Death Of The School Gate - How Can We Strengthen Parent Communities?

05/01/2017 10:24

How do parents juggle their careers and manage their child's education? A recent Classlist survey suggests parents are far less involved in what's going on at school than they would like to be. Early evidence suggests this isn't good for educational outcomes. 'Tiger Moms' aren't the answer but absent parents could be worse. Technology can help - or can lead to reduced communication and exclusion.

As co-founder of the UK's first purpose built parent-to-parent social platform, Classlist, I was curious to explore how parents feel about their relationship with the school community. Our recent survey of 1,540 parents found that three quarters don't feel as involved in their child's school life as they would like to be. On the engagement side, two thirds of parents don't know the names of their child's friend's parents - suggesting school communities are far weaker than we might suppose. Fathers were three times less likely to know. A third of parents never drop off or pick up their children from school, and almost one in ten parents said they never discuss school with their child.

The juggling act

Parenting in the UK has changed radically in the last twenty years. Single parent families make up a full one quarter of families with dependent children, and the majority of UK parents work full time*. My co-founder at Classlist, Clare and I know how hard it is to juggle parenting and full-time work. Trying to keep up to date with after school and homework clubs, school trips, exam timetables and who's who in the playground is exhausting for any parent, let alone those working 37+ hour weeks.

This month, we've seen the UK falling again in the global Pisa rankings for both Maths and English. So just how should parents follow UK OFSTED guidance and increase "parental engagement" with their school and with other parents?

Technology - friend or enemy?

Can technology help? Often it's quite the reverse. Once teenagers return from school, they prefer racing upstairs to Snapchat rather than talking about their day over the dinner table. Parents trying to link up with other parents through Facebook and WhatsApp groups tell us these often become very cliquey, or populated with serial moaners. Big social media sites never feel very private or secure - a major concern where children's details are involved.

From direct experience working with over 500 UK schools, we find that if parents belong to a strong, supportive community it makes the job of parenting a whole lot easier. That's why we've built Classlist. We've also found that having a strong, active parent teacher association and supportive school heads really helps to make sure that everybody's included.

It's all about trust

Our survey shows that most parents want to be involved. But security, privacy and above all high levels of trust need to be in place before any of this can work online. It's worth the effort. If we can use technology to harness the power of the community and increase parent engagement, the prize is a supportive school environment where families help each other rather than feeling isolated. The kind of place where parents and pupils feel at home. The kind of place where communicating and learning matters, and Pisa scores take care of themselves..

* https://gingerbread.org.uk/content/365/Statistics

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