Parent/Teacher Relations in Primary Schools (1968)

This Survey was a response to the 1967 Plowden report's recommendation that the DES 'should issue a booklet containing examples of good practice in parent/teacher relations'.

The complete document is presented in this single web page. You can scroll through it or use the following links to go straight to the various sections:

1 Nursery schools and classes (page 1)
2 Entry and transfer (4)
3 Maintaining contact (12)
4 Work in the school (21)
5 Helping the school (25)
6 Some special cases (31)
7 Parent teacher associations (37)
8 The local education authorities (41)
9 Medical and welfare services (44)
10 Voluntary bodies (48)
Appendix - Some individual accounts (51)

I have corrected a handful of printing errors, and added a couple of notes of explanation in [square brackets]. There are a few errors in the Appendix: I assume these were in the accounts provided by individuals, so I have only corrected those which appear to be printing errors.

The text of Parent/Teacher Relations in Primary Schools was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 4 April 2023.


Parent/Teacher Relations in Primary Schools
Education Survey 5

Department of Education and Science
London: 1968
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.


[cover]


[title page]


Parent/Teacher
Relations in
Primary Schools




Education Survey 5


Department of Education and Science







London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1968


[page ii]




SBN 11 270030 6






[page iii]

Foreword




Recommendation 2 of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) on "Children and their Primary Schools" (the Plowden report) was to the effect that the Department of Education and Science "should issue a booklet containing examples of good practice in parent/teacher relations".

This Education Survey contains examples collected from schools in all parts of England, many in the words of the head teachers themselves. The Department acknowledges with thanks these and other contributions.





[page v]


Contents


page

1 Nursery schools and classes
1

2 Entry and transfer
4

3 Maintaining contact
12

4 Work in the school
21

5 Helping the school
25

6 Some special cases
31

7 Parent teacher associations
37

8 The local education authorities
41

9 Medical and welfare services
44

10 Voluntary bodies
48

Appendix - Some individual accounts
51


[page 1]

1 Nursery schools and classes


Most nursery school teachers give a great deal of thought to their relationships with parents and to helping children to adjust easily to school life. Mothers are usually invited to bring children to visit the nursery as often as possible before they are admitted and, after admission, the teacher usually has daily contact with the parents. Many nursery schools have found them willing to help, for example, with the mending and making of toys and apparatus. The following account by a headmistress shows the contribution a nursery school can make to the life of the community in a congested urban area:

"The parents come to school with all their family problems. We help to write official letters, fill in official forms, give advice on the babies, encourage regular visits to the infant welfare centre, advise on our children and family pets, and help neighbours who request our aid. We render aid without question when domestic upsets have become violent, deal with families' minor cuts and bruises, phone for the doctor, suggest and make dental appointments. We like to think that in trouble mothers come to the nursery and a few weeks ago when a husband came home drunk and violent the mother and her two babies took refuge with us until the home atmosphere was more settled. We have asked for help from the housing committee, from councillors in our ward, child care officers, education welfare officers, a mental welfare officer and the NSPCC."
Some nursery school teachers find that they understand both the children and their parents better when they visit their homes. One head teacher describes how she does this and returns the hospitality:
"In order to understand the child really well I always try to visit the child who is away sick: in this way I get a chance to see the child in his home environment and often meet father for the first time. I can show that each child is cared for as an individual and the visit is usually well appreciated. Once a year I have an 'At Home' to parents and children, in my own home, during the summer term. I feel that as they welcome me to their homes the least I can do is to return the hospitality. It is a day out for the children, as I live in the country, and also it dispels the illusion that many children have that I live in the school. I am often asked where I sleep as they believe that as I am here when they come and am still here when they go, I must live

[page 2]

here. So they come and see where I live, where I sleep, play with my dog and cats, and find that I am really human after all!"
Building a relationship is a gradual process, as is illustrated in the arrangements made for the parents of children in a nursery class of one infant school. A reception class teacher writes:
"We try within the first week of the year to hold a meeting with the mothers, the headmistress and the two teachers in charge of the nursery. We can explain all the reasons behind our do's and dont's and the mothers can meet us and ask all the questions they like. In the past four years we have had extremely good attendances, the mothers being encouraged to bring babies and toddlers rather than miss the meeting. It is at this meeting I tell them about the harvest sale. Each class has a harvest sale of its own. These are very intimate affairs, the mothers sending the produce and then coming to buy it all back again. They know that any money raised is going to be used for some special toy or apparatus for their own children to use and enjoy.

Nearer to Christmas the mothers are invited to a meeting in the classroom. At this meeting I tell them all about the class party. With children of this age group we do not have food sent at random, but a carefully thought out list is prepared, mothers can pick for themselves what they would like to provide. Using this method I don't think that any mother has to spend more than 2s. 6d [12½p]. At this meeting the mothers are told about the Christmas play. The children, being so young, it is held in the classroom and not performed in the hall in front of a large audience.

