14 SES 15 A, Communities or Parents' Collaboration with Schools: An European Perspective
Family involvement in schools has become a source of great interest and a topical research area, as collaboration between schools and families is considered to be a key aspect for educational and organisational improvement. The involvement of families in Spanish schools is a legally recognised right, a social demand, an educational need, and a permanent challenge.
However, there are limited opportunities for families to become engaged with schools in Spain. Families may contact their children's tutors, join the school’s board of governors (consejo escolar), and become members of Parents’ Associations (AMPAs), but few other options are available to them. There is therefore a genuine need to gain further knowledge on the effects of these possible lines of action.
The main organised form for families’ involvement in schools under Spanish law is the creation of Parents’ Associations (AMPAs). They exist not only in Spain, but also in many other countries. It is surprising that, despite the importance of these associations, few studies have been conducted on them in Spain.
The AMPA is the natural means for parental’ collective involvement and ensures their engagement in their children's education. The roles of the AMPA include giving parents the ability to voice their demands and concerns, to become involved in their children’s schooling and to make proposals for activities and improvements. As shown by the few studies on the topic AMPAs are faced with numerous day-today challenges. These include a lack of assistance by students’ families and the school teaching staff; little advice and training to manage their demands and respond to their needs; and lack of the tools required to access the information they need; not having a stable place to carry out their duties; and lack of consistent funding.
This article describes a qualitative case study carried out in collaboration with 36 AMPAs from Spanish state schools in Cantabria, aimed at understanding how their members describe, interpret and assess their current situation. Eleven areas were discussed: (1) Advisory or decision-making role of the AMPAs; (2) a representative of the AMPAs on the board of governors; (3) advantages and disadvantages of joining an AMPA; (4) Actively involved members of the AMPA; (5) Learning how to manage an AMPA; (6) Social and after-school activities organised by AMPAs; (7) Activities carried out by the AMPAs to voice parents' complaints, requests and concerns ; (8) Grant funding available to AMPAs; (9) AMPA’s strengths ; (10) AMPA’s weaknesses; (11) Suggestions for improvement. The findings showed that AMPAS foster activities to galvanise schools, but that they demanded increased decision-making powers, additional training and support in managing the association.
The results have shown that there are remarkable similarities and differences between the AMPAs regarding the different aspects analysed. The arguments used by the participants in this study met the study’s general objective. They gave information about how 36 parents involved in the management of their association described, interpreted and assessed their situation as AMPA members.
It can be concluded that AMPAs are a means of promoting significant participation that needs to be further enhanced, studied and disseminated. Those involved in AMPAs highly value and defend these organisations’ essential role in improving school dynamics.
This paper outlines a study generally aimed at understanding how AMPAs describe, interpret and assess their current situation, several years after the implementation of the LOMCE, and following some periods of economic and social crisis. The hypothesis here is that these conditions have negatively affected the AMPAs. The specific objectives are: to find out whether the AMPAs have a consultative or a decision-making role; whether they have representatives on their respective schools’ boards of governors; why families choose to join AMPAs; to find out how many people are actively involved in them; how their members learn to manage them; discover their activities, both related to having their demands met and to proposing new actions for schools; find out if they have grants and for what purpose; and their strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvement. An open interview script was designed to gather information on how the participants assessed their involvement in an AMPA. Since the aim was to ask them about many different subjects, a relatively small number of AMPAs (some 30) were included in the sample, all of them from one Spanish autonomous region (which is not disclosed, as confidentiality was guaranteed by the code of ethics used in the study). However, the geographic dispersion of the schools made it difficult to conduct the interviews in a face-to-face manner, so it was decided to send the questions by email. The email addresses of 57 AMPAs were obtained from their respective school’s websites, and after an initial invitation and a reminder, 36 responses were collected, 6 more than expected. After the data were collected, the participants’ answers to the open questions were analysed and categorised using content analysis and response frequency. The different responses confirmed that the questions formulated were relevant for the participants. In the future, the resulting categories of analysis could be used to design a closed questionnaire to encompass a greater number of associations throughout Spain. The ethical standards governing these types of studies were applied in order to ascertain the rigour of the study, and to ensure the independence, confidentiality and anonymity of the participants and their respective schools. A draft of this paper was also delivered to an expert on the subject and to two members of AMPAs to ensure that the results and conclusions were clear, relevant and true, and to obtain their approval for publication.
First of all, AMPAs were found to be actively involved agents, despite being formed by volunteers, and they strived to carry out a variety of tasks to improve schools. This involves dedicating their time to the schools, the students and the families, and includes proposing, designing, managing and organising numerous activities of various kinds for children and families, using membership fees and some grants. This dedication and commitment can be wearing, given the intrinsic difficulties faced by AMPAs (small number of members, few resources, external criticism etc.). However, participants also stated that their participation was rewarding, and listed numerous strengths, including activities promoted and achievements made. The decision-making ability of AMPAs is currently reduced, except for their role in proposing and carrying out extra-curricular activities, which is their main area of influence, as shown by this study. Their only contact with the school is the board of governors. AMPAs that have collaborated in this study see themselves more in a consultative than a decision-making role. In this sense, there is a social need for families to become engaged in schools and for the relevant regulations to be revised and updated to better address the current issues and bring their situation closer to their ideals. Regarding the daily management of AMPAs, the people consulted expressed the need to have more training related to their regular operations, additional support and information available to them, stable funding not linked to the application for grants, etc. In fact, the management of extra-curricular activities was perceived by some parents as a task that completely overwhelmed them. In their view, this prevented them from focusing on organising social and community activities, taking actions to voice parents’ concerns and demands and being the intermediaries between the families and the schools' management teams.
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