Educational research

Opinions and commentary on educational issues and concerns

Posts By: Janet Goodall

Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Parental Engagement with Children’s Learning

📥  Educational Leadership

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This book, due to be published by Routledge in the spring, examines the issues around the achievement gap between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  This gap is larger in the UK than in many other places, and seemingly implacable; one of the main arguments of the book is that we’re looking in the wrong place for the solution.  We know from the research that most of the gap arises from issues outside of school, yet so far, we have concentrated our efforts to narrow the gap on school based practices.

Through an examination of the concepts of social and cultural capital, as well as ideas around race, ethnicity, poverty and school effects, the book argues that the achievement gap is systemic, rather than related only to individuals; to do this, it utilises Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.  That constitutes the problem: the book proposes supporting and increasing parental engagement with children’s learning as a good deal of the solution.

One of the main ideas in the book is that we have put up arbitrary barriers around different types of learning, so that we have come to equate education and even learning with “what goes on in school”; this explains why we’ve concentrated our efforts to narrow the gap around schools and also explains why we’ve had less success than one might hope.

Parental engagement with children’s learning (not with schools, but with learning in the home, or at least outside of schools) has the potential to significantly narrow the achievement gap.  However, this relies on understanding what that engagement means, and also on avoiding some of the problems that have plagued the field.  We need to avoid a deficit model of parents and parenting, as well as an ethnocentric model which sees only one “right” way to parent or to engage.  We also need to be wary of seeing “parent” as a synonym for “mother”, and, as much of the literature does, assuming that we can continue to base parental engagement on mother’s unpaid, unacknowledged work.

The book concludes by offering suggestions for the way forward for practitioners, policy makers and researchers.

The book is by no means the final word in this field, as there is still a very great deal to learn and do, but I hope it will be a useful stepping stone.

 

Technology and School-Home Communication

📥  Uncategorised

Communication between schools and families is a vital support to children's learning, and modern technology offers unprecedented opportunities for communication - but how are schools to know what to use, and how to use it for the best?
In a recent article, entitled Technology and School-Home Communication, I explored these issues.

First, I proposed a definition of communication, based on the literature, which suggested that communication happens when a signal (such as a note home about a topic covered in school) passes from one person to another; however, that's not all, because for the interchange to be understood as communication, the second person involved has to be capable of understanding and potentially responding to that signal.  This second part of the definition is important because parents have often reported that schools send home too much information, in forms that parents don't understand and, importantly, can't use to support their children's learning.

We know from the literature in the field that engaging parents in children's learning is one of the best levers we have to raise achievement, but such engagement depends on accurate, two way, respectful communication between school staff and families, and the literature shows that such communication can lead to gains in children's learning.

Since over 70% of homes in the UK are considered to have access to broadband services, and over half the adult population has access to a smart phone, schools have begun to use digital communication with parents more and more.  In fact, there is now a bewildering plethora of "apps" available to schools for this very purpose - but almost all of them incur a financial cost and they will all incur costs in time to set them up and use them.

In the article, I attempt to meld the literature around engaging parents in children's learning with that around communication, to lead to some principles for good choices that schools might make in this area; I also look at some of the issues and challenges ahead in this fast paced area.