Parental Participation at Dartington Primary School
Since the Autumn of 2003, Dartington Primary School has developed an effective collaboration with parents through its parent council. The largest primary school in the South Hams wih 370 children is open to innovative practice and the parent council emerged from a meeting of the head teacher and some parents who met to discuss their vision for a new school philosophy. Part of their thinking was a consensus to promote a collaborative educational atmosphere between children's home and school life by developing partnerships between parents/carers and school.
Effective communication was vital when implementing this vision as our school straddles a large site, the key stages are separated physically by water and roads. Original members of the vision group contacted one parent from each class chosen randomly - a mixture of mums and dads who were invited to the inaugural meeting. Here, by splitting into small groups, all were given an opportunity to talk, be listened to and be included in discussing a host of issues and how to organise a parent council. These parents agreed to become the parent representative for each class, to hold individual class meetings for parents once a term, and to meet twice termly as a parent council. Each parent rep agreed to put a poster with a photo of him/herself and child together with contact details in classrooms for anything parents wished to discuss. And so the process was begun, has grown and prospered.
Our success is due to many factors: a passionate parent willing to look after the admin, parental ownership of the council from the outset, prompt action on matters raised, a creche run and paid for by the school, flexibility over venues and times of meetings, communication via suggestion boxes, wish lists, networking, newsletters and most importantly a prompt report from the parent council from each meeting detailing matters raised and progress on actions taken. This is circulated to all at the school - parents, carers and staff.
Now in its third year, membership has increased to two reps per class, allowing for easier and greater dissemination and gathering of information. The role of the council is evolving from problem solving to taking the initiative; becoming proactive when tackling the issue of travel to and from school by sourcing funds and setting up projects; sourcing local foods for our school catering and building a bank of parental skills for the benefit of our children.
The parent council has become part of the fabric of our school life, a genuine collaboration between parents and the school.
The Parent Council at the RSA Academy, Tipton
The RSA Academy opened in 2008 in Tipton in the West Midlands with 1150 students aged 11-18. A Parent Council was established from the start to give parents a voice and to enable them to contribute to decision making. Parents helped to set up the body and spoke about the issues they would like to address. The aim was to have a close link with the Governing Body so that the views of parents could be reported regularly to governors and vice versa. This link is facilitated through the Chair of the Parent Council who is also a Parent Governor.
After the initial meetings a consitution was drawn up to formalise the Parent Council and its ways of working. Over the years the Parent Council has tackled a wide range of issues including:
Home school communication
Safety on the way to and from school
Sexual Health Policy
Home Academy Agreement
The Council meets once a term. Officers are elected at the beginning of each academic year. Notes from each meeting are written up and circulated to Parent Council members and are placed on the parents' section of the Academy website.
The Academy also holds open Parent Forum events to which all parents are invited. Parent Forum meetings are held once or twice each year and each meeting has a specific theme, chosen by the Parent Council. One Parent Forum meeting focused on healthy eating. It was organised like a fair with lots of stands and activities. A large number of students were involved in organising displays and cookery demonstrations for the parents. Local partners such as the nearby premier league football club were also invited together with the parents of Year 6 children who were shortly to start at the Academy.
The Academy is always looking for different ways to involve parents and to hear theri views on different issues. A number of online surveys have been carried out to give the Academy feedback.
Governors and senior staff believe that the work to engage parents has been a significant factor in raising achievement and gaining the support of the community.
Cornwallis and New Line Learning Academies
Cornwallis and New Line Learning (NLL) are two federated academies located in Maidstone, the county town of Kent. Cornwallis has 1600 students including a Sixth Form whilst NLL has approximately 1000 students (including a Sixth Form as of 2009). In 2009-11 both schools are being completely rebuilt.
In 2007 parental involvement in schools became a national government priority. At the recommendation of Ofsted in April and the appointed consultants who managed the academy consultation process, the Federation's Board of Governors considered the feasibilty of setting up a parent council or forum to foster greater parental involvement.
Setting up the Parent Forums
In October 2007, two members of staff and one parent attended a Setting up a Parent Council or Parent Forum workshop run by Fiona Carnie at Human Scale Education. Upon their return the Board of Governors tasked the two Parent Governors with parent council/forum development. A small working party was established comprising the staff and parent who had attended the workshop and a further nine interested parents. It was decided that given the unknown level of parental support the more informally styled parent forums should be proposed.
In January 2008 all parents were invited to attend two joint academy parents' meetings. Thirty-seven parents attended. There was unanimous support for two parent forums (one per academy) to reflect to reflect the important difference between the two academy communities. In addition, when asked, parents identified a number of topics which they deemed important.
Futher work was then undertaken to set up two organising teams from interested parents; each comprised a Chair, Secretary, Parent Governor and at least two other members. Each academy held their first parent forum meeting in March 2008.
