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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling

RESEARCH REPORT

Dr Pamela Clayton

University of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

1 Social, economic and educational context


The data has been anonymised to protect the identity of the school and of the
respondents to the survey.

1.1 Population by age, sex and ethnicity


The school surveyed is one of three primary schools in a town which is part of a
borough. The population of the borough is nearly 96,000, of which forty-nine per cent
are male and fifty-one per cent female. The mean average age of the resident population
is thirty-eight: twenty-two per cent are aged under sixteen; fifty-eight per cent between
sixteen and fifty-nine; and twenty per cent aged sixty and over (2001 National Census).
In 1991, the borough had the largest number of people from ethnic minority
backgrounds in the county, with 8.4 per cent, compared with a county figure of 2.2 per
cent (1991 National Census). It is the home of the local Racial Equality Council, which
inter alia works with state and local government services in the area to ensure that all
regardless of ethnic background receive the service they should. The biggest religious
group by far is Christian (69,204), followed by Punjabi Sikhs (6,379) (although ‘no
religion’ and ‘religion not stated’ greatly outnumber the Sikh population). Similarly the
biggest ethnic group is White (89.5 per cent), followed by Asian/British Asian (8.2 per
cent), followed by ‘mixed’ (1 per cent), Black/Black British (0.6 per cent) and Chinese
or others (0.6 per cent).

1.2 Housing
Within the borough in 2001, there were 38,266 households, of which 2,187 were
deemed overcrowded, 2,590 had no central heating and 100 had no private toilet or
bathroom. The proportion of one-person households in the borough was twenty-seven
per cent and of lone parent households with dependent children six per cent.
Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Seventy-two per cent of households lived in owner-occupied accommodation, whilst


nineteen per cent lived in social rented housing (renting from the Council, a Housing
Association or a Registered Social Landlord), and the remaining ten per cent rented
privately, or lived rent free. Considering housing types, 16.5 per cent live in detached
houses costing about £225,000; a third in semi-detached houses costing about £125,000;
a further third in terraced houses costing about £93,000; and sixteen per cent in flats
worth £65,000. Compared with the national average, fewer residents live in detached
houses and more in terraced houses.

1.3 Education and qualifications


Of the resident population aged 16 to 74, 31 per cent had no qualifications, whilst 13
per cent were qualified to degree level or higher. Economically active full-time students
comprise 2.2 per cent and economically inactive students three per cent (compared with
a national average of 2.6 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively). This lower-than-
average percentage of students may be accounted for by the buoyant local economy. Of
those aged 16-74, 62.1 per cent were employed and only 3.5 per cent unemployed.

1.4 Health
Overall health conditions in the borough are better than the national average (for the
following figures the national average will be found in brackets). For all age-groups,
those describing their health as ‘not good’ make up 7.8 per cent (cf. 9.2 per cent ); those
with a limiting long-term illness, health problem or disability 16.3 per cent (cf. 18.2 per
cent); and the ‘percentage of people who provided unpaid care to family members,
neighbours or others, because of long-term physical or mental ill-health or disability, or
problems related to old age’ was 9.5 per cent (cf 10 per cent).

2 Analysis of school-parent legislative environment


This section describes some of the legislation and initiatives currently affecting parent
implication in school government. It also describes non-statutory ways in which parents
may be involved with their children’s education.
There are several ways in which parents may be directly involved in the schooling of
their children: home schooling; measures to address irregular school attendance;
contacts with school staff; home-school agreements between schools, pupils and
parents; home-school liaison and family support, including early years education for all
children, special measures for children living in areas of deprivation or in deprived
families; the National Family and Parenting Institute; and involving parents in
supporting children through transition, that is, measures for children changing schools,
especially where the home background is considered inadequate to facilitate such
changes.

