Some Concluding Thoughts

This book has attempted to draw together the experiences and observations of educators in many countries. For various reasons it has not been possible to obtain contributions from all the sources originally planned. Problems of communication, the identification of appropriate correspondents, the inability to meet deadlines and other factors have meant that the case studies and country experiences reported above are largely related to European and North American initiatives. Nevertheless the Editors believe that the descriptions and insights provided will be useful and informative. Some tentative conclusions may be summarised below.

1. In many countries there remains the need for a shift in attitude towards increasing parental representation and lowering levels of parental apathy. In Austria, for example, there appears to be little scope for individual schools (and the people responsible for them) to exercise influence over the organisation, context or finance. For a long time parents have even been regarded as ‘school extraneous persons’. This is not an isolated example. The approachability of schools and school personnel is called into question in several country experiences.
2. Many authors have also commented on the difficulties that parents face in becoming "partners". Thus, the identification of parents as ‘an enormous source of inertia in the system’ is seen to be an important issue for Romanian education. Matters of poverty and a lack of time and energy leave parents in such countries as those ‘in transition’ with little incentive to become involved in school matters at large. Many parents in Lithuania, for example, are considered to be no more than passive onlookers. At the same time teachers are often obliged to take on extra classes or other kinds of work in order to supplement meagre salaries. In such circumstances the opportunities for increased parental-teacher liaison are much diminished.
3. Questions concerning the nature of partnership itself are raised are not only in relation to parental representation on the formally recognised bodies (such as School Boards or School Councils). One issue is how far parents are in a position to influence decision making on matters other than fund raising, the support of their own children or on specific matters such as bullying? For Denmark and England it is argued that the ‘goal of greater parental involvement remains illusive and that there is very limited influence over such key areas as teaching and learning’. One contribution from the United States sees the matter of school choice as an ‘affirmative action and civil rights issue for the new millennium’ and the battle for the parental right to choose is ‘fast gaining an almost irresistible momentum’. Such a movement could have important implications for teachers, for the curriculum provided and for the teaching process itself. From a Canadian perspective the Advisory Councils of Manitoba (working with school staff, trustees, parents and members of the community) may pose a threat to professional activity. Indeed, ‘the potential for these councils to exceed their advisory capacities may also be a source of conflict for teachers who may perceive them as representing the views of a vocal minority trying to dictate not only the way in which professional educators teach but also what they should or should not teach’.
4. By contrast some authors point to "parental deference" to professional judgement and responsibility as an issue which could explain the continued reluctance of parents to become as fully involved in school decision making processes as has been hoped. The issue of ‘interference in teachers’ professional territory’ is a feature of the Slovak experience. This may well relate to the difficulties evident in securing parental participation (as in Ireland) and parental apathy (as in Poland and Spain). A clarification of roles and responsibilities as well as being valued and respected remain important elements for success.
5. Those who have themselves benefited from the education process will invariably support the work of their children and the schools which they attend. For Sweden the experience suggests that parental representation is more evident from the middle classes and professional groups. This may well be a widespread trend and raises the issue of how to involve broader representation of parental commitment and contribution, as well as the interests of special groups.

What of those ‘outside the mainstream’? The particular circumstances and the representation of special groups such as Travellers are amongst the several maters for concern. With such parents many are ‘unschooled or have only attended school intermittently’. The relevance of school itself is questioned. For such groups, gypsies and travellers, the European Parliament has voiced its concern since at least 1975 and the need for concerted action prompted the initiation of the European Federation for the Education of Occupation Travellers (EFECOT) in 1989. Questions are raised concerning the needs of those whose learning is ‘interrupted’ and who are forced through home circumstances to enrol in many difference schools. With such specific needs what representation and response can be made on and by school Governing Bodies, School Boards, or similar? For those who are moved frequently, the truants and drop outs, who will monitor the relevance of the provision at school?

6. In some countries there are School Boards, or their equivalent, for every institution. In other locations there are School Boards elected for school districts or for larger administrative areas. Alongside these provisions parent-teacher associations are common. In China the case study of Chuzho city highlights the importance of family education. ‘Parents are the first teachers to their children; to visit the school and ‘set forth their opinions and advice’. For the Chinese experience ‘good family relationship and good family style of life, as well as the general mode of teaching, makes the children and teenagers grow up in a lively and healthy way’…
7. On a broader front the experience of a parental consultative group is of interest. For South Ayrshire (in Scotland) such a consultative group provides a wider geographical perspective compared with the somewhat parochial activities of individual School Boards. Whilst the School Board system in Scotland is the formal partnership group this consultative body provides a much broader representation of views (of fairly ordinary parents, from all backgrounds and ways of life…’ which can provide ‘a full and meaningful parent partnership in education’). Readers can compare the activities coming from South Ayrshire with those of the State Parent Advisory Council in Ohio and the Slovak Council of Parents’ Associations.
8. Despite the questions and issues raised above there is undoubtedly much evidence of activity (notably in the 1990’s) which seeks to promote parental participation in school decision making. Belgian ‘Participation Councils’; Dutch ‘Participation Councils’; Danish School Boards; English Governing Bodies; Irish Boards of Management; Scottish School Boards and many other examples all seek to involve parents in some kind of formal representation in school decision making. Readers will also be aware of the range of legislation which is recently and currently promoting parental participation. Belgium (1991/1997); Greece (1985); Iceland (1995); Ireland (1997); New Zealand (1989); the Slovak Republic (1992); Spain (1985) and Sweden (1991/1994) provide examples.
9. Legislation and formal frameworks supporting parental participation and opportunity for partnership are clearly important. What is also necessary is good communication, clarification of roles and remit, the development of trust and a respect for the inevitable range of viewpoints and perspectives on offer. A key for success in ‘partnership’ is perhaps exemplified by the New Zealand trustee model; one which rests with both an effective school principal and also clarification of roles and responsibilities.

‘Effectively managed schools are those where the Board has an excellent understanding of the different roles and responsibilities within the Board and where the lay Board members know what the principal’s needs and expectations are. In return the Principal knows and understands the needs and expectations of other Board members. The partnership in trusteeship has prospered where there is a good understanding of the role of each partner.’

Bryan T. Peck

Ann Hill