NLL Parent Forum's first priority was the merger and settling of students from its constituent former schools into one school building. Parent Forum meetings throughout 2008 provided a communication channel between the Academy's Senior Leadership Team and parents, and the transition process went well. Meetings in 2009 have focused on access on to the Academy's site, the Academy's relationship with its wider local community, and the new school build.
Cornwallis Academy did not face the same challenge, therefore Parent Forum meetings settled into a routine more quickly. Topics covered in 2008 and 2009 included home/school communication, the Accelerated Curriculum (GCSEs in Year 10) and three-year Sixth Form, the latest government-led curriculum developments, school reports, parent projects, the Learning Gateway (parental online access to their child's school progress), helping with the summer fete,the Integrated Curriculum (teaching workplace skills alongside the curriculum), student mentoring, tablet PCs and the introductionof a cashless canteeen.
Whilst there were initial teething problems with communication, organisation and feedback, the past academic year has seen the forging of strong, supportive working links between each Academy's Parent Forum Organising Team and its Senior Leadership Team. Establishing meeting cycle routines (a Parent Forum meeting is followed by a meeting between the Senior Leadership Team representative and Parent Forum Organising Team) has been a key priority. This regular communication has ensured that progress has been made on several parent ideas, for example: website improvements, parents participating in a Learning Gateway trial before the system goes live, and suggestions to improve the information on school reports.
The Joint Academies' Parent Forum Steering Group continues to operate, meeting twice a year to maintain supportive links between the two organising teams and senior Federation staff. In April 2009 the Steering Group was given the go-ahead to run a workshop on Setting up a Parent Council or Parent Forum locally, led by Fiona Carnie. The event was very successful and attended by twenty-seven participants representing the two Academies, other Kent-based academies and Maidstone primary schools.
The two greatest continued challenges experienced by both academy Parent Forums have been fluctuating numbers of parents attending and the varying degrees of success in advertising meetings. The message that parents have a critical and invaluable role to play in their son or daughter's education and in their school community needs constant repetition. Both Forums have therefore consciously targeted their efforts in 2009 on publicising the Forums to Year 7 parents.
Setting up a parent council or parent forum is not for the faint-hearted! In our experience, it requires two or three years to establish a successful parent forum. In terms of where we were originally in 2007 and the position we currently enjoy, an enormous distance has been travelled. It has definitely been worth the effort.
Alison Moore, Joint Steering Group Secretary
Parental Involvement in Worcestershire Local Authority
Worcestershire is a rural and urban Local Authority which covers a very large area. It has six district councils. The Parental Involvement work started from a piece of work on Early Years and Childcare on which a group of parents were invited to comment. A group grew out of this - the Parent Voice Steering Group - and decided to carry on meeting. This group now represents Worcestershire parents and is growing. A website is being developed to keep people informed about this work. The group has twelve core members and twenty-two extended members at the moment. The aim is to make the group as representative as possible with representatives from schools, children's centres, special needs provision etc.
The group meets monthly and it has a seat on the Joint Commission Board which is similar to a Children's Trust Board. It receives around £7,000 per annum from Extended Services to fund the work. The group submits an action plan outlining how this money will be spent to support the county council's agendas and achieve actions from consultations run by parents. They want to become a charity so they can apply for funding in their own right.
Parents bring a range of issues and they have discussed, for example, how to improve communication between parents and professionals, the anti-bullying strategy, speech and language provision and the children and young people's plan. There is a national initiative to set up a database (Contact Point) to bring together information from different services about children - and this has raised concerns. The aim is to be able to access information about children easily but there are issues re confidentiality etc., and the group has discussed these.
Rachel Adams, Parent Engagement Advisor in the Local Authority, supports schools to set up parent councils and parent forums. She works closely with Extended Schools Advisors and provides training to them on the Parental Involvement agenda. Her work also involves designing training materials for parents so that they can be involved in the recruitment of staff.
Thirty-nine schools within the Authority (out of a total of 240) are working towards the Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA). This award helps schools to work towards an ethos of parental engagement - they work over eighteen months to achieve the award. Some other schools are working on the parental involvement agenda without Local Authority support.
The Local Authority organised a very successful conference on parental involvement in October 2008 and this was attended by ninety-five schools.
The Parent Voice Steering Group now have their own website: www.parentsvoice.co.uk - which will give an idea of what they are doing. They now have 100 extended members, including thirty parent forums.
QUOTES FROM THE DCSF-FUNDED PROJECT ON SETTING UP A PARENT COUNCIL:
Quotes from teachers:
“This project is having a lasting effect. It will definitely be continued”
“This work has given the school a way in to parents. There is a core of parents we can approach”
“Relationships with parents have improved generally. There has been a transformation at the school”
Quotes from parents:
“It’s good to be a part of the school and welcomed by staff”
“It is good to be involved and consulted about my child’s education and welfare and feel valued as a parent”
“As a parent I feel I have a voice in this school. The Parent Forum helps me to understand the issues that affect our children and helps me to become involved in the school”