On the one hand, parents invest too little or, on the contrary, invest too much in their children’s education. On the other hand, there are schools that do not accept this and teachers who sometimes feel that families have abdicated their role. How to reconcile the two? An opinion from Bernard De Commer, a retired trade union official.
Family/school relationships are a difficult topic to discuss, if ever there was one. In some respects. And first of all, because the debate is often aborted due to misunderstandings between the two sides; then, because in terms of relationships, conceptualizing and generalizing is an inevitably unsatisfactory exercise. A relationship, in fact, whatever it is, is lived from within and any labeling should be reduced.
Therefore my comments should be modified and should be considered only as an incomplete approach among others in the question.
1. Relationships that develop over time
Before 1960, the The role of parents is limitedusually, to manage to send their children to school and be active in the field, at best, only within the framework of festivals. Since then, and gradually, a new concept, which “ fellowship developed least among the more or less wealthy, more or less educated social classes of society.
“The school, as Meirieu said in 1997 to oppose it, has become a service where one must turn to get the best results, the best methods, the best working conditions”.
This family logic consists of two parts:
- a school consumer design ; the relationship with the school is strategic: choosing a school, monitoring schooling, nothing more (the hype in the media about the various “registration” orders initiated and continued by some parents, in my opinion, an example of others)
- a partnership design : parents want to see educational complementarity established; they believe that the school and the family are places of learning and schooling, and that they should help each other. This approach, widely supported by parents’ associations that are officially recognized and supported, leads to the creation of participatory structures (from 2002).
2. Relationship that is often difficult why?
It’s hard often based on misunderstandings equivalent:
- some parents, usually because they had little schooling or had major problems at school during their schooling, stand a certain distance from the school and to the teachers, a distance which the latter consider a lack of interest which, they say, and rightly, harms the child.
- others want the opposite join the schoolbesides volunteering at school fairs, and earning a ” power of co-decision » ; it is experienced as an intolerable intrusion (and it is sometimes) by teachers who believe that parents should be content to be the supervisors of their children’s schooling
- some are school related service expectations : daycare, school canteen, etc. Services that the school and the teachers, in particular, consider not part of their missions
3. But what should we concretely think about for a better family/school relationship?
It is important, first of all, that the transition towards a quasi-market in education must be resisted by all the players involved in one way or another. It should be as long this is basically a distortion of the family/school relationship ; the school and the teacher are seen more as service providers and families as clients; however, the customer is king, they say. The division of education into networks obviously favors a particular competition between these networks but also within them and in general a significant commodification of the school. A pluralistic public network might be the solution, but…
The family/school relationship in socio-economically disadvantaged environments can only be assumed by a more global context : home, health, work, etc. A program when we know that these areas are the responsibility of many political powers that are far from coordinating; the former Priority Education Zones that were created in 1985 and disappeared in 1998 to give way to positive discrimination have at least the merit of trying to approach the problem worldwide. The management plans and target contracts required by the Pact should mitigate, at least in part, the difficulties specific to these environments.
Creating participatory structures is a first step but it is far from enough; Participation boards are not working well, if at all, especially in schools that work in the classroom (which usually do not have the minimum tools to “participate” such as language skills) and because parents, even the privileged ones, or the teachers, have not prepared this togetherness. Not to mention the participation of students, which we will not discuss here.
Partnership, it should be noted, refers to a formal agreement between two or more parties who agree to work together to achieve common goals. Is there a formal agreement? Is there an inevitable pursuit of common goals? Is the more or less clear linking of the educational project and establishment enough to prove that there is a formal agreement and the pursuit of common goals? Should the signing of a “family/school” contract be, as thought by the management committee (opinion 2005/1), an absolute guarantee of success in terms of family/school relations? In the same opinion, we read this, taking this observation of Marcel Crahay: ” In the working class, participation is about doing things together. Action is the cement of community. So, should a school that wants to be parents continue through the mediator of language culture? Aren’t we here dealing with a strange birth taking place at the school level? It excludes the most moderate classes from the school culture”.
It is very rare that teachers are prepared to work in these environments and the way in which they “approach” parents from these types of workers, and often of foreign origin, is often clumsy, even lackingdespite all their good will.
As designed, can participation structures really concern these parents? Shouldn’t we consider local other areas, other forms of parental involvement?
Finally, no teachers or parents are trained in the partnership; although, for the latter, the parents’ associations try to do the same for their members. If this is the case with teachers and parents, no doubt many misunderstandings will be avoided. And the participatory structures that the legislator wants to work as well as possible with the necessary local arrangements and special attention for parents from socio-cultural backgrounds.
Structures that are not small, as a reading of article 69§1 of the decree of July 24, 1997 confirms. And I quote:
1. in discuss and to issue an opinion on the construction project (…);
2. inchange and to complete it, according to the procedures set forth in § 11;
3. in proposal for approval organizing power;
4. to offer adaptation in accordance with article 67, § 1;
5. to conduct a global thinking of school fees incurred in the year (…);
6. to study and propose the construction of a unity mechanism between students for the payment of school fees (…);
7. to study and suggest the support actions and support (…);
8. to give an opinion on pilot plan (…) and in the proposal to change the contract of purposes (…);
9. discuss and submit an opinion on internal regulations to establish and, if necessary, to amend and add to it (…);
10. to inform the parents or the person invested parental authority or mature students in the orders and regulations that apply to free access to education and to ensure their correct application within the school;
11. to receive a clear and transparent information (…) about the methods related to free access received or collected, directly or indirectly, and its use.
With the points that come first to parents: school fees. (5, 6, 10 and 11).
But ruling is not enough: schools – teachers and parents – still need to have a real desire for partnership. Which is not always the case, far from it.
In a joint brochure (October 2019) entitled “School Democracy”, the Federation of Parents’ Associations of Official Education (FAPEO) and the French-speaking Union of Parents’ Associations of Catholic Education (UFAPEC) concluded these terms : long time of revive this democratic body and no longer consider it, where it exists, as a place of top-down information. Each school must ensure that the democratic requirement it promotes is compatible with the real existence of this council, which concretely expresses this requirement”.
If, as stated by these two parent associations, it is time to revive this democratic body, it is because this has hardly happened so far.
The trade unions are wiser, for their part, generally content themselves with remembering the obligations of the decree in this matter when the councils are renewed.
So there is, more than ever, work to do.
Bernard De Commer, former retired trade union official, former member and secretary of a participation council
The title is from the editorial staff. Original title: “Family/school relationships”.