14 SES 07 A, Home-school-community Links: relationships, choice & participation
With the transition to democracy, in 1974, the democratic participation in schools become an important part of the organization of the Portuguese education system. Since then have been made some decentralization efforts to ensure greater school autonomy and greater democratic participation of family and community in schools life.
However, the Portuguese education system has been always described as highly centralized (Barreto, 1995; Barroso, 2009, 2011; Lima, 2011). Also, in early 90’s, the school autonomy efforts in many countries began to be strongly influenced by something else beyond democratic participation values, particularly by neoliberal agenda and its consumerist vision of education. This influenced education policy and created several tensions between democratic participation and managerial practices that can be conceived as obstacles to social justice and democracy in public schools (Gewirtz, 2003; Torres Santomé, 2001, 2011).
According to Sliwka and Istance (2006), most OECD countries have made provisions for parents and community to participate in school decision-making. “School councils, on which elected parent representatives serve together with teacher representatives, are a more recent development in most countries” (p.30). It seems that through this kind of participation, parents could “have more influence… and often have a say in developing local curricula, deciding about budgetary matters, and recruiting and selecting teachers and principals… however, there is a serious issue regarding how many parents are familiar with these arrangements and which parents these are...”. (pp.30-31).
In April 2008, the Portuguese parliament passed a law that established a new governance model for schools relied in two main ideas: a) strong leaderships, and b) family and community participation. The second was achieved by creating a new structure, the General Council (GC), that includes the representation of families and community, teachers, staff, and local government. Additionally, each class should have two family representatives to cooperate with teachers.The main arguments were the democratization and the efficiency and efficacy of the system.
This paper addresses a fundamental research question: a) How are family representatives participating both in schools GC and at the class level? More precisely, it aims to describe who is participating, how those persons are selected, how they actually participate, how other families see them, how they see schoolwork, and how teachers and school directors see them.
Dickson, Halpin, Power, Telford and Gewirtz (2005) states that school governance practices focused on having “people more involved in collective decision-making about local policy for schools is not easy to achieve... [The problems] often reflect some of the long-standing difficulties of implicating people in local decision-making, particularly when they have felt pushed to the margins of the democratic process in the past” (p.179).
Silva (2003, 2007) warned for a series of traps behind family-community-school relations. When he looked at these interactions as social power relations, the main trap seemed to be the social and cultural reproduction when some kinds of families often take the lead. Ensure that all voices are heard in this contested terrain seem to be the main challenges, as appointed by other authors (Silva, 2003, 2007; Abrams & Gibbs, 2002). Include families from all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and other groups and offer them training to serve as representatives of other families were also challenges identified by Epstein (2011). According to Santomé (2011), social justice is the fundamental value that should drive school-family relations. A Civic Model is the only one, he claims, that could be considered fully participative, typical of a democratic society composed by citizens. In such a model, all the voices are heard, all the matters are discussed, and large compromises are settled involving schools, families, and other community groups.
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