The rise of parent power?
The Times Educational Supplement (27 January) reports on the developing role of parents with respect to their childrenâ€™s education. It talks of the rise of parental influence and how this is changing the relationship between schools and families â€“ in some respects positively, in other respects perhaps worryingly. The article explains: â€˜Long gone are the days when the majority of parents turned up unquestioningly at the school gates, dumped their kids and headed off.â€™
To what extent is it true that school leaders and their staff are the professionals whom parents need to trust? Or do the best schools actively engage parents and use their enthusiasm and their particular insights and expertise to develop the educational provision for the benefit of all the pupils?
As a former head I certainly agree that working with parents is infinitely preferable to spending considerable time and energy battling against them, especially when it is undoubtedly true that both schools and parents fundamentally want what is best for the children at the centre of the relationship. Parents have a very positive contribution to make, and I would certainly advise any parent who wants to be more fully involved in their childâ€™s education not to hold back â€“ ask the school how you can help, or think about becoming actively involved in the Parent Teacher Association. If you have time to give to this, look into the possibility of serving as a parent representative on the schoolâ€™s Governing Body. Just be aware that if you do so there may well be other parents (whom you may know socially, and through your childrenâ€™s friends) who will try to â€˜bend your earâ€™ about what they feel you should be doing in your position of influence. Some will have good ideas and valid points to make. Others will be less well-informed and may only have a partial or distorted vision of what is happening at the school â€“ sometimes filtered through their childâ€™s perception which may or may not be accurate! Certainly being involved with the PTA or the governing body will give you a broader view and a clearer vision of the schoolâ€™s strengths and its areas for development â€“ and every school has both.
I do have some reservations about the free school movement and know that many parents donâ€™t have the time or the resources to establish schools of their own, even if they have the will and the expertise. Parents, in my experience, want to trust the professionals, and to feel that the school is doing its best for the pupils in their care, their own sons and daughters included. But if you ever do have concerns, please donâ€™t just talk to other parents, and donâ€™t keep your anxieties to yourself. Talk to the school, ensure you have a clear picture of what is happening, and then commit to working together to build the most positive and productive relationship for the benefit of all the children, including your own, both now and in the future.