14 SES 04 A, Parent Engagement in Schools and Communities
Parental engagement is increasingly prominent in both local and global education policy agendas, reflecting the discourse that it contributes to closing the attainment gap associated with socioeconomic disadvantage (Sosu and Ellis 2014). In Scotland, parental engagement is depicted as an essential requirement for children’s educational success (Scottish Executive 2006). However, there is a lack of empirical evidence from Scotland about the role of parental engagement. To address this gap, a research team from the University of Stirling was engaged by CONNECT (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council) to explore the impact of CONNECT’s Partnership Schools Scotland (PSS) programme. Joyce Epstein’s model of family, school and community partnerships forms the basis of CONNECT’s PSS programme. Epstein’s six-point model encompasses a range of different types of engagement, namely: parenting; communication; volunteering; learning at home; decision-making; and collaboration with the community (Epstein et al 2018).
A key problem arising from the literature is that conflicting claims are made regarding the impact of parental engagement. While some authors claim that there is a “near universal consensus” on the benefits of parental engagement (Epstein et al 2018), others conclude that “current interventions… have yet to deliver convincingly the achievement bonus that might be expected” (Desforges and Abouchaar 2003, p.5). Yet, there is an acknowledgement that children’s achievement (Connelly, 2013) is dependent on how all parts of the complex relationships which make up school (Nespor, 2003) work together. Hence, the research aimed to explore these connections between the family and school whilst noticing the ways in which CONNECT’s role might help shape these. Epstein’s model, which forms CONNECT’s approach, is based on the overlapping spheres of influence theory (Epstein and Sanders 2000), and argues that the social capital that is generated through interactions between families, schools, and community members can be invested in activities to assist children’s learning, “strengthen families” and improve schools (Epstein and Sanders 2000, p.289).
There is a tendency to conflate terms such as “parental involvement”, “parental engagement”, “family learning” and “home-school partnerships”. Yet these terms may refer to very different approaches with very different outcomes (Epstein et al 2018). Parental involvement usually refers to formal participation in representative bodies. Desforges and Abouchaar found that “parental involvement acted out in the school confers little or no benefit” to students (2003, p.30). Parental engagement, in contrast, encompasses a wide range of approaches, including educational activities which primarily take place at home. Carter-Wall and Whitfield (2012) suggest, however, that the claims made regarding the impact of parental engagement are often derived from targeted, intensive interventions to families identified as requiring additional support. Further, it is argued that structural inequalities shape the nature and experience of parental engagement (Ball et al. 1996; Reay 1998; Lareau 2000; Vincent and Martin 2002; Gillies 2005; Crozier and Davies 2007) and that far from reducing or equalising the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage, parental engagement risks reinforcing inequalities. Hence, there is a need to explore what is understood by “parental engagement” and what approaches are successfully being used at schools operating within a context of high deprivation.
The research question addressed by this project was to explore the extent to which parental engagement is one of the influencing factors in schools, which have higher than expected attainment than typical for their demographic profile. Data was generated through questionnaires with parents and teachers and semi-structured interviews with parents, teachers and focus groups of pupils. Moreover, the nature and structure of family, school and community connections was investigated through network mapping with some participants.
The work involves three phases of research, and includes desk-based research, questionnaires, interviews with parents/carers, school leaders and teachers and focus groups with pupils. Desk research has been used to identify 10 partnership and 10 non partnership schools that had higher than expected attainment than typical for schools within that demographic profile. The research used publically available data sets to identify twenty schools which exceeded expectations, ten of which had connections with CONNECT’s programme. These schools were limited to four local authorities. Questionnaires for parents and teachers about parental engagement were distributed to these twenty schools and more broadly. Alongside this, we approached the twenty identified schools to be involved as a case study school. The research team worked with a primary and secondary school involved with CONNECT and a primary and secondary school who had no involvement. The questionnaire and semi-structured interviews explored the nature of the connections between parents/carers and schools. Alongside this, a specific focus was placed looking at the nature and strength of the relationships between schools and families, using an approach informed by social network analysis. Two focus groups, held with primary school children, explored their understandings and experiences of the connections between family and school. Using this generated data, we draw inferences regarding the role and influence of CONNECT’s principled engagement with their schools around parent engagement and ask questions about the ways in which parents and the community at the other non-partnership schools experience their engagement.