2.1 Home schooling


Parents may choose to take their children out of the school system and educate them at
home - this education may be carried out by someone paid to do so or by the parents
themselves. In Scotland the situation is still as provided in the Education (Scotland) Act
1980, though ‘Section 14 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 (asp 6)

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

provides for guidance to be issued “as to the circumstances in which parents may
choose to educate their children at home”, and requires education authorities to “have
regard to any such guidance”. However, as at June 2003 Education Otherwise and the
Scottish Executive are still in consultation over these guidelines (Education Otherwise,
www.education-otherwise.org/ Legal/SummLawScot.htm, accessed 9th June 2003).
The 1980 Act section 28(1) states:
‘In the exercise and performance of their powers and duties under this Act the
Secretary of State and education authorities shall have regard to the general
principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of suitable instruction
and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to
be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.’
Section 30(1) further states: ‘It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of school
age to provide efficient education for him suitable to his age, ability and aptitude either
by causing him to attend a public school regularly or by other means.’
If the child has never attended a state school it is not a requirement that the education
authority be informed that the child is being educated ‘by other means’; but if they
discover the situation they have a right to investigate, in order to ascertain whether your
arrangements are satisfactory. If they deem them to be unsatisfactory and an appeal to
law fails, an attendance order will be issued requiring the parent(s) to send the child to
school.
If a parent decides to withdraw a child from a state school in order to educate him/her at
home, the proper procedure is to ask for the permission of the education authority. If
this is refused or delayed, the parent is technically in breach of the law if the child is
nevertheless taken out of the school; but if it can be proved that the child is receiving a
suitable education it is unlikely that the child will be forced back into school.

2.2 Measures to address irregular school attendance


If a child’s attendance is irregular, the 1980 Act requires the education authority to
serve the parent(s) with a notice to explain the child’s absence. If no satisfactory
explanation is given, the education authority may prosecute the parent(s) immediately or
deliver a warning. If the child still fails to attend school, and no explanation is made that
is deemed satisfactory, an attendance order may be made, either by the education
authority or, if the case goes to law, by the court.
A parent may be prosecuted either for failing to comply with the attendance order or for
failing to ensure the child attends school regularly. In some cases the child may be
referred to the Local Authority Reporter, whose role is defined under the Social Work
(Scotland) Act 1968. Possible outcomes include: (1) decision to take no further action;
(2) referral of the child to the local authority for advice, guidance and assistance; (3) or
a recommendation that the child be placed in compulsory care.
In case 3, the Children’s Panel must be convened; normally the parent and child are
both required to attend the hearing. If the parent or the child do not accept the grounds
for referral, an application is made to the sheriff for a decision on whether these grounds
exist. If the sheriff agrees that they do, the Children’s Panel considers a report from the
local authority and any other evidence. Again there are three possible outcomes: (1)
decision to take no further action; (2) adjournment for further investigation, which can

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

include removing the child from its parents for assessment; (3) a residential or non-
residential care order. Parents may appeal against the Panel’s decision, but if such an
appeal fails, supervision requirements may be reviewed after a shorter period if the
parent or child asks for it, and in any case must be reviewed at least once a year.

2.3 Contacts with school staff


It is required that parents be invited to the school to discuss the educational progress of
their children, both at regular intervals and where the need arises, for example, if a
particular child is causing concern because of educational or behavioural difficulties.

2.4 Home-school agreements between schools, pupils and parents

(Information and quotations from the Department for Education and Skills [DfES]: The
Standards Site, www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/parentalinvolvement/hsa, accessed 9th June
2003)
These are partnerships between parents and teachers which are intended to raise
educational standards. The agreements set out the roles of the school, parents and pupils
and for it to be effective all should be consulted in the drawing up of the agreement.
Intended outcomes include:
• ‘better home-school communication (for example, on issues such as pupil progress,
information on what pupils will be taught, homework, and domestic concerns that
may affect the pupils' ability to learn effectively);
• ‘parents and teachers working together on issues of concern (for example,
aspirations, expectations, behaviour, bullying and drug education);
• ‘parents supporting and helping their children's learning at home more effectively.’
All parents should be invited to sign a home-school agreement.

2.5 Home-school liaison and family support


There are many examples in the United Kingdom of policies and initiatives aimed at
involving parents both in the education of their children and in the development of local
policy. These fall into a number of categories: early years education for all children;
special measures for children living in areas of deprivation or in deprived families; the
National Family and Parenting Institute; measures for children experiencing transition
(entering or changing schools), especially where the home background is considered
inadequate to facilitate such changes. Many of these are predicated upon the deficit
model, that is, where the child and/or its family are seen to be deficient in some way and
thus require special help and support.