During the Easter term we have a fathers' night. Although both parents are invited to meet the class teacher in the classroom from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. it is stressed that if only one parent can come then let it be the father.

The summer term is the climax of the year. It is during this term that the mothers become increasingly involved in the school life of their children. I explain that I want them to see what we do, but not wishing to make mother an object of curiosity I suggest that she should cut out a few pictures or mend a blanket. In the beginning I am careful to select a mother whose child is well settled and mature. It is quite remarkable that the children do not hang round mother and do not show off in front of her. In fact it is the other children who show their work and chat to her in the most natural manner. What starts off as one mother a week builds up to two or three mothers a week. Once the news gets round, I have all the mothers coming to the classroom to ask if they can come."


[page 3]

Here is another example of the care taken to establish the confidence of both mother and child.

"When the child's name is put on the waiting list I take each parent round the school to let them see the building, meet the staff and see the children playing. I ask the parent to bring the child to school as often as possible during the time the child is waiting for admission so that he can become familiar with the school, the staff and the children, and be able to familiarise himself with the toys, etc. before coming for long periods alone.

In order to prepare the child for entry to school I ask the mother to co-operate by going shopping for short periods and leaving the child with a neighbour or relative so that he can get used to the idea of playing without mother in his immediate vicinity. I feel, however, that the best preparation is for the mother to bring the child visiting regularly so that his appetite is whetted by what he sees and he will wish to spend longer and longer time at school each time he visits.

I tell the mother that when the child is admitted to the school I expect her to make arrangements to remain with him but to allow him to wander away from her without following him, so that he can have a chance to make discoveries for himself. I ask her to sit in one place where she is easily visible so that if he feels the need of her the child can return to her side, be reassured, and then go away and play again.

The period that the parent needs to remain with the child varies with individual children. Some children ask parents to go home after a few days only. Some require their mother's presence for a longer period of time, but this period is very valuable as it establishes trust in the child that mother will not suddenly disappear. During this time she is part of school life and she has ample opportunity for observing the work of the school; and trust is established, for she will know that the child will be happy and in good hands."





[page 4]

2 Entry and transfer


Infant and junior mixed and infant schools are usually larger than nursery schools, and relationships with parents are consequently a little harder to achieve. Some schools find that vertical grouping, either for the whole age range of the infant school or for a narrower age span, makes it easier for parents and children to feel at home in the school. A growing number have a clearly thought out programme to ensure easy transition from home to school. Some think that an introductory visit should occur at least half-a-term before the entry date. Some find a single visit before entry insufficient and arrange several:

"Letters are sent out in good time informing parents that a place will be available the following term for the child. Parents are invited to bring the child along to meet the class teacher and the head on three occasions before the end of the current term. They are invited in batches of ten or twelve, the room is prepared with a class teacher in attendance, each child is shown his table and chair and plays freely with equipment. He makes friends with other children in that group, he is shown where he will hang his coat and where the toilets are. We usually ensure that there is a bottle of milk available on these visits. Thus he learns to drink through a straw, collect the milk, and replace the empty bottle. On the first visit the parent is invited to stay with the child; teacher and parents become acquainted. The visit usually lasts for approximately an hour and the teacher tells a story to round it off.

On the second visit, the parent brings the child, who recognises the teacher and has probably made a special friend in his group. This time the parent is asked to leave the child for an hour and he plays with equipment, finds out where things are kept and has his milk. The teacher tells a story, takes a nursery rhyme or a singing lesson and encourages the child to join in. Parents are encouraged to go to the staff room, have a cup of tea and talk to each other and the head teacher. At the end of the hour's visit, parents go to the classroom to collect their child.

On the third visit the same procedure is adopted and the child is now feeling quite at home in his classroom and according to parents is very enthusiastic about beginning his school life."

Another school arranges pre-school visits on an even bigger scale. Mothers and children are invited to attend on one afternoon each week right through the term before children are due to enter. Though the school is situated on a


[page 5]

far from prosperous housing estate, 74 out of 78 mothers took advantage of this offer last year, most of them coming each week, sometimes for half-an-hour, sometimes for the whole session. The headmistress of this school also visits the home of her new pupils in the holidays before they enter. Some schools find an open evening, which fathers as well as mothers can attend, useful in the term before entry.

"We hold an open evening for new parents and they hear a talk on the modern approach to infant education, our main aims and ideals, the need for parent-teacher co-operation and the ways in which they can best help their children. They meet the teachers who are to play such an important part in the lives of their children, look around the school and see slides of the children in action."
Booklets and letters

To reinforce the impressions created on visits, some heads issue simple booklets about their schools. Most of them give some account of school aims and organisation, the names of the staff and details regarding arrangements for meals, uniform if worn, and clothes for physical education. They often include an invitation to visit suggesting suitable times or arrangements for making appointments. Booklets may also contain advice about how parents can prepare children for school and help them once they are there. "Do's" predominate over "don'ts". A letter to parents can serve the same purpose, as the following example shows. It is interesting that this letter, like some school booklets, was drafted in consultation with parents who were able to say on what points advice would be useful.

