Academic journal article School Community Journal

Partners in Learning: Schools' Engagement with Parents, Families, and Communities in New Zealand

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Partners in Learning: Schools' Engagement with Parents, Families, and Communities in New Zealand

Article excerpt


The Education Review Office (ERO) conducted an external evaluation in over two hundred New Zealand schools to find out more about the engagement between schools and the parents and whanau (families and extended families) of their students. This paper provides some historical background and key findings from the relevant literature before expanding on the six key factors which the evaluation found were critical to enhancing and strengthening this engagement: leadership, relationships, school culture, partnerships, community networks, and communication. The paper concludes with recommendations for ways in which all parties can strengthen this vital relationship.

Key words: New Zealand, partnerships, learning, schools, engagement, parents, families, community, family involvement, students, leadership, relationships, school culture, climate, networks, communication, primary, secondary


The Education Review Office is the agency, independent of the Ministry of Education, charged with evaluating the quality of education in New Zealand schools and early childhood centers. As well as reviewing all schools and centers on a three-year cycle, it gathers data on areas of national interest-as broad as career guidance, boys' education, and assessment practices. Many of the areas of national interest lead to published reports, which are often supported by case studies of best practice in that topic area.

Research evidence from a wide range of studies and syntheses (e.g., Alton-Lee, 2003; Biddulph, Biddulph, & Biddulph, 2003; Caspe, 2003; Cooper, 2006; Epstein et al., 2002; Gorinski & Fraser, 2006; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Ministry of Education, 2006) shows that effective partnerships between parents, families, and schools can result in better outcomes for students. The better the engagement between parents, families, and schools, the greater the positive impact on student learning. When discussing the concept of family in New Zealand, the Maori word whanau is often used as it gives a broader perspective of the nature and role of the family. Whanau is generally translated as "wider" or "extended" family and acknowledges that family members beyond a child's parents often have a role as a child's caregiver. It also acknowledges that there are a range of family configurations in modern day society. It is used in this article to cover both of those meanings. The use of the word or concept in this way is not limited to Maori families but is in general usage across many cultural groups.

As identified in the Education Review Office's (ERO) Statement of Intent and the Ministry of Education's schooling and early childhood strategies, parents, whanau, and communities need to take an active part in the life of schools and early childhood services and to be well informed about what constitutes high quality education and good practice. ERO evaluations have shown that not all schools have positive relationships with all their parents, whanau, or communities. Some parents do not feel well informed about their child's learning or about how they could work more closely with the school to benefit their child. Some schools, especially secondary schools, report that low levels of parental response hamper their efforts to consult with parents, whanau, and communities or involve them more in school life.

In 2007, ERO undertook an evaluation to investigate three areas:

* The extent to which school practices contributed to meaningful and respectful partnerships with parents, whanau, and communities;

* The benefits to, and the challenges facing, these partnerships; and

* How partnerships could be strengthened.

In 2008, ERO published three reports based on this evaluation-Partners in Learning: Schools' Engagement with Parents, Whanau, and Communities (ERO, 2008a); Partners in Learning: Good Practice (ERO, 2008b); and Partners in Learning: Parent Voices (ERO, 2008c). …

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