2.5.1 Early years education for all children

(Information from www.teachernet.gov.uk, accessed 9th June 2003)


There is a number of initiatives intended to improve children’s educational
opportunities from their earliest years. Two of these with a focus on parents are Early
Years Development Partnerships and SureStart.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

2.5.1.1 Early Years Development Partnerships


In England and Wales, a focus on early years education (that is, education
received in nursery schools, primary school reception classes, pre-schools,
playgroups, some day nurseries and childminders etc.) led to the establishment
in 1997 of Early Years Development Partnerships (EYDCPs). These are
convened by each of the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and involve
schools and other providers, parents, employers and colleges. This is one strand
of the government’s stated aims of increasing the provision of affordable early
years education; integrating the provision of early education and of childcare;
and helping ‘parents balance their work or further education and training
commitments and their family lives more effectively and with greater
confidence’.

2.5.1.2 SureStart
SureStart, on the other hand, is a special initiative for children in disadvantaged
areas and is part of a drive to reduce child poverty and to help with young
people’s ‘physical, intellectual and social development’. It thus includes baby-
and child-care as well as early schooling. The local partnership model is used
here, too, involving ‘parents, community groups, local authorities, health
agencies, voluntary groups and others, working closely with early years
development and childcare partnerships and the Neighbourhood Nurseries
Initiative’. Each partnership develops a programme focused on local needs.
Intervention may begin before the child is born (for example, to help parents
give up smoking). Within two months of the birth parents receive a visit to
inform them about Sure Start services. Services relevant to the SHARE project
include ‘advice on health and child development … support for parents
including parenting groups, advice on healthy eating and training for work.’

2.5.2 Special measures for children living in areas of deprivation or in deprived


families

2.5.2.1 Family Support Policy

(Information and quotations from www.teachernet.gov.uk, accessed 9th June


2003)
The acknowledged importance of families with children as agents of
socialisation of children into adulthood potentially makes all families a target for
intervention, through forging ‘close links between schools, families and
communities’ so as to raise ‘the motivation, achievements and aspirations of
young people and adults’. The implicit belief that families in deprived areas in
particular are incapable of performing this task without assistance is evident
from the website.
An existing means of forging these links is through school premises being used
for classes and hobby clubs for adults, thus providing children with ‘positive role

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

models and mentors’ and creating a learning environment. In the Green Paper1
Schools: Building on Success, the DfES stated its intention to ‘promote Family
Focused Schools in areas of high disadvantage’. One kind of support envisaged
is to run parenting classes.

2.5.2.2 Home-school support or liaison services for disadvantaged children


and families
One example of such a service was initiated by Dundee City Council, which
runs a Home/School Support Service to support ‘children and families who
suffer educational and/or social disadvantage’. It assists home/school liaison and
supports pupils with poor attendance or whose behaviour in school suggests they
have difficulties. The service carries out ‘attendance support, child protection
work, anti-bullying work and general home/school liaison’
(www.dundeecity.gov.uk).
Another such initiative, begun in 1995, was evaluated by the Institute of
Education, University of London and published 18 October 1999
(ioewebserver.ioe.ac.uk, accessed 11th June 2003). A study of the Home-School
Liaison Project in thirteen inner London schools was found to have improved
school attendance and punctuality and diminished the number of exclusions2
from school. Factors in its success included ‘better communication between
families and schools’; ‘more parents coming forward to seek help and support’;
‘an improvement in parents' understanding of school issues’; and ‘better
understanding on the part of teachers of family situations’. Home-School Liaison
Workers were ‘viewed both as part of the school and as 'different' - an important
factor for both parents and pupils. One secondary school reported advantages to
having "…a black, smartly dressed male of the right age in this school, who is
open to approach from kids, who is not seen as part of the teaching staff but
nevertheless has the mechanisms of communication which are not necessarily
easily open to a child…"

2.5.3 The National Family and Parenting Institute


The National Family and Parenting Institute is an independent charity part-funded by
the DfES to ‘provide independent advice to Government and other interested parties and
to carry out research into family and parenting issues, which the Department can draw
on in developing policies’. Its official aim is ‘to work with parents and to enhance
family life’. It also pilots new methods of supporting families, provides information
both to organisations and families and runs public campaigns (www.nfpi.org, accessed
11th June 2003).