"Dear Parents,

Very soon your child, with others will be starting school. I hope you will not mind if I make a few suggestions, with most of which I am sure you are already familiar.

Talk often to your child about this new adventure - never threaten with school. Make sure that you tell them how you will miss them while they are away. Tell them the kind of things you will be doing in their absence - cooking, making beds, etc. Assure them that you will be missing them and awaiting their return, that every care will be taken of their toys in their absence. It is dismaying if smaller brothers or sisters are allowed to spoil their toys while they are away at school.

Don't be alarmed if, during the first few weeks, there is a sudden breakdown, and your child becomes clinging and doesn't want to be left. Tell


[page 6]

the child at what time you will return. I can assure that if the distress was real and lasting I should get in touch with you. If you have said that you will be waiting at the gate, make sure that you are there - a little child can feel that mother will never again appear if this promise is broken.

I shall probably suggest, if it is feasible, that your child comes in the morning only for a short time. Some children find a full school day too much at first, and if we work together we can gradually lengthen this period. Not all children need this form of introduction to school life. If children have been used to leaving mother, and have had lots of contact with other children, they will settle much more quickly.

If children can cope with all their garments (these should be clearly marked), it helps to make the settling-in process much more simple. Most children can, of course, cope with their own toilet needs, and can ask in recognisable terms when they need to visit the toilet.

Often parents ask what they can do about children reading and writing before they come to school. Rarely is a child ready to do any formal learning before starting school, but talking with them and having books available is of immense value. I know you will all have read to your children and allow them to use pencils and crayons. Counting games are fun, and a great help to us when they begin to learn.

Now for a little about our school. I know many of you will be told by your children that we 'played all day'. Let me assure that this is not really so. At this stage the things we want them to learn are presented in a play fashion. To a small child play is work, and we know that you will find yourself surprised what a great deal of knowledge your child is absorbing and learning in this way.

We try to give each child a minimum time of 18 months with his first teacher. We have found constant changes of teacher, who at this stage must be the mother's substitute, are very harmful to the child's progress.

I also want to emphasise that I am here at any time to answer your queries. It helps the school and the child to know of any changes at home which may have disturbed them. Never feel that any problem is too small for you to consult us about. It is only by working together and knowing each other well that we can make sure that every child is a happy, confident, secure little individual, growing to be a valued member of the community."


[page 7]

First day and first term

Many schools stagger admission over some days so that new children do not have to compete with each other for the attention of their teachers. Classes are carefully arranged so that whenever possible children find themselves with friends or relations. Some heads suggest that children go home to lunch at first.

"Even when the ground is carefully prepared, an occasional child finds it difficult to separate from his mother, often because she is too disturbed to facilitate the separation. In this case the mother is asked to go along to see the headmistress who has a cup of tea prepared for her. After a chat the two go for a tour of the building until, from a well planned vantage point, the parent has an opportunity of seeing her child settled quite happily with the class."
Many head teachers have found that a meeting for parents in the first term is also well worthwhile.
"After about a month each new parent is invited, by name, to visit the school for a coffee morning. The children come into school at the normal time and the parents are invited for about 10.00 a.m. When the mothers arrive they are given a name label which they are asked to pin on as much to get to know other mothers as for the benefit of the staff. The programme includes a music and movement lesson which helps the parent to understand the need for children changing into an appropriate dress and particularly for working in bare feet. The parents may go into any of the classrooms and the headmistress and the teachers answer questions about what is going on. Coffee and biscuits are served during the children's playtime and parents may talk over what they have seen together with members of the staff. One of the classrooms is then set up with a slide projector and screen. The headmistress shows a series of slides of activities that go on in the school, and explains in straightforward language the educational implications. At some time during the morning the parents are also taken into the school kitchen; the mothers find this of particular interest for this is a school where more than eighty-two per cent of the children stay for school meals. Both mothers and fathers - a few of them manage to come - join in the normal school assembly."
Another headmaster sends a personal letter to all the parents of new children after the first month, even though he will have seen many of them most days, to reassure them and thank them for their co-operation.


[page 8]

It is not unusual for summer born children, who are at a disadvantage in many ways, to be excluded until the term following their fifth birthday because the schools are already full. Some schools have tried to reduce their disadvantage by arranging a sequence of afternoon meetings with the mothers, who are shown various kinds of play material and given advice on story telling and the use of books.

