Home-School Cooperation at the Secondary Level in the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

This article discusses findings from the Successful Schools Project, a two-year national project involving 10 secondary schools in England and Wales. The project aimed to identify appropriate strategies for involving parents in their adolescents education. The local authorities involved in the project were Cumbria, Devon, Manchester, London Borough of Newham, Nottinghamshire, Rhondda Cyan Taff, Peterborough and Wakefield.

Background

The skills required to be a good parent have always been complex. Today, however, the basics of providing food, shelter and security for one's offspring have been overlaid by greater expectations and the need for higher parental competencies than ever before. The new United Kingdom (U.K.) government has acknowledged the important influence that parents have on their children, and is exploring ways to harness that influence in order to maximize students' learning. The recent U.K. Government Education White Paper, Excellence in Learning (1997), acknowledges the continuing significance of parents as a major force in raising education standards and addressing issues of student performance. The report notes:

Parents are a child's first and enduring teachers. They play a crucial role in helping their children learn. Family learning is a powerful tool for reaching some of the most disadvantaged in our society. It has the potential to reinforce the role of the family and to change education, helping build strong local communities and widening participation in learning. We want to encourage more effective involvement of family learning in early years and primary education.

The Community Education Development Center (CEDC), a United Kingdom charitable trust committed to broader participation in learning, welcomes the ideas and sentiments expressed in the government's White Paper. CEDC has long championed the role of parents in their children's education, and for close to 20 years has managed projects, provided training and produced publications that have argued the value of meaningful parental involvement in children's learning.

One of CEDC's earliest publications, Raising Standards (Widlake & McLeod, 1982), made the case for parental involvement. One of the publication's key findings was that when parents were encouraged to help, children from less privileged backgrounds were not as likely to fail in school and, in fact, did as well as or better than their middle-class peers. This awareness of the importance of family involvement in children's learning is reflected in CEDC's activities with families and parents. Projects such as Compass, Parents As Co-educators and Today's Child - Tomorrow's Adult have explored various dimensions of family and parent education.

These and other projects helped establish CEDC's strong support of parents' involvement in primary education, but the organization also has long harbored a concern about parents' roles in secondary schools. In 1995, CEDC began the Successful Schools Project with funding obtained from the Halifax Building Society, a U.K. bank, and from a number of local education authorities who shared CEDC's interest in the role of parents in secondary schools and the effects of parental involvement on adolescents' performance.

The Successful Schools Project has broken new ground in exploring the potential for schools, parents and students to work together. It has been successfully implemented in schools in England and Wales. These schools explored approaches for involving families in their adolescents' learning, and in contributing to the life of the school. In the most positive cases, the project has revealed that parental involvement can bring about:

* a rise in students' self-confidence and self-esteem

* practical cooperation between parents and teachers

* improvements in student behavior and attendance

* recognition within the schools of the importance of family involvement

* the inclusion of parents who may have been categorized as hard to reach

* improved communication between school and home

* an increase in professional confidence among teachers in working with parents and families. …