The National Parent Forum has launched ‘Let’s Talk’, a resource to support parental engagement with schools (bit.ly/11psQtd ) and advising on how to build such engagement. It touches on a range of key issues including effective parent councils, advice on home-school-community communications and creating a welcoming ethos.
Schools which actively welcome parents and the wider community are accepting a changed relationship with adults.
As a generality, primaries are far better than secondaries at this. I did, however, visit one Scottish comprehensive in which every corridor was decorated with photographs covering the school’s last 60 years: football teams, school plays, prizegivings. They projected powerful messages to visiting adults: this school has a history and you may even find yourself in it. It also has a future, and in 20 years, your kids’ photographs from today will be continuing that message.
I was delighted that the headteacher in my local secondary has a weekly open session, when any adult can drop in and discuss anything pertaining to the school. Good move but openness can bring its own problems.
The new headteacher, in a school in an area of deprivation, wanted to create a ‘welcoming’ ethos, build an inclusive school. She let it be known that she’d be pleased to meet local parents or members of the community after the school day had finished.
A week passed and no takers: early in week two, she saw a kindly-looking, grandfatherly figure at the front office, asking for ‘the new heidie’. She ushered him into her room but should, perhaps, have suspected his motives when her offer of tea was brusquely refused.
“Now, hen, I can see that they’ve no telt ye this, but you canna drink the water here. Ye see, when Marilyn Monroe died they chopped up her body into hundreds o’ pieces and buried them below the school. The water is totally poisoned.” She sat with him. An inclusive, welcoming school can’t pick and choose the adults it includes and welcomes.
I was fortunate. I spent most of my teaching career in community high schools where local adults were an integral part of the school ethos. Adults joined classes of school students; they studied also in adult-only classes; they used the cafeteria and the leisure facilities.
There were consequences. Young people in schools in which adults are a constant presence adjust their behaviour, tend to be more courteous and less rumbustious in public places. They see adults as learners and lifelong learning as a norm. Teachers who teach adults often become less stuck in traditional teacher mode with the young adults in their senior classes.
It remains true, however, that in many schools, adults, except as either school staff or parents, are absent. Consequently, children in such schools see schools and learning as separate from the adult world. They assume also that on leaving school and entering the adult world, learning is over.
The absence of adults, though, is also, in part, self-chosen but rooted in school cultures. There remain adults for whom education was a negative experience. They think twice about coming into school. Their perception of teachers (of headteachers in particular) is of elitist individuals who looked down on those who had not succeeded at school.
Sad to say, in these days of parental choice, schools have to sell themselves. Education should not be a commodity but some accommodation with reality is necessary. Schools which don’t actively welcome adults will lose the confidence of their community and with it, their intakes.
Many Scottish schools, especially secondaries, still have a job to do, to become adult friendly and welcoming.
The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 22 April 2013: http://www.holyrood.com/2013/04/from-the-chalkface-5/