Infant to junior schools

Transfer from school to school repeats, if less sharply, the strains of the first entry into school. Some infants schools make a point of inviting the parents to an open day in the summer term when the head of the junior school and class teachers are also present and can be introduced in a familiar setting. A junior school headmaster invites all parents of children entering the school the following September to bring these children to the school sports day in the summer term. On this occasion parents and children are shown over the school. A few days later, but still some time before the children are due to be transferred, the same parents are entertained at the junior school by the fourth-year pupils. Another junior school invites parents to an open evening arranged in July for its own first-year pupils. This enables them to see the classrooms, meet the teachers who will be taking their children and see the work done by first-year pupils. Two other schools work together so that one day at the end of the summer term the parents are invited to the junior school to tea, and to meet the staff, whilst the infant teachers look after the children. In a rather similar case, where the invitation is for the evening, ninety per cent of the parents attend, many of them fathers.

Some parents may not even realise that "going upstairs" (in a three-decker building) or "across the playground" (where infant and junior schools are on the same site) means a change of school, with a new head. Direct invitations to visit the junior school are therefore important. There are several examples of joint parent-teacher associations for infant and junior schools, sometimes with the two heads alternating as chairman. In other instances there are separate associations which combine for some functions. Similar arrangements for joint activities can be made by schools which do not have an association. A junior head writes:

"We join forces with the neighbouring infants' school in almost all our social and fund raising activities which helps to prevent repetition for those parents with a foot in both camps and allows a greater degree of continuity when the 7+ break occurs. Fund raising has been largely the responsibility of the infant school head and building the responsibility of the junior school head."

[page 9]

Sometimes infant and junior school heads produce a combined booklet for parents, showing how children's work will develop: or the infant school booklet may include an introduction to the junior school.

Primary to secondary school

Local education authorities usually issue pamphlets or leaflets explaining to parents the schools that are available and how children are allocated to them. In areas where selection still persists, it is important to include reference to "second chances" and extended courses. Some booklets give a fairly detailed description of all the schools in an area; they may be issued to all parents, be available at the primary schools for parents to see, on display in local libraries, or available on request from the education office.

Many primary schools hold meetings for parents towards the end of the third year or early in the final year of a child's primary course. Talks are given by officers of the local education authority, head teachers of secondary schools or the primary school head. It is now less common to hear children spoken of as "passing" or "failing". Some parent-teacher associations arrange a series of secondary school visits for parents. Secondary schools often invite children in their fourth year in the junior school - and their parents - to open days, music festivals, or sports days.

In one area where children transfer to a comprehensive school, the following sequence of events takes place. Parents are invited to an evening meeting at the comprehensive school to meet the staff, and they are encouraged to ask questions about their child's new school and the courses and facilities provided. This has proved most valuable. An afternoon during the summer term is set aside for children to go with their teacher to the comprehensive school. They are conducted around the school in small groups, and shown everything which the school can offer them. The head of the lower school pays a visit to each junior school to give a brief talk to the new entrants about the aims and objects of the comprehensive school. Many children have brothers and sisters already in the school, and their questions are often pointed. After the visit, each child receives a letter to take home to his parents, setting out the rules of the school, particulars about uniform, date of admission, form and form teacher, and the house to which he is allocated. In many schools a further parents' meeting is held early in the first year at the secondary school.

When there is a greater element of choice of school, many heads think that personal interviews are essential, and arrange evening appointments to suit fathers who, at this stage of the child's education, may begin to think of future careers. Some heads see those parents who wish to see them: others make


[page 10]

great efforts to see all parents even visiting the homes of those who do not come to the school. The following pattern has been worked out in a school near a city centre where there are many immigrants.

"The head has a general meeting in January. Cups of tea and chat are available from 7.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m., then at 8.00 p.m. she talks to the parents. At this meeting parents write down what are their best times for interviews. The head offers times from 8.00 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. and will stay at school till 6.00 p.m. or later on some occasions. The head then sends parents a personal invitation, inserting the name of the parent and signing each letter."
Another head arranges interviews to last at least half-an-hour. If parents are uncertain which school to choose or prefer a school which the primary head thinks unsuitable a second interview is arranged.

A leaflet sent to parents by one authority states that the head of the primary school will invite them to discuss the transfer. A headteacher writes:

"Parents are requested, in a leaflet sent to them describing the transfer procedure, to be guided in their choice by the primary headteacher who advises not only on the type of education suitable for the child but also takes into account the individual characteristics of both the child and the schools available. The final choice is the parents' however, bearing in mind that choice does not necessarily imply acceptance.

Ideally the primary head's assessment of their child should come as no surprise to parents. A close liaison with parents should have been built up during the years the child has spent at the primary school, through open days, visits by parents to the classroom, formal and informal discussions with the head and class teachers and periodic reports with meaningful content rather than grades which imply comparison with other children and can be most misleading. Even in the present climate of increased home/school co-operation there are in some areas many parents who will not have visited the school regularly, and positive efforts have to be made by heads to encourage them to come from time to time.