1
A Green Paper is a document produced by the Government on an area in which it is intended to
introduce legislation. The publication of ‘first thoughts’ on this topic acts as an invitation for individuals
and interest groups to make their comments in the hope of influencing the final legislation.
2
‘Exclusion’ here means temporary suspension or expulsion from school on the grounds of bad behaviour
by a pupil.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

2.5.4 Involving parents in supporting children through transition


(Information and quotations taken from The Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions, Beacon Council Research, Round 3 Theme Report,
http://www.local.dtlr.gov.uk/research/beacyr3/education/03.htm, accessed 11th June
2003.)
For children about to enter school for the first time, one Scottish LEA has worked to
identify 'the most appropriate system of record keeping and Baseline Assessment for
Scottish schools', based on seven principles, including involving partnership with
parents. The role of parents as well as of children in each transition (between schools or
levels) is seen as extremely important. Another LEA used home-school liaison to
persuade parents to use books and songs etc. with their children in order to prepare them
for their first entry into school.

2.6 Membership of school Boards of Governors


School Boards are legal entities whose membership is determined by law. Their powers
include approval of the head teachers’ spending plans (note that the great majority of
spending on a school is outwith the head’s control); development of school policies; and
participation in appointing staff. They are also supposed to keep parents informed and
to raise educational standards in the school. They thus act as boards of management.
The membership consists of two elected groups (parents of current pupils and teachers)
and co-opted members elected by parents and teachers. The head teacher attends
meetings as an advisor but is not a member. Other people may also be invited as
advisors. The director of education may be represented at meetings. School Boards in
Scotland are represented by the Scottish School Board Association
(www.sol.co.uk/s/sptc/leaflets/school_board.htm, accessed 28th April 2003).

2.7 Membership of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs)


A PTA consists of all teachers and all parents of children at a particular school. In
practice, only some parents volunteer to attend meetings, hold offices on the committee
and so on. They are independent of the school, self-financing and have no official
recognition. It is the head teacher who decides what they are allowed to do, but the head
cannot tell the PTA what to do or how to spend any money it raises.
One example is described on a primary school web site: ‘We have an active PTA
committee which organises fundraising and social events during the school year. Every
parent is a member of the PTA from the day on which their child starts school and so
we hope parents make every effort to support the PTA activities. Last year’s committee
raised £1,500 for the school. If you would like further details about the Association, or
if you would like to suggest possible fundraising events for consideration, then please
contact any member of the committee' (www.alexandrafirst.co.uk/parents.htm, accessed
9th June 2003).
In 1947 the Scottish Parent Teacher Council was founded by parents from PTAs all
over Scotland with the aim of advancing education by ‘encouraging the fullest co-
operation between home and school, education authorities, central government and all
those concerned with education in Scotland. There is no one model for a PTA, a
situation summarised on its website as: ‘A PTA is whatever you want to make it.’

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Fundamentally, however, it is an organisation with its own constitution which functions


as a ‘partnership between parents and teachers to support all in the school community’.
The way it does this is decided by the PTA, but examples include not only fund-raiding
but also holding social events, informing parents of new initiatives, organising
information evenings for parents, campaigning on local issues concerning the safety of
children and lobbying parliament (www.sol.co.uk/s/sptc/home.htm, accessed 28th April
2003).

2.8 Membership of ‘friends of the school’ associations


Similar to PTAs these are voluntary associations of parents, supported by the head
teacher, which are formed to assist the school, primarily with raising funds to provide
resources such as equipment. They may be run on a less formal basis than PTAs.

2.9 Induction of parents of children new to the school


One example is the SHARE project, held in a state primary school: 'A group of year 1
parents are getting together every Friday in the Hirst Peoples House and they are
learning about how best to help their children to achieve well at school. The Friday
SHARE sessions are led by teacher Mrs Ames and the parents are finding the activities
both informative and fun!' (www.alexandrafirst.co.uk/parents.htm, accessed 9th June
2003).

2.10 School web sites


Some schools have their own web sites which include information for parents. This
example is from a Scottish High School: ‘Welcome to our web site! … We are hoping
that the site will be used to support pupils' learning by providing such things as links to
useful web sites, homework tasks, information about courses offered in schools and
advice on careers. Parents can find all the information they should currently be
receiving through the system of pupils delivering newsletters and other items to their
homes. The days of discovering crumpled pieces of paper containing out-of-date
information in the bottom of schoolbags are now over. School, PTA, School Board
newsletters will now be available on-line!’ (www.peebleshighschool.co.uk, accessed 9th
June 2003).

