Promoting Collaboration Toolset
for equity and learning


School/family cooperation

Either based or not upon the legal basis as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the fact is that the official discourse introduced references to the importance of school/family cooperation in students' achievement, and paved the way for recognizing the rights of families to systematically influence and participate in schools' policy making, this way gaining the status of partners: the right to have a say in the main decisions affecting school life, on assuming rights and responsibilities to cooperate in the building up of better and more effective schooling for all, to press for improved learning and achievement, as the following figure shows, and within their margins of autonomy, for better self-regulated schools.

involvement


Too many times school partners'/stakeholders' involvement in the education service at local level stems on the belief that very often partners, namely parents, are privileged school service consumers. However, this doesn't mean that they are being involved in the construction of the global educational process, which presupposes participation in the discussion of learning results and in the processes preceding decision making, shared responsibility, and active citizenship. It must not be ignored that a trend exists, involving school heads, politicians and other citizens for whom parents are neither stakeholders nor partners, but “clients” and therefore they shouldn’t be involved in school governance, as if school heads just have to guess their wishes regarding their children schooling effects and fulfil them ( ESHA, 2014 Conference, Round table 4 ).

On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that when parents are involved by being given responsibility for a certain area, they will be involved and their involvement will not be individualistic, for their own children only. There is a considerable amount of experiences throughout Europe, some of them consolidated, showing the advantages of families being involved in school life as real partners. Even if not following Epstein et al (1997) typology of parental involvement, Deforges and Abouchaar (2003) on their review highlight how "spontaneous parental involvement" do "have an impact pupils achievement and adjustment in schools", regardless of social class and ethnicity, in different countries, namely in continental Europe, Scandinavia and the UK. Besides reviews, a considerable number of projects are nowadays addressing this issue, e.g. the European Research Network About Parents in Education (ERNAPE) and Nóra Ritók's work “Not only children need to be taught”, in the Real Pearl Foundation.

On the other hand, it is also true that many families are concerned essentially with the needs and well being of their own children at school, but usually do not take part in the construction and in the debate of the school educational project, neither in the education model discussion, whenever it takes place. The question is whether there is a willingness on the side of the school to involve them and whether the school approaches them in the right way. Teachers often only involve parents in the individual schooling processes of their children mainly to inform them or to complain about their behaviour or learning difficulties, but let them alone to solve the problems which they themselves, as professionals, are often unable to solve: to respond to individual difficulties, to promote better learning and equity in achievement.

stakeholders. Photo by  Steven Depolo. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/5091488830 Moreover, the weaker the parents' capacity in initiating an intelligent dialogue for intervention and to understand the school discourse, the weaker their children’s achievement, as international testing has put in evidence. The above mentioned good practices and others show that if parents are addressed well and approached openly, they will engage in school education, often as part of their own lifelong learning (see, for example, Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and National Parents Council Primary.

The participation of partners in Portuguese schools
Sometimes, the existing structures for parents' intervention don’t allow, an effective participation, according to their roles and expectations. In Portuguese schools, as in other countries, a structure exists for the participation of partners in school life, "the school governing board", (Conselho Geral/General Board) gathering representatives of parents together with the representatives of teachers, other school staff, students, local authorities with education policy responsibilities, as well as other social and economic and cultural partners, all of them elected by their peers. The number of these members foresees the need to make coalitions in order to get the majority of votes in the decision processes. To perceive the relevance of this Board, it should be added that the respective mission covers the selection of the school head, the school educational project approval, and other school normative tools, as well as both the annual budget and the accounts report. To what extent this example shows that training the parents for school board participation, selection and accountability towards the parental community of the school is necessary?

The truth is that in the analyses of the Portuguese external evaluation reports Veloso et al. (2013) refer to the concern of schools in involving local communities in the school life, highlighting the involvement of parents in school life as having a long tradition and constituting an important concern in public schools. Data show that parents participate in school life in response to schools' initiatives to integrate them in school life, as members of different boards and as target groups for information sessions on how to follow their children's path and progress.

The patterns of parents' participation vary from region to region, depending on the school dynamics, which the authors categorize in three groups: in traditional schools, parents' participation is clearly more reduced than in innovative schools, where school leaders, namely the ones responsible for the class work coordination and tutorship, truly take the lead, follow the educational path of every student under their coordination, and together with class teachers, involve parents in the discussion of individual achievement and class performance, personalizing and valuing efforts and motivation, demonstrating a great involvement in their leadership role. In a different group, which the authors call the "diffuse schools", parents' participation in the school boards, is highly valued, according to the legal dispositions, and in school life in general.

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© 2014 EPNoSL Project