Change One Thing: It takes school, parents and community to raise the child, says Áine Lynch
If I could change one thing in education, it would be that policy reflects and delivers an education system which ensures that school, parents and the community work together to ensure better educational outcomes for all children. I would like to see the school becoming the inclusive village, that, as the saying goes, raises the child. This shouldn’t mean that schools have yet more responsibilities, but that the school becomes more than a composition of staff and pupils; it becomes a partnership community.
We traditionally see schools as places where children attend to be educated. Even though there have been some changes in the way schools work over recent years, in the main the primary school remains a place where children are left by their parents for five hours and 40 minutes a day for their education and then collected when the job is done.
There is a wealth of research to show that when parents are involved, children do better in education. For many years parental involvement has been the subject of discussion and some legislation in Ireland.
One of the difficulties with some of these discussions, though, is that there is not a common understanding of what parental involvement means. For a lot of schools, parental involvement is the parent association which raises funds for the school; for other schools, it is about engaging parents in policy making.
Maybe the goal shouldn’t be about involving parents. Maybe the focus needs to move from parent to the child. If we develop schools that will have the best interests of the child at the centre, then parents will naturally be central to a child’s education.
The National Parents’ Council (NPC) is currently working with three primary school communities in Ireland to act on this thinking. The work is based on an American project that has been researched for more than 20 years.
We are supporting the school staff, parents, children and the local school community to work in partnership to achieve greater educational success for all children in the school.
For example, take one of the school’s plan for literacy. The partnership team in the school (made up of teaching staff, parents, the school secretary, an SNA, children from fifth and sixth class, the principal and people from the local community) prioritised oral literacy as a goal of the school plan that they felt could be supported by a partnership approach. One of the members of the team was from a banking organisation in the community which has a Toastmasters group. It was decided to invite the group into the class to work with children on their public speaking. The children would then give a demonstration of their abilities to parents at the end of the project. Parents would also be involved in supporting their child on an ongoing basis throughout the project.
The enhancement to children’s learning is evident when everybody works together; it is vital that the education system is shaped so it naturally requires this partnership approach.
This one change would require a radical change in how we educate children. We need to stop talking about parental involvement and school responsibilities but start looking at schools as the inclusive village that raises the child. It would result in shared responsibilities, shared goals and better outcomes for children. It would also model a value basis of partnership and collaboration for children. We do not have same society or nuclear families that we once had: maybe our education system needs to support the continuity of important values within a new societal structure.
Áine Lynch is CEO of the National
Parents’ Council (primary)