There follows an interview of the parents by the head of the primary school. Prior to this the parents should have read a booklet provided by the authority which contains descriptions of the secondary schools in the neighbourhood. The descriptions are provided by the secondary head teachers and contain details of courses offered, requirements and general


[page 11]

aims of each school. At the interview the head tells the parents of his assessment of whether the child is better suited for an academic or non-academic course. The head then discusses particular schools with the parents which meet the needs of the child, and the parents make a first choice.

If a close relationship has been formed between the primary school and the parents this interview usually runs smoothly, Snags can arise, however, and then it is incumbent upon the head to help the parents make a second choice, asking them to return for a second interview if necessary."

The ease with which this transfer takes place will depend very much on the strength of the relationship which has been built up between parents and teachers since the child first entered school, and on the co-operation existing in the area between primary and secondary schools.





[page 12]

3 Maintaining contact


Seeing the headteacher

Many heads include in a booklet, or in a letter to parents of new entrants, an open invitation to come to discuss their children's progress or any difficulties which may arise. They remind parents of this invitation at meetings and in subsequent newsletters. Others make it known that they will be available at stated times, including a weekly or monthly evening period, which is likely to be more convenient for fathers. In some schools an appointment system is used for these occasions, or parents know that they can phone, either for a short discussion of an easily solved problem, or to ask for an interview. A few schools send parents a copy of the head's teaching programme so that they know when not to come.

In some areas, teachers prefer even more informality so that mothers will come to school without delay when a sudden problem arises, when for example a child "goes quiet". A head writes, "An appointment system is not used as this tends to discourage some of the parents. They usually pop into the school when visiting the adjacent shopping centre." Another head has deliberately encouraged parents to use a route by the school, which is a short cut to the shops, "so that they call as they go home with their shopping."

A welcoming space for parents who have to wait is an asset. One school writes:

"We have an attractive entrance hall with comfortable chairs where visitors can wait if necessary. This is quite near the assembly hall and we have found that parents enjoy waiting there because they can see and hear what is going on, whether it is assembly, physical education or lunch. It is one way of seeing what goes on in school and is quite valuable in a small way."
In other schools the library is housed in part of the entrance hall and parents are encouraged to look at the books provided. In a small county town all parents of the school have subscribed to a fund for the provision of bench seats in the school playground and garden. These are for the use of parents, to relax and watch the outdoor activities of their children and their playmates.


[page 13]

Meeting the class teacher

It is often possible for parents of young children to spend a few minutes in the classroom before or after school and iron out small problems. Teachers of older children sometimes let it be known that they will stay after school on one or two evenings a week. If longer discussions are necessary or if it becomes clear that a parent who has come to see the head would benefit with a talk with a class teacher, it is quite usual for a head to take over an assistant's class. A working arrangement found satisfactory by some heads is to encourage parents to get in touch direct with class teachers save when there is any criticism of a teacher's professional behaviour. Other heads prefer problems touching a particular teacher to be raised with that teacher and insist only that, if a parent wishes to talk over some such matter with the head, the teacher concerned should be present.

"A special word must be said about the young teacher who is establishing her position in the profession. The head teacher has an obligation here, as encounters with parents are events for which the probationer can receive little guidance from the college of education. I always try to be present to set the right tone and give reassurance to young teachers, bringing them forward in the conversation and getting them to project themselves."
As the relationships between schools and parents become closer, students in training will gain more experience of home and school contacts during their periods of school practice.

Regular interviews

A growing number of schools find a regular programme of interviews of value. In one school the first of these takes place after children have been in their classes about six months. The object of the interviews is to provide occasions when "parent and teacher can discuss in private and at leisure the work and progress of each individual child". A personal invitation for an agreed evening in a series of weeks is taken by each child from his class teacher to his parents. Parents are invited in alphabetical order, the teachers and head deciding on the number of initial letters for each week. In this way parents with several children in the school have to come only once and the number of invitations per evening is controlled. Even so, specific interview times are often given to parents. This school has found that the hour or two after the end of afternoon school is the best time for mothers, though less satisfactory for fathers. The head is always available during the meetings and finds that parents often come to him with a specially difficult problem. Once the rota of interviews has been completed, another attempt is made to meet parents who have not managed to


[page 14]

come by asking them to let teachers know a time and a day which are more convenient. Attendances at the interviews at this housing estate school now average more than ninety per cent.

An interesting variation on this pattern has been adopted by another school which became dissatisfied with the kind of "open day which culminates in a queue of parents waiting to speak to the teacher". Each spring term, every class has a day set aside for it. The children of the class are dispersed to other classes for the day, while their own teacher interviews the parents in the classroom, with all work, exercise books, display material to hand. The interviews last roughly ten to fifteen minutes, and are spread through morning, afternoon and evening. Fathers often get time off to join their wives for these appointments. The usual attendance is over ninety per cent and tremendous support is summed up in a parent's comment that the arrangement is "more private and civilised".

