In this extract from his new book The Slightly Awesome Teacher, Dominic Salles considers the impact of parental involvement on the success of student learning.
Hattie defines parental involvement as teaching parents about “the language of learning” and “the language of schooling”.
Parents evenings? Check. Reports? Check. After school detentions? Check. Letters of commendation? Maybe. Drop in sessions for parents? Maybe. Introduction to GCSE for parents? Probably. Revision skills? Maybe. A better questionnaire than Parentview? Probably.
Does any of this make a difference of more than 2% to students’ progress? Probably not.
If you want a litmus test for how your partnership with parents actually makes a positive difference, look at how you spend your pupil premium money.
How do you use your pupil premium money?
Do you recycle your old school computers, to make sure that they can all word process, and make it more likely that they will get online? Many will have online capability through the use of mobile phones. If your school has an excellent VLE, or uses online platforms like GCSEpod or Show My Homework, do you make sure they have an online capability? Why not, it can cost less than £10 per month, and the school receives £935, or £1900 for a looked after child.
Do you ask your parents of pupil premium students how they would like you to spend a proportion of the money outside school? Wouldn’t they be in a very good position to decide what would help their child’s learning?
Do you buy textbooks for these students to take home?
Do you invite parents of EAL students in to school to learn English with their children? Imagine how much more quickly the children would learn if they were also teaching their parents. And imagine how the parents’ life chances in the UK might change with a greater grasp of English.
Do you invite disadvantaged parents in and train them in the language of your school – target setting, assessment, setting, the dozen or so acronyms you always use etc?
Do you show them how to navigate your school website for learning resources, or contact with the school? Do you meet them once a term, to find out what you and they could do better?
Do you buddy them up with other parents or teachers who succeeded academically despite receiving free school meals when they were students? (Do you know if any of your teachers fall in this category?)
Do you make sure that these parents are taken to universities? How are you raising their aspirations?
Do you offer real life maths lessons to these parents, so that they can see university fees do not act as a debt, but as a tax – in other words, are better for poorer students than they’ve been since the introduction of loans? Or so that they can choose the right mortgage deals, or card finance, or current account or overdraft facility?
Better still, do you give them a qualification, paying for parents to take maths GCSE if they don’t have it? What about GCSE English? Would this help their children’s development? Almost definitely. And it will probably help their employment prospects, and to understand APR, so they hold on to more of the money they have. Do you use your sixth formers or retired teachers to teach this?
If they play sport, do you pay for them to join a club outside school? Do you subsidise their musical instrument lessons? Do you download all of GCSEpod on a £40 tablet and give it to these students?
Do you ask the Virtual Head Teacher to liaise with parents of your students in care, to ask what they would most benefit from in terms of links between them and the school, or resources they should provide?
I imagine the answer to most of these questions is no. I understand that. We are subtly obsessed with class in the UK. Political correctness forces us to turn away from anything that might label someone disadvantaged to their face. We believe it is a great offence to tell someone they need help, even though we may be offering real help that might improve their lives.
So don’t label. Communicate. Ask questions and listen. Find out how we can change lives. Then go out and do it.
The Problem of Teaching Assistants
How many thousands of pounds are you wasting in TAs, where your own school data will tell you the bang for your buck needs a hearing aid to register? How much of your pupil premium money does this represent? 80%? 90%? Is this morally justifiable?
Imagine this was your money, to be spent on your child. And the government said, “listen, we are going to take this money from you, out of your wages. We are not going to let you decide how to spend it on your child. But we are going to give it to your school to spend however they like, because your school will make far better decisions than you will.
“Your school doesn’t have to measure whether any of the ways they spend that money help your child, or ask you for your opinion about whether it helped, or ask you if you could think of any better way to spend it. In fact, your school does not have to tell you anything personally. If you want to find anything out, you can check on the school website, where schools have to publish how they spend the money.”
It’s worse than that though, because what the government actually says is this, “……….”
This is not a thought experiment. This is what is really happening. This really is your money. Just because your student is not related to you, in this scenario, is the moral imperative not the same? Your school is in loco parentis. That should mean something. Yes, we teachers are well meaning people, but our actions, rather our inactions, are deplorable. We do not intend to be arrogant and dismissive, but our actions are.
This should be an emotive issue – don’t think like a teacher. Bring to the issue your emotion as a parent: your money; your child. How should it be spent?
The Slightly Awesome Teacher: Edu-research meets common sense by Dominic Salles is available now, £16. Dominic Salles has been a teacher for 24 years and is Assistant Principal at Chipping Campden School. He can be followed on Twitter via @dominicsalles
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