A collaborative relationship needs to be in place, where schools remember that teachers are experts in pedagogy but parents are experts in their own children.
Joanna Murphy, Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS), discusses parental engagement in learner’s journey.
I have been a volunteer for the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) since 2009, and Chair since 2015. In this time, I have been pleased to see parental engagement rise up the policy agenda. In 2019, we will see the finalisation of the Scottish Government and COSLA Empowering Schools reforms and the furthering of the actions of Learning Together (Scottish Government’s three-year national action plan on parental involvement, parental engagement, family learning and learning at home).
The guiding vision of the Learning Together action plan is that every parent and family should be supported to be involved and engaged in their child’s education, throughout their learning journey. As a policy aim, this is extremely welcome, however for it to make a difference for all families, it has to be truly enacted on the ground.
According to our recent research with parents (carried out from August to October last year), a lot more work is needed for families with children with Additional Support Needs (ASN) to be fully supported. Parents told us that it is extremely difficult to find out what support their child is entitled to and that it can be even more difficult to access this support.
The general lack of good, direct communication for parents (from schools, local authorities and Scottish Government) is a fundamental issue in our Scottish education system. Where good resources exist, there tends to be no clear plan to ensure relevant parents receive them. For example, 85% of parents we surveyed were not signposted to key services (such as Enquire) by their school or local authority. There is no excuse for this basic failing.
Although parents are usually invited to discussions about their child, the survey found that parents often feel that their view is not taken into account, discussions are not followed up and support does not improve. A parent’s attendance at a meeting cannot, in itself, be deemed as successful engagement; this satisfies a bureaucratic requirement alone.
Schools should look to their Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) and local authorities for help in removing the barriers for parents to contribute. For example, a budget to pay for costs associated with attending meetings – this could be for childcare, transport or translators. Meetings where parents are invited also need to be at times that suit parents, not school staff.
Fundamentally, there is a resourcing issue in our schools. Only 31% of the surveyed parents felt that their school’s Additional Support for Learning (ASL) resources and support met their child’s individual needs. Over half of parents felt that their child had been directly or indirectly affected by changes to ASL provision in their school. Crucially, 51% do not think their child has the same opportunities as other pupils in the school. It is unacceptable that some of the most vulnerable children in the Scottish system are not getting the education experience their families believe to be appropriate.
However, I would never say that any of these issues are insurmountable and neither are they present in every school, in every authority. There are pockets of excellent practice around Scotland to be praised. With appropriate resources, staffing and training, the current policy developments can make a difference for these families.
We need to keep parents at the heart of their child’s learning. When parents are involved in their children’s learning, it benefits children, families and schools: children do better. As Chair of the NPFS, I will continue to strive for a political and legislative environment which champions the voice of parents.
The National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) is a volunteer-led organisation. NPFS work in partnership with national and local government, and other organisations involved in education and child wellbeing issues, to ensure that parents play a full and equal role in education.
Learning Together: National Action Plan on parental involvement, engagement, family learning and learning at home https://www.gov.scot/publications/learning-together-scotlands-national-action-plan-parental-involvement-parental-engagement/pages/5/