Written reports

In many schools, interviews such as these have replaced some at least of the formal open days when individual talks with teachers have to be squeezed in. Some teachers think that, when there are regular interviews and parents can see children's work, written reports are hardly needed. This point of view is fairly general in infant schools and is shared by many junior teachers. They argue that the purpose of reports was largely to relieve anxiety about the 11+ examination and that, as this pressure is lifted, reports become less necessary. The headings of the conventional reports, ("arithmetic," "reading" and so on) have often encouraged parents to suppose that these are the only aspects of learning and maturing which matter. There are certainly intrinsic difficulties about reports, especially when they are in writing. Parents and teachers alike would probably agree that the main emphasis should be placed on the effort a child makes. Reports consisting largely of unexplained grades or conventional phrases can be uninformative if not positively misleading, and some schools have dropped them. Yet, according to one survey, reports remain the single most common form of contact between primary schools and homes.

Parents often have difficulty in getting oral comment in perspective and like to have something in writing. Some schools and some local education authorities are therefore experimenting with new types of reports. Often they provide a space for parents' comment. They tend to encourage a rounded statement on personal development rather than a series of assessments. Some schools are so anxious to avoid stereotyped reports that they prefer to send personal letters to parents, spacing them through the year so that the load on teachers is not too heavy. Two examples follow:


[page 15]

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. .......................

David has many interesting ideas and can discuss them most enthusiastically. He is slow in working out his ideas and needs occasional reminders that his work needs finishing. He is an intelligent boy, capable of producing first class work but he lacks enthusiasm for any kind of written expression.

He shows much ability in mathematics and apparently enjoys his number work. I hope eventually to bring about a general improvement in all his studies, perhaps through encouraging his interest in mathematics.

David is kind, courteous and well mannered. I am pleased to have him in my class.

Yours sincerely,        

......................."

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. .......................

Early progress was rapid and Stephen created a very good impression. However this energetic effort began to wane until, by mid-term, Stephen was struggling. Recently his effort has increased again and at a pace which he should be able to maintain. I hope you will encourage him.

The way he presents his work is beginning to improve. He appears to be more mature in his attitude. His obvious flair for art and design shows itself in various ways. Consequently it is not surprising that he has had a considerable part to play in the recent Christmas activities. He enjoys mathematics but he is especially fond of gymnastics which absorbs much of his unquenchable effervescence - fortunately!

Yours sincerely,        

......................."

Other head teachers guard against misunderstanding by providing for discussion at a parents' evening before the written report is received. The following account comes from the headmaster of a junior and infants school:

"Through experience it was found that to report on progress to parents at the end of each year was inadequate. Many of the staff and parents felt

[page 16]

that if the help of the home was to be enlisted, information should be passed to parents early in the school year. This gave rise to half-yearly open evenings when discussions take place on the nature of the child's response at school.

On the first occasion in mid-February the parents are not provided with a written report but a verbal assessment is made through the work of the children. High attendance by parents is a clear indication of the interest they show in the education of their children.

The final open day takes place in July of each year when all the work done by the children during the year is placed on individual desks for the parents' perusal. Main hall and corridors illustrate the work of the school as a whole. Classrooms reflect class, individual or small group studies, while each desk holds the personal work of individual children. .... Parents are provided with a full, frank statement on the child's responses and achievement, and this forms a basis for discussion between parents and teachers. The progress record issued for the children gives a full written statement but no marks or assessment. After discussing these reports with the teacher, the parents may take them home, study them at length for a number of days after which they are returned to the school file. These cumulative records are used as a basis for discussion between parent, class teacher and head teacher when at the end of a primary course, selection of a suitable secondary course is made. It is on these reports that the head compiles a record which goes forward to the secondary schools. At the end of the primary stage parents are given the reports, one for each year of a child's stay at the school, for final keeping. On the open day, parents are also given a guide sheet advising them how to interpret reports. For these unable to come on an appointed day, other arrangements are made but whenever they come, discussion takes place because there may be points which need enlarging or clarifying.

However full a school record may be it will remain incomplete until the home provides information on the out-of-school activities and the interests of the children. To provide for this, parents have been invited during the past two years to report back to the school. This is done by the completion of a questionnaire by parents relating to the interests, ambitions, self-motivated studies etc. of their children in their out-of-school hours. The results to date have been rewarding and no parent has failed to return the form sent home. The headings for this questionnaire are:

1. Activities out of school (membership of any organisation, such as cubs, guides, church groups where attendance is regular).

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2. Special interests after school where continued and genuine efforts are revealed, for example, hobbies, personal collections, music, dancing etc.

3. Membership of local libraries - does he or she enjoy reading? What kinds of books does he/she read in leisure hours?

4. Has he/she any unusual achievements which you feel we should know about?

5. Does he/she show any inclination to apply himself to some self-planned study at home?

6. Do you wish your child to have a long course at the secondary stage? What are your wishes in this respect?

7. Any other information which you think would help us to present the fullest picture of your child."

The school is now considering whether to incorporate the parents' reports in the school record. This arrangement is particularly interesting for the interplay between oral discussion and written record, and for the use made of information contributed by parents.

