Can Parents Improve Educational Standards By Running Their Own School?

Opinion / February 19, 2010

The muddied waters of our schooling system run deep.  Politicians vying for stakes in the next government are focusing on hyped changes to our educational system to win votes.  Parents, teachers and of course children sit on the bank anxiously waiting the posturing of the hustings to be replaced by a firm actions to improve our schools.

One effect an election can be guaranteed to achieve is to put everything on hold.  In the short term the mounting concerns over our educational standards have to fester in a semi vacuum.  Day to day life in school continues but the big-ticket policies are definitely in abeyance, which is a great shame. If the labour party win the election there are bound to be some adjustments brought about by the recession. Labour have been understandably reluctant to implement changes less they damaged their chances. If the labour party is replaced then we wait to see if and how the winning manifesto is actually applied.  Either way our children or the teaching resources in school will have to wait for six months before any improvement will surface.  More likely, our children and schools will see no change for another academic year.

If the DCSF (assuming the department isn’t re- named again) consequently put operations on hold our educational performance is similarly stiffed. Is the proposal to let parents take matters into their own hands therefore feasible, practical or ethical?  We constantly read of the clamour to gain admission to good schools. Relocation, address cheating and a change in faith conspire to manipulate many applications by parents. Even the legal profession now hover at the school gates to potentially sue the school in support of a disputed child’s place. The reason, we simply do not have enough good schools.  Is the proposal therefore to establish schools run by parents a positive reaction to their frustration that holds merit or potential disaster?

Paul McGlore of Lambeth Council Children and Young People Service says expansion in secondary schools in London is a major problem. It led to UK’s first parent school in Lambeth.  Working closely with Lambeth council and funded partly by the £300m building schools for the future programme it still took six years to complete Elmgreen school.

The school now receives significant focus on its operation from the parents.  Doubtless they will be actively involved in their children’s education but this could be transitory. What is not yet proven is whether the parental support and enthusiasm is transferable to the next cohort of parents.

The Elmgreen exercise certainly benefits from enthusiasm. But the schooling journey of a child is 10 years and therefore an accurate judgement of a schools performance has to be measured over a decade. If we get it wrong we could owe a generation of children a huge apology.  Certainly the National Union of Teachers are deeply concerned about the proliferation of such schemes saying the concept is flawed.

Christina Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers sees significant pitfalls.  Although committed to parents playing a bigger role in children’s education the NUT are worried about any parent’s expertise in running a school.  The initial enthusiasm of the start-up team may decay or succession plans fail.  This will result in demand for support from contractors that will ironically detract further from educational control over a school.

I must admit to side with Christine Blower. The risk of getting it the wrong far outweighs the benefits. The 10 years schooling journey of our children has to prepare them for adulthood in the rapidly changing world. The pace of technology and rate of change in the now global market is phenomenal yet struggle to maintain standards and are now slipping badly in the world educational rankings. We need the strength and experience or the teaching profession to put it right and are not have to rely and parents bridging the gap. There is a positive compromise, however. Teachers see huge benefits from parents becoming more active in the schooling role. And modern technology and teaching resources can put such a plan rapidly into place.

Research shows a child working at home playing educational games with parents can improve their performance by 2 grades back in class. The Home Access scheme recently opened to low income families can boost a child’s performance through direct access to school, teachers and peers to help with homework and schooling. Teachers will be able to provide parents on-line dynamic access to a child’s performance. Importantly they will be able to give advice where a child needs help or extra practice supported through the games used as teaching resources in class and now able to be purchased by parents.

This implies the better use of parental involvement is at home. Any school that can show a two grade improvement would move up to a good classification – without parents having to manage or build new schools. The technology now exists to capture this additional teaching resource and above all it can be a really positive and fun way to help at home.

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