The first sparks for a revolution in parenting and education have just been lit.
The research shows that parental engagement in a child’s education can be the equivalent of adding 2 or 3 years to their schooling. Yet parents are often forgotten in education policy. It’s no longer compulsory in England to have a parent as a governor in a school. Westminster Government ministers obsess about exams, teachers, curriculum, free schools, academies, and grammar schools but almost never about parental involvement. You’ll be hard pressed to hear politicians talk about the importance of parents in education at all, in England at least (though the Welsh Government have produced some great guidance). Parents are the secret unexploited ingredient in education policy.
Over the last twenty or more years, parenting has been changing. More parents are working. More parents have to look after ageing parents while bringing up children. More children are travelling further to get to school, making it harder for parents to meet teachers or other parents. Meanwhile the importance of doing well in school has never been greater.
The roots of today’s revolution are with PTA UK as the umbrella body for Parent-Teacher Associations or PTAs. We have just under 14,000 PTA members, proof of the incredible engagement that many parents have in many schools in raising money. Indeed collectively they raise over £100 million a year for the education system. We don’t want a single one of them to stop raising money.
As PTA UK we have been giving support to parents in their PTA role for over 60 years. We now want to broaden that to all the ways that parents can help schools and their pupils do better: whether it’s at home or in school, whether at primary or secondary. We don’t think any parent should feel unable to engage just because they work, or live a long way from school, or can’t run the tombola at the summer fete.
To make this change possible, PTA UK has already started broadening its scope. Last year we merged with Parent Councils UK. We now run training sessions for teachers and school leaders all over the UK to give them the skills and the insight needed to make sure they understand what parents want in their school. We are already creating videos to inspire parents to help their children with their learning, and we have run a programme in Northern Ireland to trial engaging parents in schools where there isn’t a history of parents getting involved.
Given all this activity to date, why the change of name? The reason is simple. The term PTA is too closely associated with fundraising for schools. If we want people to engage with us as a route to doing more with their children’s schooling, we need to show that we’ve changed. We need to demonstrate that we know that fundraising PTAs aren’t for every parent. We hope the name Parentkind is more inclusive, not least because aside from parents themselves, the roles of carers, grandparents, step-parents, siblings and the wider family are all massively important too.
The revolution in parenting we hope to create won’t be quick or easy. My guess is that it will be twenty years before we can begin to feel any irreversible change has taken place. While some parents are already amazingly engaged with their children’s education, many feel that what happens in school, stays in school. Some parents may not have had role models as children of their own parents interested in their education. Others don’t have the confidence or the realisation of the power that parents have to make a difference.
So this month Parentkind is born (www.parentkind.org.uk). It’s our goal for parents to get more parents engaged in more schools and in more ways in their children’s education. The revolution starts now, and every parent with children at school can be a part of it.
John Hattie, Visible Learning, 2008.