14 SES 01 A, Policies and Actions to Promote School-Family-Community Links I
Since the 80’s, public policies have been implementing new modes of regulation of educational systems, based on decentralization processes and shared responsibilities between central governments and local communities (Barroso, 2003; Eurydice, 2007). Links between schools, families and communities became crucial in this new context, because schools had to open to outsiders like students’ families, local authorities, and other local organizations, and also because families have new sets of responsibilities towards schools and their children’s educational paths (Barroso, 2005; Silva, 2003).
In this new context, school’s governing boards are now constituted by teachers, other professionals of schools, and external elements representing local authorities, local enterprises and other organizations, and students’ families. Governing board is the strategic management board, where the school director presents organizational and pedagogical strategies, and presents reports about school and students performance to internal and external elements to approve. This is a first level of school regulation, where external elements, like families’ representatives have to know, criticize and help teachers improve schools learning and teaching processes and school results (Sá, 2004). In the Portuguese case, all public schools must have four parents’ representatives, two selected by all families in a parents general assembly and two indicated by the parents association, for a minimum of a two years mandate (Decreto-Lei nº 75/2008, de 22 de Abril), in school boards (equivalent of governing boards in the Portuguese educational system).
On a second level of school regulation, all classes have a class board, to define, monitor and evaluate each class progress, constituted by all teachers, other professionals that develop some kind of work in each class, one students’ representative and two parents’ representatives. These families’ representatives must be selected by all parents at the beginning of the school year, in the first parents meeting with the class director (Decreto-Lei nº 75/2008, de 22 de Abril).
Therefore, all families must select their representatives for schools and class boards, and these elements main tasks are: to help teachers define, monitor and evaluated all school/class strategies, and represent other families, which implies that they are able to communicate with others and serve as links between schools and families. These new responsibilities include not only to be present at several different meetings in schools, and to have regular contacts with other parents, but also to be prepared to read, analyze and comment on documents and strategies, some of which of complex nature (Sebastião, 2007; Silva, 2003).
While analyzing empirical data collected to write my PhD thesis about teachers and parents actions within the new responsibilities in the context of the new modes of regulation of education, it became clear that these families’ representatives show different forms of communicating with other families and of participating in schools and class boards in each school.
Changes made in educational systems towards families new responsibilities, especially selecting representatives, communication between these elements and other parents, and their role as regulators, were imposed on parents through publication of several legal documents (Ball, 1994). Families now have to perform tasks that were, until recently, sole responsibilities of teachers (Fernandes, 2003), which may raise insecurity among parents about their competences in school and class boards (Enguita, 1995), or lead to situations of parents “domestication” by teachers (Lima, 1998).
This paper aims to explain how families’ representatives play their new roles in schools and how teachers receive and work with them, answering the following questions: a) how are families’ representatives being selected?, b) are they communicating with other families?, c) how do they act in school and class boards?; d) how do teachers accept those new elements within schools?
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