Informal visits

Visits to classrooms to see children working in normal conditions, little known a few years ago, are becoming more common. They are usually by invitation to avoid overcrowding and strain for teachers and children. The following description comes from an infant school:

"In the course of their first term at school and in the autumn term of the following two years, the head invites parents to come to see them working and to meet their class teachers. From remarks the parents pass, we gather there is some pressure exerted by children to get parents to come. Parents who cannot make the visit on the day we specify and who are not well known to class teachers are offered alternative dates or the parents are asked to suggest a time when they can come. Parents who themselves initiate a visit to their child's class teacher at times other than these three occasions are always welcome."
Other schools organise open weeks or fortnights and space the parents out so that each can come for a morning and an afternoon and yet there will never be more than a small group present in any class. A recently built open plan school, working with up-to-date methods, finds it helpful to have several parents at the same time. They can discuss amongst themselves and at the end of the day will go through with the teacher in charge of the class all they have seen and heard. At this school parents, who come for the whole day or as much of it


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as they can manage, stay for the meal. It is quite usual for parents who visit classrooms during working sessions to join in the children's activities and help the class teacher.

Other schools which are less confident about having parents in the classroom invite them to have dinner with their children. Many more ask parents to join in their morning assembly on special occasions, on one day a week or when their own children are taking the service. In voluntary schools parents are often invited to attend religious services in church or school with their children. These occasions help parents to enter into the life of the school and sometimes they stay afterwards to help in various ways. The following account shows how relationships of this kind can develop.

"We have had formal contact with parents at school meals for some time now. It started because of a remark made by a parent who offered to help during the lunch hour when both the infant teacher and the supervisory assistant were away ill last year. This parent brought her son aged 4½ with her. She also has three girls at school. She was surprised at the content and variety of our menus and full of appreciation. Since then I have invited all parents to have a school meal with us, starting with the parents of the infants first. one at a time, as we have no room for more than one guest. If there is a younger child at home, the parent brings him or her along too. Parent and child then stay as long as they wish. The younger child is usually taken care of by the other children and sometimes stays for the rest of the afternoon. The parent meanwhile has a chat with us."
Another headmaster writes:
"When this school opened in 1954 the total school population was from an entirely new housing estate built around the school. I invited parents to the first Wednesday morning assembly. I spoke to them about the school for about half-an-hour and then they were free to go to the classrooms. From that first assembly to the present time a large number of parents come to the school on Wednesday morning at nine o'clock and share in the service; I speak to them for a few minutes. Then they may stay to talk to the class teachers up till playtime. Parents regard the school as belonging to them and I believe that it is the school and the children that have knit the community together. Parents continue to attend assembly with the same enthusiasm as they did thirteen years ago."
Open days and other occasions

Once the open day was an all-purpose occasion. Now the term covers a multiplicity of events several of which have been described. Open days may


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be occasions when parents have private interviews, or mothers watch their children working. Some schools, which provide many opportunities for parents to visit informally, think that there is now less point in the conventional open day when all the children's work is displayed. Yet there is something to be said for the special occasion, continuing in the evening, when grandparents and friends can come as well as parents, and there is an opportunity to see the work of the whole school. Most teachers appreciate how important it is for all children to be able to point out their own work - and for parents to see it. They therefore take care that every child has some share in any display. In addition it is usual for all the recent work of each child to be available for parents to look at. Often some time is allowed for discussion with teachers, but there is rarely time for teachers to talk with parents at any length and it is not easy when there is a crowd in the classroom. One advantage of the open day is that some parents come more readily to the school when they can be lost in the crowd. When one teacher has once made contact with them, however, they are more likely to respond to a personal invitation later. For this reason many schools hold an open day fairly early in the school year, as well as towards its close. Others invite parents by classes or age groups so that not too many are in the school at any one time and it is easier for those who wish to talk with the head to do so. Even when this arrangement is made, displays can include the work of the whole school so that parents can get some idea of its range.

Visits to homes

Many teachers visit homes occasionally; they may go when children are ill or to see the new baby; they may take children home when for some reason they are kept late at school. Others are ingenious in making opportunities to see fathers who do not turn up at the school. They may go "to collect pigeons for a school talk, to see a collection of toy soldiers or to ask help for making things at the school." One teacher of a slow learning class obtains help from local firms to take her pupils away for a week's holiday, and visits all the homes to check that children have the clothes that they will need.

