Parents in education - what can the rest of the UK learn from Wales?

Annette Wiles
16 October, 2015 : 10:36
0     5

At Parentkind we are privileged to be able to support our member PTAs and parents in schools right across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This gives us a great overview of how the devolution of education policy to the four nations that make up the UK has led to marked differences in how parents are positioned in education. 

Families are the cornerstone of Welsh education policy

The Welsh Government has recently launched a toolkit that helps families actively support their child’s learning.  The focus is on how to engage those families with children who are currently underperforming, children from deprived backgrounds and those who are receiving less support for their learning at home.

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills, describes family and community engagement as, “the cornerstone of Government education policy”.  

The Welsh Government has put parents central to children doing better at school. This was set out last year as part of Rewriting the Future, its vision is to have high expectations for all learners and to address the stark fact that children’s educational outcomes are more likely to be determined by their home background than their personal characteristics, “Schools that reach out and effectively engage families in children’s learning and the life of the school and which place themselves at the centre of their communities will see improved outcomes for learners, particularly  those from deprived communities”.

Importantly, the new toolkit gives PTAs and other parent groups a key role in helping schools reach out and engage families, “In successful schools, parents and carers are asked about what is important to them, and what they would like to see happening.  The Parent Teacher Association/Parent Council or other group is empowered and supported to widen its scope so it plays an important role in providing a community channel through which parents/carers can be consulted and their voices can be heard and acted on”.  

At Parentkind we applaud the vision of the Welsh Government and look forward to seeing the benefits for all children coming to fruition as a result. In light of Welsh assembly elections being held on 5 May 2016, we would be delighted if a pledge for a PTA or parent body in every school in Wales made its way into a party manifesto or two!

How are parents considered elsewhere in the UK?

Interestingly this is emulated in Scotland.  Its commitment to the important role parents play in their children’s education saw all governing boards replaced by parent councils in Scottish schools back in 2009.

In Northern Ireland, the focus is on overcoming historic divisions that have existed in the community and therefore education. This includes building stronger relations by bringing young people from different community backgrounds together to participate in Shared Education programmes. The newly published Shared Education Policy highlights how schools will also have to demonstrate within their development plans how they have engaged with parents and encouraged the development of meaningful relationships between parents, caregivers and the wider community.  

The NI Education Minister, John O’Dowd, recently published his next phase of the 'Education Works' campaign and in this, he highlights the vital role parents and carers can play in helping their child do well at school and improve their life chances.  We are pleased with the growing recognition by the Education Minister and NI Education Committee of the need to engage parents in education but we still feel there is much room for growth and nothing would give us greater pleasure than to see all political parties making a commitment to parents as partners in education in their manifestos when they stand for election in May.

In England, parents do not enjoy as high a profile. The recently revised Ofsted school inspection handbook (that came into effect in September 2015) sees parents as part of the structure for holding schools to account rather than as partners in their child’s education. This is a change to the previous guidance which defined an ‘outstanding’ school as having, “highly successful strategies for engaging with parents to the benefit of pupils, including those who find working with the school difficult”. This is now replaced by the statement that in making judgements about the effectiveness of leadership and management, inspectors will consider, “how well leaders engage with parents, carers and other stakeholder and agencies to support all pupils”. In another policy area, free schools do position parents as school commissioners although the overall number of free schools opened is likely to remain modest.  

The Education and Adoption Bill currently going through Parliament may reduce parents’ involvement in their children’s schools as it removes the requirement to consult on academy status. Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan has also signalled she is considering the removal of the requirement for schools to have parent governors in the future. 

At Parentkind we know that engaging parents helps children reach their potential at school, bridging the attainment gap to benefit social justice. We support parents playing a positive role in their child’s school life and education to create better outcomes for all. So can Westminster emulate the parent centric approach of Wales and Scotland and that developing in Stormont? Can all policy makers involve parents early on in the development of new policies, legislation and initiatives to build trust and alliances with educators? We think they can and this is what Parentkind is working to achieve.

What is your view? Comment below, like and share via social media. Keep up to date with our latest news and blogs on Twitter @Parentkind.

Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.  

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Annette Wiles
Former Policy and Research Manager, Parentkind

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