3 The United Kingdom (Scotland) survey


A much larger survey, on a representative sample of 2,019 households with school-age
children, was carried out in England in 2001. It was commissioned by the DfES to find
out the level of parental involvement in their children’s schooling, the barriers to further
involvement and their knowledge of education initiatives. Although it is more scientific,
it is a quantitative survey and does not explore the issues behind parental involvement.
The Research Brief (RB332), Parental Involvement in Education, can be found on the
Web (www.dfes.gov.uk/research).

3.1 Methodology
The survey described here was not random and was very small, but it throws some light
on the issue of parental involvement.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

The survey was carried out in a primary school in April 2003. It was conducted by a
contracted researcher who is also a parent of a child at the school. The first step was to
request permission from the head teacher to carry out the survey. Once this permission
had been granted, the researcher approached parents waiting with her to collect their
children and asked if they would be prepared to answer a few questions while she took
notes on the interview schedule. In one case the interview was conducted later by
telephone. The researcher wrote up the descriptive data gathered and passed her report,
along with the interview schedules written up in a more legible format, to the author of
this report. Subsequently the researcher was asked to provide additional information to
throw further light on the parents interviewed.
There was no attempt at a random sample: the researcher chose to interview other
parents whom she already knew and who spoke sufficient English to answer the
questions.
The interview schedule was based on the one piloted by the Quart de Poblet but adapted
to the local situation. For example, we did not ask if parents would like to come to
courses at the school, partly because this might have raised false hopes but mainly
because adult education is already provided by a number of organisations, including
community education, the Workers’ Educational Association, university extra-mural
departments and so on. For example, classes, costing £3.00 for adults are run in drawing
and painting, guitar for beginners, cookery, pottery, electronics, French for beginners,
gymnastics, IT, glass painting, archaeology and Successmaker (a computer program) in
the local girls’ high school.
The interview schedule had two foci: contacts by parents with teachers, and
membership of parents/school associations such as the ‘Friends of the School’, a group
of parents who meet one afternoon a week on school premises. (For the full schedule
see Appendix A.) The headmistress attends meetings when possible. The aim of the
group is to help improve the school for the benefit of their children, notably through
raising funds for extra resources for the school.
First parents were asked if they received information about school meetings with
teachers; if they attended all or most of such meetings; and, if so, if they participated
actively in these meetings. If they answered no to either question, they were asked to
explain.
Then they were asked if they received information about school meetings with other
parents, such as PTA meetings, Open Days, the Friends of the School and so on. If they
answered ‘no’, they were asked to say why not. If they answered ‘yes’ they were asked
why they participated and if they had any ideas that would persuade other parents to
attend such meetings.

3.2 Description of the results

3.2.1 Demographic data


Only two kinds of data were recorded on the interviewees: their sex and their ethnic
origin.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Table 1 The sample by gender and ethnic background


Ethnicity White British British Asian* Other European Other Asian
Sex
Female 6 1 1 1
Male 0 1 0 0
* British Asian includes British and Commonwealth citizens whose ethnic background derives from
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. The two respondents were both Sikhs, originally from the
Punjab, India.
As the table shows, nine of the ten parents surveyed were female, with only one man
interviewed. Six, all women, were White British. One of the other women was a
Kurdish refugee from Turkey, another a Sikh and the third was from the Czech
Republic. The man was a Sikh.

3.2.2 Meetings with teachers


All ten parents said that they received information from the school both about meetings
with teachers and meetings involving other parents. (One said that she ‘sometimes’
received this information.)
All said that they attended all or most meetings with teachers and participated actively
in these meetings.

