All stakeholders benefit when a healthy collaboration exists between home and school - and students gain most of all. Among the benefits listed in School Matters: The Report of the Task Force on Student Behaviour in Second Level Schools (2006) are:
• Higher rates of engagement with the work of the school
• Increased attendance rates
• A reduction in suspension rates
• Improved attitude towards school and better self-concept.
‘Support from home for school and learning, or what Wahlberg (1984) refers to as the ‘curriculum of the home’, is a more reliable predictor of academic attainment than is the socio-economic status of the family (School Matters, 2006).’
The following is an example of how one school improved the partnership between home and school for a group of students:
- A mid-year review by a Deputy Principal of the punctuality, attendance, behaviour, assignment and task completion patterns of six members of a Leaving Certificate Applied 5th year class resulted in a meeting of all teachers who taught the class to discuss what steps should be taken to strengthen the performance of the students who were performing well and improve the engagement and performance of six students who were not succeeding in school. At the meeting many teachers referred to the fact that notes in the journals of the six students were usually not signed by parents and the majority of the students had said they were too old for parent involvement in their education.
- Following the meeting the Deputy Principal checked back with each of the subject teachers on an individual basis to gain a clear picture of each of the six students. A meeting was then held with the Programme Co-ordinator, Class Tutor, Year Head, Guidance Counsellor, Chaplain, Learning Support Co-ordinator and the NBSS Regional Development Officer to discuss further the key points made by the teachers and examine possible solutions. The school does not have a Home School Community Liaison Teacher. The meeting decided on a number of possible planned steps that could be taken and these were brought back to the subject teachers for comment and adaptation. It was felt by all staff that parental involvement was key to the success of any plan so it was decided to arrange a series of meetings in the school with each student and his/her parent(s) beginning the following week to check if the parent(s) had correct information about the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and discuss the issues that were preventing progress from taking place. The Programme Co-ordinator, Year Head and Class Tutor volunteered to phone the parent(s) and also send a letter home inviting them to the initial meeting.
- In preparation for the meetings the Deputy Principal collected the following information:• A list of the strengths, positive achievements and challenges for the six students from the teachers who had taught the students from 1st to 3rd year
• Comments from former and present teachers who did not have work or behaviour difficulties with the students
• The reasons why the students had applied for the LCA
• The peer groupings of the students
• Any available information on reading and comprehension difficulties and academic strengths and difficulties in general
• Any available information on social and emotional strengths and difficulties
• Involvement in school or local sporting, drama or music activities
• Involvement in part-time work.
- Prior to the first meeting, each student was met on an individual basis by the Career Guidance Counsellor and completed a Guidance questionnaire on their hopes and ambitions for the future. At this meeting each student also got the opportunity to discuss their performance in school. The format of the forthcoming meeting with the student, parent(s) and school personnel was also explained to the student. All students expressed surprise that their achievements from 1st to 3rd year, no matter how small, had been collated but the majority did not want them highlighted when their parent(s) were present. All still believed that their parent(s) had no role in their decision to work or not work in school. ‘It’s my life’ was the most usual comment.
- Parent(s) of four of the six students attended the meetings from the beginning. One student said that his parents could not attend at the last minute but this meeting, which was rescheduled three times, did eventually take place following a visit by the school Chaplain to the family home. The parent had believed that the purpose of the meeting was to remove the student from the school. One student remained out of school because she and her parents believed that the meeting was unnecessary.
- The meetings with the five students and their parent(s) lasted for over an hour and one meeting continued for almost two hours. Second and third meetings were then planned with different school personnel to continue the work which had begun. The format of the meetings were as follows:• The first meeting, chaired by the Year Head, concentrated on why the students choose LCA; their strengths and achievements since they joined the school; their hopes and ambitions for the future; the core elements of LCA and the reasons for these core elements. Parents were also afforded the opportunity to ask questions and comment on their child’s strengths and difficulties in school over the years. Refreshments were served and short breaks were taken when upset and/or anger was evident. All of the students expressed feeling uncomfortable at various stages during the meetings. The Class Tutor and Year Head were also in attendance at this meeting.
• At the second meeting, chaired by the Year Head and attended by the Class Tutor and Programme Co-ordinator, parents and students met with representative teachers who (a) had experience of the students attending, working and behaving well in class from 1st year to the present, and (b) had experience of the students not attending, working or behaving in LCA class. The benefits of attending and working in school were highlighted and matched with each student’s hopes and ambitions for the future. Students were invited to talk about any difficulties they were experiencing in their subject classes and in school in general. Possible solutions to these problems were also discussed but no firm decisions were made until the next meeting. The purpose of the next meeting was to develop individual action plans and further work was required before these plan could be finalised. This further work included the following:-
• The completion of a reading, comprehension and mathematical assessment with three of the students by the SEN department
• Further meetings between the students and Career Guidance Counsellor and/or School Chaplain
• An opportunity for parents to request a private meeting with school personnel. Parents of two students held meetings with the School Chaplain and the parent of a third student met with the School Principal.
• A collation of all LCA assignment and task work not completed to date by the students. All LCA teachers worked out an individual plan for the five students to fasttrack the work because they could already see an improvement in the attendance, work and behaviour of the students. The sixth student, who had not yet engaged with the process, was seldom in school but every effort continued to be being made by the Deputy Principal and Year Head to persuade the student and her parents to change their mind and meet with the school.
• A visit by the LCA class and all their parents to two companies in the local industrial estate to meet with the Human Resource Managers and Supervisors. One of the companies was managed by a past pupil of the school and he organised for each student to attend for a mock-interview the following week. Parents were given an opportunity to discuss interview techniques and employment opportunities with the Human Resource Managers.
• The development of a draft individual action plan for each student. This draft plan would be finalised by the student, parent(s) and relevant school personnel at the next meeting.
At the third and final meeting each student, his/her parent(s), the Programme Co-ordinator and Year Head added or adapted elements of the action plan and it was signed by all present. Each plan had actions to be completed for punctuality, attendance, work and behaviour and relevant supports for these actions were identified. A review date to evaluate the plans was chosen. Each student was assigned a volunteer Teacher Mentor to oversee the action plan and organise a Check and Connect system for the student. All parents committed to fully support their son/daughter’s efforts by assisting with punctuality every morning, refusing to accept absence from school unless the student was genuinely ill, checking journal each day for positive and negative notes, keeping up to date with assignment and task work and generally supporting their son/daughter on a continuous basis by keeping in touch with the relevant Teacher Mentor.
The involvement of the parent(s) in the school life of the students had a hugely positive impact on the punctuality, attendance, work and behaviour of the students. Such was the success of the intervention that the school has since decided to involve parents in many more aspects of school life beginning with a joint school/parent working group on 1st year Transition and Transfer for the next school year. The school is hoping to also establish a parent/school senior cycle transfer working group.