Education for a child is more than institutional provision. The relationship of parents to schools must be set in the broader context of parents' role in their child's total learning experience. Public pronouncements often equate education with schooling and unfortunately for some children it suits many adults to concur. Yet the gouls of education, whether they be individual develop¬ment, equality of of opportunity, national prosperity, civic stability or any other, can only be approached if all the main educative forces are included. Schools alone cannot educate our children or solve our social problems. Perceptions about education precondition action, and a paradigm shift which recognises the impact of the family in general and parents in particular is, arguably, needed as a prelude to educational advance.
The family, however defined, remains the main unit of care for the child: a source of protection, nourishment, belonging and aducations. The quality of these atributes differs from to family. The worst instances involve abuse, but such families are abnormal and most parents are genuinely concerned for their children's well-being, even if their efforts may some times be mis¬placed. Perhaps the essential point is that few people have thought of anything better than the family as prime unit for the bringing up (involving education) of children.
Government-funded, professionally staffed caring systems such as our medi al, dental and schooling service do two things. First, they offer specialist facilities and expertise which most families cannot provide; that is, they supplement in-family care, even ensuring a safety-net on occasions when family effects are malign. Secondly, they can advise families on how they can help them¬selves, as with preventive medicine. They do not and cannot replace the family. Yet the rhetoric of education systems often seems to suggest that they can.
This can lead parents to think that they should 'leave it to the professionals' and 'not interfere', an attitude which may be re¬inforced by poverty and adverse physical conditions. However, we have ample evidence of correlation between home background and children's in-school attainment. Although we have yet to disentangle the relative effects of playsical and educative forces in the home, we know enough to recognise that home-learning is a powerful factor both before and after schooling has commenced. The obvious professional response should be to harness that force, in the same way that a dentist urges daily tooth-care in the home. yet as teachers we get and give little encouragement to do so.
School-learning and home e_learning arc supplemented by tranmissions to the child, for good or ill, front wider society both through the media (especially television) and through the local community, including the peer group whatever telivision, newspapers and books a child encounters are much influenced by parents who also have some impact on where a child lives and with whom there is contact. Thus community-learning can be filtered by the familiy.
In considering thr propper role of parents in their children’s encountered asertions warrant sideration, They are:
- That children are not the property of parents
- That we should be concerned for the welfare of all children, not just individual children
- That schools should serve the function of helping children to grow away from dependence upon the family and to develop personal independence.
The obvious response to all three propositions is ‘Yes, of course'. Where perceptions tend to differ is in what should be done about them and who should have responsibilities. In the 1960s and 1970s a view developed that schools could 'compensate' for family influence, despite the fact that more than eighty-five per cent of a child's waking (and therefore potentially learning) life from birth to sixteen is spent outside school, substantially in the family, and despite mounting research evidence of the educational influence of family and parents. Some authors recognised the impact of family but seemed to see parents and school as rivals, suggesting that 'the school may seen not so much as the agent as the corrective of parents' (Musgrove, 1966 ' 136.) Fortunately, we are moving away from this view of the teacher as an apparatchik of the state to one in which parent and teacher can learn from each other. In their overlapping areas of activity each can reinforce the other's efforts for the benefit of the child with a recognition that the child is the property of neither state nor parent, though someone must have prime responsibility and the law places that responsibility on parents. Parents are therefore required to be agents for the child, bu, are helped and guided by professionals. In that capacity there is no legal requirement for parents to be involved in the education of other parent' children unless they are of that small minority of parents elected either to local govern¬ment committees or to what in England are called governing bodies but which, with much the same fur.ctions, go by a host of names in other countries. And, of course, both parents and teachers can assist children to attain a sense of personal indepen-dence not just from the family nest, but also from all other child¬hood arrangements including schools.
The essential reasons for concentrating on the relationship of parents to schools are educational, and later in this chapter I shall outline five different paradigms of that educational relationship which may be encountered in Europe. First, however, I shall con¬sider two politico-administrative issues. These are consumerism and parental representation in school management- Neither is educationally central but both are reasonable democratic facilities. The title of this book suggests that parents may be viewed as customers, managers or partners. Of course there is no reason why they should not be all three simultaneously and, indeed, other roles are possible. Meighan (1989) has offered six 'role defini¬tions': parent as problem, as police, as para-professional aide, as partner, as pre-school educator and as prime educator. Munro (1991), studying both educational literature and political pro-¬nouncements, has developed a list of more than forty categories. I shall Emit myself to the three in the title of this book, using the following sub-headings: