1.1. School Family Collaboration as an Educational Issue
Education takes place within a world context of interactions and between several social groups, such as family, community, nation, culture and the education system in each country. Family as the initial and basic human group in which the child is born has been traditionally thought to be the most influential and most important factor for children’s upbringing and education mostly during infancy and childhood.
From antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome) the family had a central place for children’s development (biological, psychological, social and moral) and this is more true for the Byzantine (East) and Middle Ages (West) historical period under the influence of Christianity (Kroustakis, 1995, p 78 - 79). Socrates was the first who criticised sharply the parents who looked to acquire wealth but did not care to find teachers who will train their sons how to deal with it and who neglect both their own and their children’s moral education (Plato, Kletofon 407A-408C).
Recently parental involvement in education has become increasingly a central issue for discussion. Schools are no longer believed to be the only factor that can provide the whole of children’s education or can compensate for disadvantageous backgrounds on their own and unaided by the families. Parents are thought to be an integral part of the education process and a school could only realistically seek educational objectives in partnership with them. As has been pointed out most of a child’s education happens outside school. About 85% of his waking life from birth to 16 years is spent out of school and much out-of-school learning (especially in the early years) is in-home learning, often deliberate and reinforced by emotional ties of the family and examples set by other members of it (Macbeth, 1988, page 72).
Most countries place legal responsibility for the education of the individual child on his/her parents, providing prescription of their duties and rights. As a result a variety of models of links between home and school have been suggested based on the concept of education that is thought to include home-learning, school-learning and community-learning.
One of the models explaining the family and school interaction is that which draws a distinction between the family-social sphere and the scholastic sphere of education. Each has natural factors (human relations) and technical factors (formal teaching and learning). Thus teaching is recognised as something which happens in the home as well as in the school. This model goes on to assert that each sphere has aspects which are exclusive to parents and exclusive to teachers.
Macbeth (1988) summarises ideas for research about parental participation in education and still open for discussion are: to what extent are parents aware about their responsibility for their children’s education; what is the best model of communication and co-operation between parents and teachers, and what are the roles of parent associations and parent-teacher associations?
2.1 Relevant Studies
The concept of family/school partnership has received support from European associations of parents, teachers and pupils. One example is the declaration jointly signed in Copenhagen on 24 November 1996 by the European Parents Association and the European Syndicate Committee of Education, which emphasised that collaboration between parents, teachers and administrative staff is a factor in developing good quality education and training. Another confirmation of the value of parental involvement came from the "Parents and Partners" conference organised under the British Presidency of EU in Edinburgh on 26-27 February 1998. This included presentation of various strategies and methods that have been developed to encourage the participation of parents and to make the most of their contribution to raising school standards. "The Role of Parents in the Education System of the European Union", published recently by Eurydice shows that parents throughout Europe find themselves increasingly involved in the management of education, at an advisory, or sometimes even decision-making level.
All European countries have developed policies in favour of the involvement of parents collectively within their education systems. This is mainly illustrated by the creation of different representative bodies at school level. At central, regional or local level, councils with parent participation are mainly of an advisory nature. Parents’ representatives have the right to be informed and give their opinion. The kinds of decisions taken by most participatory bodies in schools throughout Europe refer to matters of internal and day-to-day management, such as expenditure or maintaining good parent-teacher relations. For some other types decision making however, (such as those linked to the allocation of the school’s budget, the number of teachers to be employed and their recruitment, as well as establishing the curriculum and teaching methods), parent participation is not widespread. Only half of the European Countries (including Greece) have entrusted these decisions, at least in part, to school councils with parent representation (Delhaxe, 1998).
Some empirical studies in Greece have indicated that mutual understanding and collaboration between parents and teachers on some educational matters can be very effective. In one study 75 nursery school teachers, 566 primary school teachers and 566 parents were asked to estimate (on a scale 0-3) 13 differences between home and primary school and 16 differences between nursery school and primary school as to the degree each difference causes difficulties to the children in their adjustment to the first grade. The subjects were also asked to estimate (using the same scale) 13 pedagogical strategies for smoothing transfer to the primary school in terms of the degree each may contribute positively to the transition procedure. A significant degree of concordance was found in the perspectives of the three groups of subjects concerning the differences between home and school and nursery and primary school as well as in the strategies of smoothing transfer and adjustment to primary school (Kakavoulis, 1994).
In another study it was found that teachers welcome co-operation with parents, but sometimes parents are indifferent or want to intervene in teachers’ duties and roles (Frederikou and Folerou-Tserouli, 1991.
Other empirical studies have shown that, in practice, participation of parents in educational procedures improves the students’ achievement (Henderson, 1981). In a study of the effects of parents’ involvement in early childhood education it was found that children seeing their parents to be actively engaged in nursery school activities increased their own willingness to participate. Children understand that in this way their parents show appreciation and value of their school and education and provide reinforcement (Morrison, 1988). Similar effects were found in a Greek study. (Apostolopoulou and Kordistou, 1998). It must be pointed out however that the success of parental involvement in education depends to a great extent on how well the school organises their participation (Morrison, 1978).
3.1 Current legislation
Until recently the only legal provision was the responsibility of parents to guarantee the enrolment and attendance of their children at school during the age of compulsory education 6-15 years. In 1985 for first time a legal system of parental participation in education was established by the educational law 1566/1985. The following councils and committees were set up in which representatives of parents’ associations participated as members (article 52).
(a) National Council of Education
This is a body of representatives of some ministries (Education, Financial, Culture, Social Welfare, Work, Industry) of all political parties, of the Church, of Municipalities of several Associations including a representative of the Greek General Confederation of Parents. The N.C.E. makes recommendations to the Government on issues of educational policy for all levels of schooling, culture, lifelong education and adult education.
(b) Prefectural Council of Education
In each Prefecture a council of education is established including the prefect (as president), school councillors, the administrative directors of Primary and Secondary Education and the representatives of some other associations including the Local Federation of Parents. This council makes recommendations to the prefect issues on matters covering local education, such as school libraries, seminars for parents, establishing or closing schools and others.
(c) Municipal Committee of Education
In each municipality or community a committee of education is established in which the president is the Mayor and members include a headmaster of a primary school, a headmaster of a secondary school and representatives of some other bodies including the Parents Union. This committee makes recommendations to the Mayor on issues of local education, such as ways of better organising and functioning of schools etc.
(d) School Council
In each state school a council is established and consists of all members of the teaching staff, all members of the Board of Parents Association of the School and representatives of the students. The School Council provides for the good function of the school, the establishment of ways of mutual communication between teachers and parents and the sanitary conditions of both the school and the pupils.
(e) School Committee
In each state school a committee is established and consists of the head teacher, a representative of the Municipality, a representative of the Parents Association of the School and a representative of the pupils. The school committee manages the financial expenses and provisions of the school and provides for its good function.
4.1 Parent Organisation
A pre-requisite for the participation of parents in the above councils and committees is the formation and function of the parents associations as official legal bodies. According to the same law (article 53) the parents of the pupils of each state school compose one parents association. The selection of the representatives of the parents to the above councils and committees takes place in a general meeting of the members of the association of each school. The administrative board of the parent association is elected by secret vote.
The parent associations of the schools of a Municipality will form themselves into a Parents Union, in which each parent association is represented by at least one member. The parent associations of a Prefecture form themselves into a Federation of Parents, in which each Parents Union is represented by at least one member. The Federations of parents of the whole country form themselves into one Confederation of Parents, in which each Federation of Parents is represented by at least one member. Such provisions are applied only to the parents of the pupils of state schools. In each private school the teaching staff and the administrative board of the parents association form the school council.
5.1 Links between the Family and the School
Family and school are thought to be the main factors of the socialisation of the child and for this reason they are expected to co-operate very closely. According to law parents are responsible for the education of their children. They have to enrol their children in the school of the district they live in when they reach the age of primary school entrance (51/2-61/2 years) and they have to ensure their regular attendance at school until they complete at least the 9 years compulsory education or their 16th year of age. Parents are expected to develop a scheme of close co-operation with teachers in order to contribute more positively to the education of their children.
The planning and the application of educational policy is a responsibility of the state which decides on such issues as the aims of education, the teaching subjects, the curricula, the training of the teachers, the duties and the rights of the teachers, the assessment procedures, the relations between school and society, the public expenses for education and others. The policy of education however and the school practice and function are influenced by the presence of some other social factors such as syndicates of teachers, parent associations, pupil communities and political parties. The relations between the two factors are implemented by both legal participation of the parents in the associations described and the informal communication and co-operation between parents and teachers over matters concerning the individual children.
Apart from their main teaching and administrative duties teachers have to organise meetings for parents to discuss with them particular educational matters and the way in which each can contribute to a better result in children’s education. These create a positive climate for co-operation about the child’s attendance, behaviour and achievement at school as well as his/her behaviour or difficulties at home.
The school staff may also have joint meetings with parents’ and pupils’ representatives to discuss more general issues. The School Advisors, apart from their main duties, may organise meetings with parents to discuss with them ways to deal with matters such as education, learning and co-operation between school and family.
6.1 Rights and Duties of Parents
Parents do not have the right to choose the school for their children. They have to enrol them in the school of the district of their permanent address. The enrolment in a school of another district is allowed only in exceptional cases. This restriction is not applied to private schools or state experimental schools.
Parents bring to school the qualifications for his/her children’s enrolment in the first grade of primary school (beginning of compulsory schooling). At the end of each semester (three month period) the school issues the progress report for each child and hands it to the parents to be informed about his/her achievement and behaviour at school. The head teacher may take special measures to create good relations between school and family and may invite the parents to a special meeting to discuss with them matters of attendance, behaviour and achievement and exchange ideas on the school work, homework and other problems.
For secondary education the parent of each pupil has to visit the head teacher of the school each year, before the beginning of classes, and hands in an official statement that he/she is the legal patron. The parent has to visit the school to be informed about his/her child’s attendance and achievement. If the parent does not visit the school, then the report is sent to him at home. The teaching staff, the Head Teacher and the School Advisors may also invite the parents to special meetings to discuss problems of attendance, achievement and behaviour.
7.1 The Real Situation
Apart from these legal provisions the real situation concerning the links between the family and the school appears to take several forms according to the initiatives coming from the parents or, the school, or both. The parents of the primary school pupils have more frequent contact with the teachers, compared with the parents of the gymnasium (12 - 15 years) or the lyceum (15 - 18 years) pupils. This is due to the fact that young children need more protection and care from the family. The younger the children the more frequently the parents visit the school. The most significant visit of parents is when they attend different celebrations (religious, national, social) in which their children have a part to perform and when they are invited to be informed about their children’s achievement and receive their progress report.
Each parent can visit his/her child’s teacher for any reason, when he/she asks for and sometimes without any appointment. Many schools have fixed days for the reception of parents, mostly twice or once a month. In some schools the teaching staff take the initiative to organise meetings with parents to discuss special educational problems, while, in some others, the parents’ association takes the initiative to organise meetings with the teachers.
At the secondary schools the contacts between school and family are less frequent. In most cases a parent is called to visit the school to be informed about some problems of attendance, conduct or achievement of the child. This is the case mostly in lyceums (Papazoglou, 1984).
The parents associations are important social influences upon the education system as a whole. Their power has been increased recently as they have become larger and have developed activities in co-operation with the teachers. They fight also for better links between school and society and the protection of children from the dangers and negative influences such as drugs, sexual abuse, criminality. After the legal status they obtained in 1985 they are recognised officially as an important partner in education.
Parental participation in the educational process seems to become increasingly a central issue of discussion nowadays. Traditionally close contact and co-operation between home and school was thought to be a sine qua non pre-requisite for achieving the educational objectives for the individual child. Most countries place responsibility for the education of all children to their parents and some have established a legal system of parental participation in decision-making of educational policy.
Recent studies have shown that mutual understanding and collaboration on educational matters on the level of the school are both possible and effective and that participation of parents in school activities improves the students’ achievement and willingness to participate actively to school learning activities.
In Greece since 1985 a legal system of parental participation in education is operating and parent associations are exerting a powerful influence in education policy and school functioning. They participate with representatives to educational councils and committees in all levels, and promote close links with the school and the teachers of their children. Although these are important developments it remains a long way off until parental participation in education works as a well organised system in which all are involved, contributing positively to create close links and co-operation between the school and the family.
Alexandros K Kakavoulis
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