Page 4, 28th February 1969

28th February 1969
Page 4
Page 4, 28th February 1969 — CASE FOR A TOUCH OF PARENT POWER IN EDUCATION
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Locations: Southport, Newcastle

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CASE FOR A TOUCH OF PARENT POWER IN EDUCATION

By K. P. BROOKES, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, and B. A. HARRINGTON, Senior Lecturer in Education AS the 1960's draw to a close, a look at the trends which will shape the pattern of the educational 1970's surely reveals that the whimper for participation, heard rather faintly 10 years ago, has grown into a lusty cry. Will it be the outstanding feature of the next decade?

There is every likelihood, at least for those students whose needs and rights are being in creasingly recognised by authorities, a greater number perhaps than the public are aware. Student representatives are being appointed, for instance. to the governing bodies of colleges of education and are expected to make a really worthwhile contribution.

Yet the same strength of trend is not discernible in the case of those who should have the greatest concern for education, the parents. However, the report in the CATHOLIC HERALD of January 31 of the efforts of Newcastle parents to play an active part in planning their children's education, the steps taken by Liverpool Archdiocese in areas such as Southport. Formby. Crosby and Bootle for parents to have a voice in planning working parties, and the setting up in Wallasey of advisory committees of parents, priests and teachers, are examples of the natural urge of parents to extend their rights in education from the immediate home environment to schools and their administration.

This Catholic trend should be seen as part of the evolutionary process through which parents are gradually being more actively involved and the gap between home and school is being narrowed as has been so strongly advocated in recent educationaland reports sociological surveys. These both strengthen and highlight the traditional Catholic teaching on the rights and duties of parents.

Finer points overlooked

For almost the whole of the first century or compulsory education, the duty of parents to see that their children received at least basic instruction was strongly stressed and the lack of education of parents themselves made it natural that many of those rights were assumed by those more able to exercise and express them because of their own superior training. The political struggle for financial aid for Catholic schools took up so much effort that the finer points of parental responsibilities were overlooked in what was considered then to be the major battle, that of ensuring elemental survival and the continuance of Catholic schools.

It is a tribute to the success of those schools in which the teaching orders and the laity worked devotedly together, that so many have reached the stage of maturity and competence that they now want to move on to the next stage, and so to take a fuller part in their children's education than previous generations did or could. This is a natural desire, and while it may lead to occasional conflict, its evolution should be encouraged, especially as we now realise the place of the home in the child's full development.

For it is the child who mat

ters. When parent and teacher are at one, it is the child who benefits, although the degree of their importance in education is not fully appreciated by many parents or given expression to in practice, especially among working class families who have so far provided the majority of the children attending Catholic schools.

Most middle class parents who have sent their children to State schools have always recognised the value of informed encouragement and today this acknowledgement i5 reflected in their active membership of the consumer bodies on education such as the Advisory Council for Education, and their support of parent-teacher associations.

Working class parents are gradually overcoming their em barrassment which was primarily due to inadequate powers in communication, and are more ready to join with the middle classes in recognising that they can help their children to secure worthwhile careers.

increased leisure hours also spur parents from all classes to take over their joint responsibility with the school. The parochial school has no longer, to the same extent, to rescue the child from the miseducative influences of the home, as it had to do through much of the 19th century, nor concern itself with welfare among the poor. as it had to do up to World War 11. Interest in the rights, as opposed to the duties, of parents grew more widespread in the early 1950's, when more people were beginning to share in national prosperity.

From this time interest in the manner in which the social environment affects educational opportunity, was reflected in major official reports on education, such as Early Leaving, Crowther, Robbins and Newsom, and led to the publication of well-known studies, e.g., Douglas, "The Home and the School," E. Frazer, "Home Environment and the School." Jackson and Marsden. "Education and the Working Class", and the writings of Bernstein which dealt with parental influence upon the modes of reasoning. All stressed the vital role of the school in determining success throughout life, and highlighted cases of children with fathers in manual oc

cupations. showing that they do not progress so well at school as others, even when equal in inherent ability.

Time and again evidence has shown that middle class people, while not fully satisfied with the information they received from school, were more vigorous in asking for it, and this was reflected in the more

satisfactory academic performance of their children. Those who lacked either the confidence to ask about their children's progress, or the verbal skill to phrase what they really meant, only too often contracted out of any stake in their children's education and attainment suffered.

Home contact proposal

The recommendations of the 1967 Plowden Report marked an attempt to deal with some of the social injustices in education and one of its findings was that parental attitudes were more important to educational performance even than home circumstances or the state of the school. The report put forward a programme for contact with children's homes. This programme has been reinforced by a pamphlet from the Department of Education and Science, "Parent-Teacher Relations in a Primary School," which contains examples of good parent-teacher relationships collected by schools inspectors throughout the country.

