14 SES 03 B, Family Education, Engagement and Participation to Transform Education
Almost one hundred years after John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916)academics and practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic continue to search for ways in which a participatory democracy in education can be enacted. The purpose of this paper is to present the findings of a case study on stakeholder (student, parent and community) engagement in a new type of state (public) school in England, a co-operative school. This study surfaces both the potential and the challenges that lie ahead in engaging more democratically with school stakeholders in the process of becoming relational; engagement as doing with rather than doing to.
Key words: Forms and Understandings of Engagement, Relational Approach, Co-operative Values.
The rapid growth of co-operative schools in England has been way beyond expectation; from the first co-operative school in 2008 to over 800 schools in January 2015, the development is such that it has been described as a quiet revolution (Thorpe, 2013). The co-operative schools model has been borne out of a capitalist command economy (Monbiot, 2013) that has resulted in English Education policy reforms which have led to the marketisation of state education; a contemporary English educational landscape that houses an unprecedented assortment of alternatives marketed through the rhetoric of freedom and choice.
Against this background, co-operative schools have emerged; state schools with an ethos based on the globally shared co-operative values of self-help; self-responsibility; democracy; equality; equity and solidarity. Parents and carers, staff, students and the local community have direct engagement in the governance of the school through membership, making each co-operative school a community-based mutual organization. This paper illuminates forms and understandings of engagement that offer potential for Dewey’s (2016) vision of education through processes of democratic governance and collective responsibility and encourages debate and discussion on the extent to which a co-operative policy-discourse mediates change in positionality towards more equitable and relational practices in schools.
Purpose and Perspective
In seeking alternatives to professionally-driven approaches to school engagement policy and practice this paper draws upon the concept of a relational approach to engagement as espoused by Warren et al (2009). Following Warren (2009), a relational approach is defined as a school and its stakeholders getting things done collectively, starting from the point of their “shared interest in advancing the education and well-being of children” (Warren et al, 2009, p.2213).
Rather than applying this concept to one specific area of engagement (student, parent or community), this paper further develops the work of Warren (2009) by adopting Epstein’s (2001) notion of overlapping spheres of influence to focus the study. Framing the concept of engagement in this way challenges the tendency of research to treat student, parent and community engagement as totally separate entities and foregrounds the importance of recognising that stakeholder groups are interrelated and membership can overlap.
This study answers four research questions, the first two of which focused on how a school and its stakeholders approached, connected and developed forms and understandings of engagement. The third and fourth questions sought to uncover possible explanations for a more-or-less (Putnam, 2000) relational approach to engagement by exploring links between factors such as current school practices and external policy constraints and the forms and understandings of engagement that emerged during the study:
- What forms of engagement does the school currently seek with its stakeholder groups and vice versa?
- What understandings of engagement does this suggest?
- To what extent are these forms and understandings of engagement moving closer to/further from a relational approach?
- What are the factors that are influencing these movements?
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and education: an introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The Free Press, Collier-Macmillan, 1966 Dyson, A. and Kerr, K. (2013) Reviewing the field of school-community relations: Conceptualisations in the literature on school-community relations in disadvantaged areas. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Vancouver, 13 April 2013 Epstein, J. L. (2001) School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Ferlazzo, L. (2011) Involvement or engagement? Educational Leadership, 68(8), 10-14. Fielding, M. (2001) 'Students as radical agents of change' Journal of Educational Change, vol 2, no. 2, pp. 123-141 Glassman, M. and Patton, R. (2014) Capability Through Participatory Democracy: Sen, Freire, and Dewey. Educational Philosophy and Theory 46.12 (2014): 1353-1365. Monbiot, G. (2013) 'A Capitalist Command Economy'. The Guardian 2013. Web. 15 July 2015 Putnam, R.D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster Thorpe, J. (2013). Co-operative schools: A quiet revolution. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 46(2), 6–9. Warren et al. (2009) Beyond the Bake Sale: A community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools. Teachers College Record 111(9), pp.2209-2254 Yin, R. K. (2013) Case study research: Design and methods. 5th Edition. London: Sage Publications Ltd
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