3.2.3 Meetings with other parents


Only three attended any meetings involving other parents, notably the Friends of the
School. Reasons given for non-attendance were:
1 Being a new parent and not really knowing people, I got the impression that
the Friends of the School was a clique. I didn’t know much about what they do.
Also, the meetings clash with the time of the baby clinic. But I think I will try it
out as they discuss fund-raising ideas.
2 I usually haven’t got the time. That’s it, really.
3 Ah! Because my English language is not very good and people don’t want to
speak to me and I can’t understand everything they say.
4 I don’t like the other mothers who go.
5 I’m in college and working in nursery voluntary.
6 Because sometimes it is difficult being a single mum.
7 It’s to do with work really. I’m a childminder.
Those who said they did attend the Friends of the School meetings said this was
because:
1 Because I want to help raise money for the school and improve things for the
children.
2 It is important for the school to have a sense of community.
3 I’m the chairwoman of the Friends of the School so I’m always there.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

3.2.4 Suggestions made for improving attendance at meetings with other parents
The three who attended the Friends of the School meetings gave these responses
concerning how more parents could be persuaded to attend:
1 a) A child-friendly environment would encourage parents with young children to
come.
b) Activities which would keep up attendance. People are more keen if they are getting
something out of it!!!
2 My children are in the older classes, so I have attended for a long time. New parents
perhaps don’t know what it’s like - they’re not used to it. So maybe giving people as
much information as possible really - about what we do - that we’re friendly and not
going to bite off anyone’s head!
3 I don’t know what more we can do - we keep telling people about it, but they won’t
come.

3.3 Analysis and conclusions

3.3.1 Demographic characteristics of the sample


The predominance of women among parents collecting their children from primary
school is unsurprising, since this is usually the role of women. The predominance of
White British parents, however, is slightly skewed and is probably because the
researcher herself is White British. She speaks French and Spanish but the range of
languages spoken by parents whose children attend that school is very wide. Some, in
particular refugees, speak little English on first arrival; and some mothers from other
countries do not participate in the labour market or in social life outside their family or
ethnic group and consequently learn little English. One of the respondents cited
language problems as the reason she didn’t participate in meetings with other parents,
although she was willing to speak to the researcher.

3.3.2 Relations with teachers


It appears from this small sample that the school has a very good record of getting
information to parents about meetings with teachers, that parents not only attend such
meetings but also feel that they participate actively, that is, they are not passive
respondents of information about their children’s progress. Parents who attend meetings
with teachers show an interest in their children’s education and we can assume that all
in this sample do so.

3.3.3 Relations with other parents


The interest shown in their children’s education evident in the sample’s response to the
question about meetings with teachers is not replicated in their response to meetings on
school premises with other parents. Undoubtedly parents form friendships with other
parents, for example, on the basis of friendships formed between their children, or
where they live in the same neighbourhood or meet in other ways, such as through
hobbies, adult education, paid or voluntary work, the baby clinic, the school gate and so
on. It is a different matter, however, where the Friends of the School is concerned.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Elements of the analysis below include social class; information; the activities of the
Friends of the School

3.3.4 Social class


The three parents who attended were all White British women, articulate, well-educated
and middle-class (this is based on supplementary information provided on request by
the researcher). One was the chairwoman.
All were free to attend meetings in the afternoon, since they were engaged in paid or
voluntary work only part time or not at all. (Meetings begin at two o’clock and end
when school ends, at some time after three o’clock, depending on the age of the class.)
Reasons for non-attendance can be divided into two categories: those concerned with
the membership of the Friends of the School and its activities, and those explained by
reasons unrelated to these.
It appears that the members of the Friends of the School have an unfortunate image
among two respondents. One said she thought it was ‘a clique’; another said quite
bluntly that she didn’t like the members. One of the members indirectly confirmed this
when she suggested letting people know ‘that we’re friendly and not going to bite off
anyone’s head!’ Although the word ‘class’ was not mentioned in the interviews, it is a
live issue in the United Kingdom. Many of the White British parents of this school are
working-class (either in employment or unemployed), with relatively low levels of
education and local accents (accent is one of a number of class ‘markers’ though it can
be misleading). Many primary teachers have working-class origins and are these days
much more approachable than formerly. Since the school classes contain high
proportions of ethnic minority children - in some cases, a majority - there is a high
degree of sensibility to difference in this school, as shown by its popularity with
parents. (It is not easy to get into this school.) Contacts with teachers, therefore, appear
to be seen as less uncomfortable than contacts with other, middle-class, parents. It is not
insignificant that the one person who said she might join the Friends of the School was
herself White British, highly educated, middle class and with the accent described as
Received Pronunciation (RP). She was attracted by the idea of assisting with fund-
raising to gain extra resources for the school.