The major problem is how to encourage more parents, especially more working class parents, to adopt those attitudes that stimulate educational performance. This task may be hard but it is not impossible, and schools by active encouragement can help. It is difficult for people to take an active interest in a subject unless they are sufficiently informed and therefore parents must know and understand what is happening in schools.

A situation in which parents see teachers only when they wish to complain or when their children are sick, or when their professional contacts are limited to one rushed and tiring day of the year, needs to be replaced. A more satisfactory arrangement, as outlined by Young and McGeeney in "Learning begins at Home." and which could be adapted according to the type of school, might include the following features:

Preliminary visits to the school by parents and child to smooth the transition stage between home and infant, junior and secondary school. These could be backed up by a booklet sent to the parents or new pupils, explaining the work done in various subjects or the curriculum, and corkstantly suggesting ways in which parents can help their children and also co-operate with the school, and containing details of school procedure on uniform, times, etc.

In the attempt to maintain contact with parents once the child has settled in, "Open Meetings" in the first and last terms of the school year, in which the head teacher adthesses parents and answers questions, would be useful if backed up by private talks with teachers.

The difficulties parents face in trying to understand methods currently used in school might be lessened by a number of discussions on teaching methods.

We have noticed an increasing number or parentpriest teacher contacts in the preparation of children for First Confession and Holy Communion and even at times, the leaving of the "when" decision to parents after consultation. But Religious Education does not stop there and

it is to be hoped that this valuable type of co-operation will spread upwards.

In most areas there would be some parents who, in spite of being made welcome, would not come to school. Here, a useful part could he played by teacher — social workers or school counsellors, i.e., teachers with social training who do less class teaching but have individual talks with pupils and visit parents at home.

In our experience it is principally young teachers who lack confidence in dealing with parents, and here colleges of education can help by providing practical measures and situations to enable students to become familiar with the relationship as a working one.

That this programme does not require a parent-teacher association may cause some surprise. P.T.A.s received only qualified support in the Plowden Report, and while accounts of their excellent work are numerous, there is a danger they can be unduly influenced by a clique of parents even when all those with children at the school are members. However. there is no reason why a P.T.A. and the kind of programme outlined above cannot peacefully co-exist.

Wish for full liaison

Any programme for the furthering of parent-teacher contacts must involve more duties for the already busy teacher, often working in unsatisfactory conditions. and the major part will take place outside school hours. However, both teacher and parents benefit: the teacher from understanding the home background of his pupil, and the parent from knowing more about the aims and methods of the teacher.

So far we have been concerned with participation basically on a parent-teacher level as this is where participation is the first essential. Its fostering must be the first step, especially in areas where meaningful and purposeful contacts are at present minimal. But will or should participation both start and stop there?

We doubt it. As society evolves more speedily and more Catholics acquire "middle class" attitudes, the desire for fuller partnership will grow and will not be satisfied with P.T.A.s, etc. The temper of the age is for full responsible participation and it will be natural for keenly interested Catholics to seek the next step.

They will feel that, as parents, they should be represented directly on managerial and governing bodies by people of their own choice. Holding down trustworthy positions in the professions, industry and commerce, a true cross-section of society rather than an unbalanced element, they will be increasingly capable of assuming responsibility and will bring many talents to boards of governors and managers. A paternalistic education system will certainly not be one to attract their enthusiasm and willing financial support. Parish councils and meetings of parents come to mind as election media.

Cat among pigeons

We realise that to suggest this is really to put the cat among the pigeons. Elected representation for managers in place of nominees of the parish priest! Yet it would be interesting to hear what objections can be laid against the principle especially when the Vatican 11 concept of responsible, articulate, involved laity is fully appreciated. The concept must at some time become factual. Trust, too, breeds trust.

We can understand the uneasiness of teachers. But, if

parents arc represented, teachers also are entitled to due representation so that foundation members of governing bodies will truly represent the trinity of parent priest teacher. The difficulties of teachers being present when appointments are made can be overcome by the standing orders of the managers or governors. If new legislation is required, this is an apt time to press for it as discussions for a new Education Act are proceeding. The experience of local authorities with teacherrepresentatives on their education committees could be drawn upon.

With a regular reporting system, parents' fears about

such vital matters as reorganisation could largely be removed as they would be more acutely and accurately aware of the difficulties facing the Church authorities and more likely, because of their properly informed position, to accept with good grace modifications and the resulting financial burdens. At least they would feel that their voice has been heard in the place where some of the real power lies.

We can think of no reason why the principles of elected representation should not also apply where the direct grant schools provide so much of value in Catholic education.

What has to be realised is that the desire for representation, although now small, will grow, and authorities would be wise to meet it sympathetically and constructively.




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