The relationship with parents has been severely damaged by politics especially in the state system, I am writing this in response to this. Essentially in education there needs to be an alliance between teachers, parents and students. The teacher is the professional who guides the content. Parents and students provide the motivation (that includes nurture) that is essential for the student to learn, the teacher reinforces that motivation, and if necessary informs the parent with regards to that motivation. If the parent feels there are extenuating circumstances that the teacher should know about affecting that motivation, the teacher should be advised and should choose as the professional how they respond to the information.
Especially in the UK this relationship was politically undermined. Back in the 80s manipulating electoral demographics Thatcher gave parents excessive power in schools. Because this power was given to support divisions in the state sector, involvement of interfering parents became a problem. Instead of accepting the professionalism of the teacher these parents were encouraged to tell teachers what to do, and this brought the professionalism of the teachers into question. Teachers became the brunt of parent criticism, and teachers were increasingly used as an escapist buffer for the failure of education policy – a policy teachers had no control over.
I left this cauldron of negativity in 1993 but returned for one year in 2003 and felt it was no better. Maybe it has changed now.
Personally I always welcomed parental involvement, and never found parents’ meetings a chore. It was always good to work with parents to improve student motivation. When I was in Africa I helped introduce parents’ day, it had benefits but unfortunately it was introduced as additional work for the teachers – although few seemed to object. I was amused by one teacher who used the opportunity to hit on the parents!!
I was never really happy with parents’ contact in private education because the parents saw they were paying for the teachers rather than paying for a professional service. Very often adminstrators colluded with this inappropriate approach because they were more interested in fee-paying parents than they were in supporting teachers. This was a particular problem in the Middle East where wealthy parents saw teachers as high-paid workers rather than professionals, and the administration did little to assuage this because they had teachers on two-year contracts and could replace them. This led to whimsical sackings based on personality clashes between children of influential parents and the teachers – with teachers usually being chastised by the administration. Here teachers were a different form of scapegoat, this time the fees being the driving force.
I welcome what I called “Quality Portfolios” but note here they do take time to prepare; I have discussed quality portfolios in detail throughout Matriellez. At one school in the late 80s when Thatcher policies were leading to increased parental interference, portfolios were introduced by a headmaster who was weak and allowed himself to be manipulated by this interference. Whilst a big PR number was made of presenting such portfolios to the parents, in my view it had limited success because the content of the portfolios was shallow eg honour marks and so on. I have always felt parents were participants in the qualifications game, and deluding shams seemed not to be of interest – weak students would buy into it.
I have never used online systems that effectively show parents the markbook, my only objection would be the amount of time it takes to complete such an exercise. Over my later teaching years I saw an increasing amount of time being used for computer systems, systems that were never usually designed with teacher time as a valuable resource. I suspect over the last 10 years more of such systems have been introduced. I enjoyed the student response in the article about parents getting on their case but would be concerned if such online monitoring led to increased parent-response that used teacher time, time the teacher does not usually have. I would also note that a significant part of assessing a test is teacher judgement, I regularly took a long time discussing test results – such judgement cannot be reflected in online figures.
I have a feeling PR portfolios have become increasingly used. I have seen one in a private school where photos of student participation in events are taken and comprise a portfolio at the end of term. This portfolio can be used by parents in a constructive way, those who wish to be involved in their child’s work but I hate to think how much time they took to prepare. In my view such time would be better used in actual education.
I do not believe the portfolios are in any way conneced to the Quality Portfolios I discussed – as they were an improvement to an inappropriate exam system.
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