 1997) If parents hold the view that their child is intelligent through luck, they will not see the point of getting involved. Alternatively, parents who hold views that achievement and effort are linked and that this can be developed are more likely to be positive about parental involvement. This view can be linked with child rearing in general and parents who hold beliefs that the role of a parent is the way they bring up children that is very important, usually are considered to have positive views, and make considerable impact on their child's development overall (Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler 1997). Parental barriers may be due to circumstances, parents who left school early or felt they didn't succeed at school may be indifferent to helping their own child. They may be unconfident in their own knowledge and skills, therefore unable to help with homework or school projects (Green et al, 2007). This attitude also may prevent parents working with teachers as they feel that they are not qualified enough. Other commitments such as work can also cause barriers. When parents are unemployed, money could be an issue as they may not be able to afford a car or to pay babysitters in order to get to school meetings. For parents with jobs it is often time constraints and the kind of jobs they have that cause issues. There is often less time to be involved at home or school, as parents maybe for example, too tired at the end of the day to help children with homework or have constructive discussions about their child's school day (Catsambis, 2001; Green et al. 2007). Finally socio-class, gender and ethnicity, can be seen as barriers to parental involvement, issues relating to differences may play a role and initiatives from Government have aimed to address this (Quote).
Barriers- Teachers perceptions
Barriers to parental involvement, is not just the responsibility of parents. Teachers also face hurdles that may prevent them having successful partnerships with parents.
In order for parental involvement to be successful it is important to look at the role of teachers and their perspective of the partnership. Lazar & Slostad, (1999) state that teachers who invest time in working with parents, experience more empowerment within their teaching, report that stress levels are reduced and feel their professional status and authority is appreciated. Additionally teachers reported that they felt the work they did with the children was greatly respected due to parental involvement (Hara and Burke, 1998).
For many years teachers have been under the impression that parents do not value education or the job that teachers do. Ascher, 1988; Henderson, Marburger, & Ooms,1986 report that many teachers find parents un-cooperative, when issues of discipline arise, and argue that contacting parents is often futile. Teachers fear that when contacted, parents maybe argumentative and hostile, and may have a misguided belief that the problem, if left alone, will not cause confrontations. However, this is the opposite of reality teachers who contact parents when they have a concern usually find parents co-operative and willing to work with the school (Johnson & Webster, 1994). Another reason cited is that teachers do not appreciate or fail to understand the importance of parental involvement (Broderick & Mastrilli, 1997; Greenwood & Hickman, 1991; Hoover-Dempsey, Walker, Jones, & Reed, 2002) in home- school links. Much literature on this subject (Hoover-Dempsey, Walker, Jones, & Reed; Lazar & Slostad, 1999) discusses communication between home and school is often weak and home visits to really understand families would help to improve this.
Parent - teacher partnerships
As discussed, in order for parental involvement to be effective, teachers and parents must have the same goals. Parental involvement must not just be seen as simplistic desire. Much of the literature that surrounds this area discusses opposing agendas and goals (Wolfendale, 1983; Epstien 2001). Government and schools goals towards parental involvement, maybe so they are accountable to communities, or to promote children's achievements through league tables. Parents goals are more concerned with their child's happiness, how well they are doing in terms of school work. Montgomery (2009), points that barriers may occur when there is a conflict over ability. Children that are gifted and talented may not be viewed so by their teachers which then causes barriers through frustrations. Equally this may be seen when children are talented in a sport, or musically and do not attend school in order to pursue this. Rudney (2005) discusses teacher goals and states that the focus of teachers in parental involvement is through homework, providing a nurturing environment, parent meetings and reports, and attending school events. Parent-teacher meetings provide a good insight to how goals of teachers and parents may differ. Bastiani (1989) has suggested that teachers wish to discuss different things to parents, although both are concerned with the child's progress, their concerns are viewed in different perspectives which then create barriers for involvement later on. Aldeman (1992) discussing the impact of differing goals considers that home-school relationships are based on socialisation, where schools attempt to shape parents attitudes so they enable schooling. He further suggests that underlying agendas often have an impact on parental involvement if the goals are more about meeting the needs of schools rather than individuals. These differences can cause frustrations to both parties and limit parental involvement and partnership successes.
