Parent participation in schooling makes an important contribution to better student outcomes at school and it is critical to ensuring that schools that are responsive to community needs. But, it is in decline in the ACT and something drastic needs to be done to renew it.
The answer is not to pay parents to sit on school boards as proposed by the ACT Minister for Education, Andrew Barr. This idea should be rejected out of hand. What is needed is a greater government commitment to parent participation and more training and support for parents to participate in schools.
Paying parents to sit on school boards does not address the reasons for declining participation and declining parent participation in schools in general. While there are external factors contributing to the decline, there are also factors operating within the school system which should be addressed as part of the general review of school-based management in ACT government schools.
The ACT government school system is stronger on the rhetoric of parent participation than the practice. There is virtually no system support for parent participation despite an official Department policy. Indeed, government support for parent participation has been reduced in recent years, so it is little wonder that parent volunteers have declined.
Training support for parent school board members is totally inadequate. There is little effective training for parents to participate in genuine decision-making on school boards. Parents receive no training in education policy issues and in consulting with school communities on education matters.
Ironically, the devolution of more business-type functions to school boards has also served make participation less attractive. School boards have been forced to become more involved in business decisions about school maintenance and cleaning contracts, etc. There has been an increased system focus on the role of the principal in managing a school and this is detracting from the role of school boards in developing and making decisions about school education policies.
Despite an official Department of Education policy on parent participation, little to no effort is made to implement the policy. There have been virtually no resources devoted to implementing the policy for the past 5 years. A 2004 election commitment by the ALP to provide additional resources to support parent participation was never followed through.
There are also many other impediments to parent participation in schools. Parents are generally not seen as partners in schooling and decision-making. Instead, they are more often seen as external props. Few schools have comprehensive policies or current plans to involve parents and families. Training for teachers on parent participation is inadequate and duty statements do not specify developing relationships with parents about students’ learning.
Paying parents to participate in school boards is no way to solve these problems. This idea reflects a very narrow view the role of parents in schooling. What is needed is a full commitment to real partnerships between parents and schools and programs and resources to make partnerships a reality on the ground.