The research received 100 secondary parent responses and 116 primary parent responses. These questionnaires are still being analysed, however an interesting finding is: 62% of secondary partnership (CONNECT) parents strongly agreed that they were happy to contact the school about schoolwork compared with 34% of non-partnership schools. Although, this not statistically significant, it is very close to being so, and hence we are currently awaiting the results of the primary school parent data to interrogate this finding more closely. The semi-structured interviews and focus group analysis is ongoing. Early indications suggest that that parents, teachers and children think that learning together and communication are key aspects of family/school connections. Parents and teachers talk about the need to develop trusting, non-judgemental and responsive relationships. Early readings suggest a difference in the language used to describe parents between senior managers and teachers. An example of this is the term ‘hard-to-reach’ parents which classroom teachers used whereas senior managers suggested they did not label families as such. Early analysis of the social network maps produced by teachers in the non-partnership primary school showed the importance of the relationship with a particular depute head teacher in relation to supporting parental engagement. This depute appears to span their networks as a sort of ‘broker’, providing influence and shaping both teacher networks. Our analysis of the partnership schools will examine the role of CONNECT as a broker influencing the shaping of the relationships with parents and carers.
Ball, S.J., Bowe, R. and Gewitz, S. (1996). School choice, social class and distinction: the realization of social advantage in education. Journal of Education Policy, 11 (1) pp.89-112. Carter-Wall C and Whitfield G (2012). The role of aspirations, attitudes and behaviour in closing the educational attainment gap. Research paper. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Crossley, N., Bellotti, E., Edwards, G., Everett, M. G., Koskinen, J., & Tranmer, M. (2015). Social network analysis for ego-nets: Social network analysis for actor-centred networks. Sage. Crozier, G. and Davies, J. (2007) Hard to Reach Parents or Hard to Reach Schools? A Discussion of Home–School Relations, with Particular Reference to Bangladeshi and Pakistani Parents. British Educational Research Journal, 33 (3), pp. 295-313. Desforges, C. and Abouchaar, A. (2003) The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: A literature review (Vol. 433). Nottingham: DfES publications. Epstein, J.L., Sanders, M.G., Sheldon, S.B., Simon, B.S., Salinas, K.C., Jansorn, N.R., Van Voorhis, F.L., Martin, C.S., Thomas, B.G., Greenfeld, M.D. and Hutchins, D.J., (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Corwin Press. Epstein, J.L. and Sanders, M.G. (2000) Connecting home, school, and community. In: Handbook of the sociology of education. Boston, MA: Springer, pp. 285-306. Gillies, V. (2005) Raising the ‘Meritocracy’: Parenting and the Individualization of Social Class. Sociology, 39 (5) pp. 835–853. Goodall, J. and Montgomery, C. (2014) Parental involvement to parental engagement: a continuum. Educational Review, 66 (4), pp. 399-410. Hughes, T. (2019) ‘Bucking the trend’: exploring schools that exceed expectations. Unpublished thesis. Stirling: Stirling University. Lareau, A. (2000) Home Advantage. Lanhalm, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield. Nespor, J. (2013). Tangled up in school: Politics, space, bodies, and signs in the educational process. Routledge. Reay, D. (1998) Class Work: Mother’s Involvement in Their Children’s Primary Schooling. London: UCL Press. Schneider, C. and Arnot, M. (2018) Transactional school-home-school communication: Addressing the mismatches between migrant parents' and teachers' views of parental knowledge, engagement and the barriers to engagement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 75, pp. 10-20. Sosu E and Ellis S (2014) Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education. Research report. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Vincent, C. and Martin, J. (2002) Class, culture and agency: Researching parental voice. Discourse, 23 (1), pp. 109-128.
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