3.3.5 Information
There is no question that parents received information about the meetings. It is
advertised in the news letter that the school sends to all parents and everyone
interviewed stated that they received this information. Nevertheless, information of its
existence is clearly not enough. The chairwoman reported that ‘we keep telling people
about it, but they won’t come’. One of the non-attenders said that she hadn’t know
much about what they did (but she had made efforts to find out). This lack of qualitative
information was confirmed by one of the members, who suggested that: ‘New parents
perhaps don’t know what it’s like - they’re not used to it. So maybe giving people as
much information as possible really - about what we do.’

3.3.6 Motivation and interest


The main activities of the Friends of the School concern fund-raising. It was implied by
one of the members that some people who started attending then stopped or attended

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

sporadically. She advocated ‘activities that would keep up attendance’, adding that
‘people are more keen if they are getting something out of it’. The assumption is that the
sacrifice of time needs to be compensated in some way other than mere involvement in
the group.

3.3.7 Socio-economic reasons for non-attendance


Reasons for non-attendance which are unrelated to the composition of the Friends of the
School fall into five main categories: work and/or study outside the home (3
respondents); the care of pre-school age children (1 respondent); single motherhood (1
respondent) and language (1 respondent).

3.3.7.1 Labour market constraints


The sole male respondent worked full time; one of the female respondents was a
child-minder and hence was always occupied during the school day; and the
other female respondent worked on a voluntary basis in the school’s nursery
section and attended classes in the local college of further education. Since the
meetings were held in the afternoon it was impossible for these to attend. It is
likely that quite a number of the mothers undertake paid work, at least part time,
since high participation in paid work of women, even those with children
(although participation is much lower for women with small children), is a
feature of the British labour market in general. Once children begin attending
primary school, many mothers take the opportunity of paid work, often in the
mornings only. Between leaving work and collecting children from school,
working mothers have many activities more pressing than attending fund-raising
meetings at school.

3.3.7.2 Caring for younger children


In one case the meetings of the Friends of the School were at the same time as
the local baby clinic, which prevented mothers with small babies attending.
Mothers with older pre-school children also had difficulties, as was recognised
by one of the members, who suggested that provision needed to cater for parents
who had to look after young children while their older children were in school.

3.3.7.3 Single parenthood


Single parenthood is relatively common in the United Kingdom. Most single
parents are divorced or separated women; some are unmarried; some are
refugees who arrived without their husbands; and some are very young (the
United Kingdom has a relatively high rate of teenage pregnancy and those who
go to full term are likely to keep their children rather than having them adopted
as used to be the case). The great majority are poor and find access to paid work
difficult because of the high costs of childcare and the problem of finding work
which pays enough to cover these costs (although there is now a state allowance
which covers part of the costs of childcare). Psychological problems can (but do
not always) include low self-esteem, depression and feelings of isolation. These
are some of the probable factors lying behind one respondent’s answer that
‘sometimes it is difficult being a single mum’.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

3.3.7.4 Language
Many of the parents of children at this school are from ethnic minorities. Some
of these are British-born or arrived many years ago, perhaps as children, and
speak and understand English as native speakers; some are migrants (in Britain
for work or study or family reunion), with a range of levels of English; some
have refugee status or are seeking asylum from persecution in their home
countries, again with a range of levels of English. In this sample one person
reported language problems as her reason for not attending the Friends of the
School meetings. She said not only that her English was not very good and she
had difficulty understanding everything people said, but also that ‘people don’t
want to speak to me’. Such difficulties would militate against her voluntary
participation in any school activities which did not directly involve her child or
children.

4 Proposals to improve participation arising from the results of the


survey
The Friends of the School gives the image of a weekly club for middle-class mothers
with the leisure to indulge in chatty meetings and to raise their individual profiles
through fund-raising for the school. Rightly or wrongly, they are perceived as a clique
which would not welcome people with English language difficulties. To change this
image would require concentrated efforts, and it is possible that such efforts might not
succeed, given the importance of class divisions in British society.

4.1 Timing of the meetings


To be rather more optimistic, however, more parents might be attracted by simply
finding out the days and times of local baby clinics (there are not so many in the local
area) and choosing a meeting day which avoids these.
Clearly, meeting in the afternoon excludes those who work all day; but it is unlikely that
evenings would suit parents of primary age children, so afternoon meetings seem the
best option, especially since some parents work only in the mornings.

