Stronger links needed between parents and schools

Monday, 22 July 2002

Schools must develop stronger links with parents if inequalities in children's education are to be reduced, according to a new book by the Head of The University of Adelaide's Graduate School of Education, Professor Kevin Marjoribanks.

Prof. Marjoribanks, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University, says parents have such a powerful impact on the educational life chances of their children that their influence cannot be disentangled from what happens in schools.

His study identifies "getting ahead" families in which parents have high aspirations for their children, provide stimulating home learning environments, and become meaningfully involved in their children's education. In contrast, "getting-by" parents tend to have low to moderate aspirations and are not particularly involved in their children's education. "Getting-by" parents are often doubly disadvantaged, being unable to help their children at home and unable to interact satisfactorily with teachers in schools.

"If schools are going to help overcome educational inequities they have to form strong and meaningful partnerships with parents from all social backgrounds," says Professor Marjoribanks. "They have to develop that partnership from two points of view: (1) what parents do educationally for the child inside the family, and (2) how the family relates to the school.

"Schools have to develop supportive interactions with families, with special efforts being made for those parents who find it difficult to engage with schools. Parents need to understand the nature of the curriculum that is being offered in the school so that children, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, aren't placed inappropriately into curriculum structures that limit their life chances. One of the concerns of this and other research is that children, especially those from poorer families, have schooling experiences that don't lead to further education possibilities. Parents and teachers have to keep all children's options open for as long as possible."

In his book, Family and School Capital, Towards a Context Theory of Students' School Outcomes (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic 2002), Prof. Marjoribanks also addresses the "continuing flight" to non-government schools. He says that if the pattern continues, students of traditional government-supported schools are likely to come increasingly from poor families and from minority ethnic/race groups. This would increase further the power of parents in economically advantaged social groups to shape the nature of educational systems and, potentially, disadvantage to an even greater extent the educational opportunities of children from poorer families, he says.


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