Thursday, 25 March 2010

Online Parental Engagement - Futurelab Research Review

The actual paper is here official Title is 'Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies'.

It is focused on secondary schools and is particularly interested in the child's role in the relationship (Becta described a three way conversation between child, parents and school Futurelab asserts that there has been little research on child's role in the triangle). The paper is a research review and set of strategy proposals flowing from the literature.

Key findings of research:
  • Parental involvement has a very important impact on achievement and is more significant than class factors or even how good the school is. (I can't help wondering how researchers were able to disentangle social class from the mix.)
  • Parental involvement improves attendance and behaviour
  • Parental involvement is effective where there is talk about learning, where parents model high educational aspirations (how did they discount class!) and demonstrate their educational values to the child.
  • Parental involvement with school activities isn't valuable in raising achievement
  • Schools that get parental involvement show that 'parents matter' in the school ethos, mutual trust, respect.
  • There may often be a mismatch of teacher expectations of parents and parents own views of what they should be doing. This can lead to tension or conflict.

The terms of the home-school 'partnership' are all too often set by the school. One-way communication isn't very effective.

The report points to a Becta bit of research indicating that parents get a lot of 'thin communication' (i.e. asynchronous, impersonal, simple and one-way) and seem to need much more 'thick' (i.e. synchronous, personal, complex and multi-directional). This from the Becta research '
complex, synchronous, two-way, reciprocal, communication with parents, specifically about their child, has the most potential for parental engagement with their children’s learning', p. 4 of the Executive Summary (Get this here)

Research says that the best way to get to 'hard-to-reach' parents is to avoid 'deficit' model. In other words validate parents knowledge and skills and build on existing positive interactions between the parents and the young person. In other words don't enforce a completely alien way of working with their children but enhance and celebrate what they already do.

The report lists some barriers to effective partnership; time, childcare, working life, lone parents, transport problems, language. Quite how a school might mitigate some of these is not explored.

The section on social and cultural differences between home and school is thought provoking. It's easy to assume that the move from one to the other is just geographic. But its is often much bigger - the child may have to adapt language, culture and social behaviours. Research indicates that young people can have different identities in school to the home, and that this isn't necessarily an uncomfortable situation. There may be potential for the home identity to have characteristics that the school could value and recognise.

Where technology is used to connect home and school 'the most successful examples were those where there was already “cultural harmony between home and school” rather than bridging the differences between the two' p. 26. Technology then isn't a magic wand to be waved at the issue of engaging parents but will enhance an already good relationship. 'Using technologies to link home and school without considering the socio-cultural differences and unequal power relationships between home and school may potentially reinforce rather than overcome inequalities' (p. 26)

The implication in the section on 'Children's role and Agency' in all this, is that explicit dialogue with students about what they want, could achieve and what might be practicable is a sensible way to enhance their role in these conversations about their learning.

The paper then goes on to consider the strategy implications of these insights. Expectations around, roles and responsibilities, homework, communication, staff as well as parents all need to be carefully explored and definitions agreed, for school home relationships to flourish. For example Futurelab says being 'clear when communication is for ‘information only’ and when a reply is expected is very helpful for parents' p.34.

The beginning of the section on leadership is worth quoting in full:
'A good home-school relationship that really makes a difference to children’s learning does not just happen; it needs to be embedded in a whole-school strategy and reflected in the school ethos. ... Taking seriously an aim to improve homeschool relationships as an integral part of school strategy means it is likely to have an effect on what happens in school at many different levels. Rather than making homeschool relationships the sole responsibility of just one or two staff members, all staff therefore need to be involved in the process of embedding home-school relationships and given the opportunity for appropriate continuing professional development to support this aim. It is also important to have clear, strong leadership from the senior management team in order to maintain a high profile for this agenda' p. 36.

Technology, the paper asserts can help schools identify and tackle emerging problems swiftly. Schools should reduce the stress for parents of raising issues or making complaints and need to see these as opportunities and not threats.

In the whole conversation; sharing of information, expectations and aspirations 'Children themselves ... need to be visible, and to have some level of control for themselves' p. 42 Schools need to involve students in defining the nature and quality of the conversations.

The point that home needs some insulation from the pressures of school is well made. Young people often see home as 'a space of relaxation, of freedom from the demands and pressures of school, and are as concerned with achieving a good ‘work-life’ balance as many working adults are. For many children, time at home is ‘their’ time. Children can therefore resent what can be perceived as the intrusion of school into their time at home' p. 46.

The report contains a great deal of well considered and helpful insights. It is also a very good starting point for exploring some of the research literature on this topic.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Future of Educational Technology in the UK

I don't usually post about an idea I have. More usually policy papers or research makes me think about posting a response. Apologies then for explaining a few ideas that have been developing in my head for the last few months.

I am worried about what is going to happen if education sees a dramatic cut in everything but frontline services. The UK is at the forefront of the introduction of technology into the state educational sector. Very substantial amounts have been invested over the past 15 years. During that period professionals working in the state sector and in private educational companies have gained collective wisdom, knowledge and experience in making the most of technology in schools. That collective knowledge has only been partially captured by our universities and by government bodies such a Becta. If a new government were to make big cuts in educational technology spending the UK would risk losing the value that resides within this group. I imagine a large number of teachers would slowly withdraw from innovative use of technology if the funding fell away and school resources became more aged and unreliable. A number of those working to support schools, or selling consultancy or products to the school sector might well go abroad. Within a matter of months the vibrant community of practice that exists across a number of sectors would begin to whither. This seems to me to be a very negligent disposal of the capital invested in education technology. I think there is a case to be made that the greatest and most valuable asset the past 15 years of investment has created is the body of professionals with a multitude of perceptive insights and experiences around schools ICT.
Parallel to the development of this highly valuable resource, the UK has funded the growth of some very successful educational technology companies that are now beginning to sell their products around the world. Promethean is a good example. They now sell interactive whiteboards globally. The company would not have grown half so quickly, or perhaps not at all without the investment in whiteboards made by the government. If an incoming government cuts away the funding for schools ICT we may not see many future examples.
I think we are very quick to denigrate the progress made with educational technology in this country (I've been guilty myself). Visitors from many other western states are very impressed by where we have got to. I suppose I want to propose that those involved in the developments of the last 15 years build a campaign to highlight the precious resource we possess and the very great dangers in losing it through a period of minimal funding.
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