Breaking down the barriers
As discussed, researchers have identified several types of parental involvement. Epstien (1995) categorized this as parenting, communicating, volunteering, home learning, decision making, and working with the community. Although all of these categories have an impact on a child's learning, not all achieve academic success. The key to success is the relationship that is established between children and parents in the home. (Burns, 2000; Clark, 1983; Norton & Nufeld, 2002). High expectations of a child's achievements and making education a priority should be of high importance if barriers are to be broken, (Brown, 1999; Kurdek, Fine, & Sinclair, 1995;Muller,1993;Rosenzweig, 2000; Solo, 1997). Evidence is overwhelming that families, who set high expectations for their children, have a high academic success (Clark 1983). This also can been seen in the classroom, and teachers who set high expectations for the children they teach, are often seen as Outstanding (Ofsted,???; ) Teachers should emphasise this importance when communicating with parents, and reassure them that their child can reach high levels of academic success (Hughes, 2003; Johnson, 1998). Secondly parents have to take an active role in learning at home (Becker & Epstein, 1982; Dornbusch & Ritter, 1988; Tizard, Schofeld, & Hewison, 1982; Rosenzweig, 2000). Children who have well-structured routines at home do very well at school (Muller,1993). Teachers can help parents to actively get involved by offering specific strategies that parents can use to organise homework, discussions or their time in general. (Finn, 1998). Parents can provide materials or have an area where children can study, but it is critical that they show an interest in their child's school work. Discussions about school not only help parents monitor their child's activities, but more importantly they are showing their child that they care about their progress and what they do (Brown, 1999; Finn, 1998). Teachers can help parents to monitor progress more readily if they provide parents with information such as homework policies that discuss the type, how much should be done, how it is marked. Parents generally welcome information such as this, as well as knowledge of the work their child will be doing over the school year (Loucks 1992). This type of information could be presented via school newsletters and many schools are using this method as part of parental involvement strategies. Lastly, parents and teachers need to emphasise the importance of effort over ability (Stevenson, 1983). Dweck (1986) noted that children who attribute success and failure to effort rather than ability gain satisfaction, will seek challenges and will overcome obstacles that they may face. Parents nor teachers cannot significantly change the ability of pupils, but they can have an important impact on encouragement of effort. Children who have parents and teachers that convey messages of success through effort are usually confident, self-efficient, and strive to be high achievers (Folwer & Peterson, 1981). Researches (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Gonzalez, 2002; Robertson, 1997; Rosenzweig, 2000; Zellman & Waterman, 1998) have identified a model of parenting, and have termed it as authoritative parenting. This model encompasses all the above points discussed. This model includes setting high expectations, providing emotional support, granting appropriate independence, setting limits, and most importantly acknowledgement of their child's perspectives of home and school. This model appears to be most conducive to academic success. Teachers should encourage parents to follow this model through discussions, helping to strengthen home-school relationships. In conclusion, the importance of parental involvement in a child's academic success is inarguable. The literature available clearly identifies the benefits of parent participation, outlines the obstacles facing parent and home relationships, and has made some suggestions in order for the barriers to be broken down. It is an unfortunate fact that after much research over the decades some parents are still disengaged from their child's school life. In order to include all parents, the classroom teacher has a major role to play, and is the key to changing the level of parental participation. Teachers have the skills and strategies necessary for creating successful partnerships, with those who are so critical to a child's success in school, the parents.
The participants of this study were parents of children who attended either school, or teachers, including heads, who are part of the school staff. Both schools offer a positive approach to parental involvement, with the rural school having an emphasis on homework. Both schools gave the researcher permission to carry out surveys through questionnaires, and semi structured interviews. Diaries were given to parents - 5 from each school, after asking parents if they wished to participate. All participants were assured of confidentiality verbally, and it was made clear on paper-work which parents were required to fill in. A letter was sent to both Heads also seeking permission to conduct a small study. This is accordance to Ethical guidelines (Cohen, 2000; Woolley, 2010). Prior to the study taking place, a pilot questionnaire was emailed to 10 parents that had children. The questions asked, were based around my initial reading, and after receiving the responses, I realised that I had only focused on the broad issues of parental involvement, and therefore needed to change the questions in order to collect precise data to answer my question. Once I devised my questionnaire on agreement with both schools, parents were invited to take one and complete it and return back to school office. I had originally wanted to use a random selection processes using class lists, however after consideration I decided that as a cross-section of parents went into the school, on a daily basis so my data would still be valid. Each questionnaire had a standardised set of questions (talk about this not always getting the correct response and quote)
Problems arose in the speed of responses, however all participants did respond and 30 completed questionnaires were returned from each school. The homework diaries gave me another set of complications, I wanted to assess the activities that enhance children's learning and how parents achieved this, however, (talk about parents may lie to feel better, or feel they have to write something in fear of not looking like a good parent - relate back to model in journal.
The sample overall was not large enough to equate real findings to empirical research, however there has been some similarities which would concur with the evidence collected.
Throughout my design and research I kept ethical issues at the front of my mind, this is critical in any research which is undertaken, to protect all who are involved.