4.2 Provision for parents with pre-school children


A way of attracting parents with younger children might be to provide activities for
these children. The nursery section closes at midday. Parents who bring younger
children to meet their older siblings from school could then come an hour earlier and
take part in the meeting while their children played. Some help and supervision would
be necessary, perhaps from a classroom assistant. Those with small babies could be told
that they are as welcome as anyone else, even if the babies cry or need feeding or
changing during the meeting!

4.3 Encouragement for parents who lack confidence in their English


It is important, given the ethnic composition of the school, to attract parents from all
groups. It might be possible to encourage attendance among those whose English is still
at an elementary level if the invitation to meetings made it clear that language was no

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

bar to attendance and if activities included a space for English conversation practice.
Given the wide range of languages spoken, translation of invitations into all languages
would be impractical but having translation into the main languages (for example,
Arabic, Chinese, Punjabi, Urdu) would at least give the appearance of openness to all
language groups.

4.4 Activities relevant to the concerns of all parents


A new organisation entirely, however, might be necessary, founded upon grassroots
concerns felt by all parents and not simply those whose aim is to provide more
computers, books, outings and so on. The fact that the school has a good reputation and
is over-subscribed might even be a factor in promoting perceived apathy among parents:
since there appears to be nothing wrong with the school, there is no pressing need for
parents to get involved.
One way to find out in which activities parents would be prepared to engage would be
to ask them:
• What are their concerns about their children’s education and the school environment
in which it takes place?
• What would they be able and willing to do for the school and hence for their
children?
• What other activities might the school be able to arrange that would help and/or
interest them?

5 Qualitative evaluation of the “Sharing…” experience


5.1 What are the most positive elements of Sharing…?
The most positive elements of Sharing include meeting partners not only from different
countries but also from different actors in the educational system. It has also stimulated
me to update my knowledge on parental involvement in schools.

5.2 How has your educational environment benefited from the project?
Since this is a university department of adult education, there is no direct impact; but
circulation of this report will certainly stimulate debate and it will also be passed on to
colleagues in other parts of the Faculty of Education, in particular those training
teachers.

5.3 How would you improve it?


In order for our participation to be deeper, more funding would need to be available.

5.4 How would you keep this Learning Partnership on-going?


We have already applied for funding for a further year, but it would be good to design a
longer project with more partners. It would be useful, for example, to find partners in
Eastern and Central Europe.

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

APPENDIX A

SURVEY ON PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

This is part of a European project, under the Grundtvig/Socrates programme and led by
a local authority (Quart de Poblet, Valencia) in Spain. It is called ‘Sharing new adult
pathways for better schooling’ and the main focus is encouraging parents to take an
active interest in their children’s education by engaging directly with the school - for
example, sitting on school boards of governors, joining the Parent-Teacher Association,
the Friends of the School etc.

It would help us greatly if you would be so kind as to answer the following questions:

A School meetings with teachers

1 Do you receive information about school meetings with teachers? YES NO

2 Do you attend ALL OR MOST school meetings with teachers? YES NO


If you answered YES, please go to question 3.
If you answered NO, could you tell me why you don’t participate actively in
meetings with teachers?
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………

Now please go to question 4.


3 Do you participate ACTIVELY in meetings with teachers? YES NO
If you answered YES, please go to question 4.
If you answered NO, could you tell me why you don’t participate actively in
meetings with teachers?
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………

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Sharing New Adult Training Pathways for Better Schooling: Final Report, by Dr Pamela Clayton, University
of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

B School meetings with other parents

4 Do you receive information about school meetings with other parents, such as PTA
meetings, the Friends of the School, Open Days and so on? YES NO

5 Do you attend ALL OR MOST school meetings with other parents? YES NO
If you answered YES, please go to question 6.
If you answered NO, could you tell me why you don’t go, or don’t go very
often?

……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………

Thank you very much - this is the end of the questionnaire.

6 Can you tell me why you participate in school meetings with other parents?

……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………

7 Can you think of things that would persuade other parents to attend these meetings?

……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………………………………………
Thank you very much - this is the end of the questionnaire.

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