Many teachers, while anxious to see all parents either at home or at school, are afraid that if they visit at home only those who do not come to the school, or whose children are in trouble, neighbours will gossip, parents will resent the visit and no good will come of it. Some adopt the device of combining a visit to a "difficult" home with one to another home nearby where parents are well known to the school. Others interpret broadly the category of parents who "rarely visit the school". One such school is organising home visits systematically:

"Since 1st April 1964 we have had a member of staff holding a graded post for children's welfare. She is responsible for seeing the sick children

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in school, seeing that children catch their buses in the evening and for doing what she can to strengthen home and school ties. In particular she is asked to try to contact parents who rarely come to school. In the first term of the school year she visits parents of children in her own class, those who do not come to the open day that term, parents of children who have not settled well at school and any others referred to her by the rest of the staff. Arrangements are made so that she is free from her class one half day each week to visit parents in their homes. Appointment slips are sent to seven or eight families asking if it will be convenient to visit them on a particular date. Parents are good about letting the teacher know if they will not be at home. Usually four or five families are ready to receive her. In the course of the year this teacher visits approximately 100 families. We are convinced that the work she is doing is of considerable help in building up strong parent teacher relations. In fact all members of my staff at the beginning of this term asked if they might visit the homes of the children in their classes. Unfortunately owing to staff shortages I have been unable to go any further than obtaining the permission from the chairman of the managers."
In this school as in many others shortage of staff and pressure on teachers' time are preventing an expansion of home visiting. Some teachers see other obstacles. Occasionally parents or children might find it embarrassing to receive teachers into their homes. Interviews would often have to take place in the presence of the whole family. There is as yet insufficient evidence as to whether teachers should visit homes regularly or whether when a home visit is necessary it should be made by a social worker. Some local authorities are arranging for education welfare officers to visit all homes where there is no contact with the school.




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4 Work in the school


Changes in the approach to learning in the primary school, and the introduction of new subjects, have awakened a desire in some parents to find out more about what goes on in the classroom and how children learn. For this reason and because of the evidence that children can be helped by their parents in the basic processes of learning, many schools adopt a policy of informing parents about the curriculum. At the outset, the most usual method was by talks given to parents by teachers or outside speakers. Emphasis is now moving more to discussion. The Plowden report has sparked off many such meetings. Some heads use them to explain changes of organisation such as the introduction of vertical grouping, or of new teaching media such as the Initial Teaching Alphabet. Some schools have found it useful to make films of children working:

"The parents have, during the last year, been invited to see their children learning to read in a 40-minute film we have called Readiness, and three films on Firm foundations for mathematics, where children are using materials to give them concrete experience. Judging by their conversation afterwards, parents have grasped that their children's play is 'play with a purpose' and that it is essential in the building of firm foundations for mathematics. A film Learning Through Interest and Experience was planned to show the parents that the environment and daily happenings arising from it must be used to provide the natural and purposeful learning situation."
Some schools find that even films and slides do not bring parents close enough to children's learning. Visits to classrooms to see children working, as described in the previous chapter, can be of great help. So, in some fields such as physical education, are demonstrations. Many schools also give parents an opportunity to try out for themselves the materials children use. The field in which this direct participation has been most common and most successful is mathematics. A school in an area where many parents are connected with engineering firms and there is a great interest in education generally, and particularly in mathematics, is not untypical. Some of the fathers showed concern about the way in which mathematics was being introduced at the infant stage. The headmistress explained at a meeting what the teachers were trying to do, and organised two working sessions for the parents at which the


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teachers were present. Comments at the end included "We did not know that children were doing such difficult work. We sometimes found it hard."

Similarly schools taking part in the Nuffield or Schools Council projects in mathematics, science or French have found the work of especial interest to parents. In some schools they have been invited to carry out the children's assignments in mathematics. In others they have been given an opportunity to try out new children's musical instruments. Displays of the materials used for French have been organised with teachers available to answer questions.

In the past teachers have often been doubtful about parents helping children with their work at home, fearing that the children would be pressed too hard, or would be muddled by different methods. Children, do however often turn to their parents for help. One parent commented: "Sylvia couldn't do a pounds, shilling and pence sum which they gave her at school. She couldn't divide it properly; and I couldn't work out how she is supposed to do it. There should be more co-ordination between parents and teachers." Now many schools are now taking a more positive line about the help which parents can give and the advice in one school brochure is representative of this trend:

"We often get asked 'May my children do homework?' Children in primary schools are not set homework by teachers as a formal part of their education. If your child wants to do school work at home, by all means encourage him to do so. Occasionally he will ask his teacher if he can finish a story, plan a folder of work or work some mathematics at home, and he will be allowed to do so. You can help your child by encouraging him to read widely and to explore his local environment and by taking him on interesting journeys. This will help him more than formal homework."
Many schools encourage children to take storybooks home as soon as they show an interest in them, and ask parents to read the stories to them. Other schools have a more elaborate procedure. A large primary school, where parents are sometimes invited by their children to "come and see what we are doing" arranged meetings on language development and its relation to reading and writing. The headmaster illustrated his talk from the work of the school and parents were interested to realise, some perhaps for the first time, what an important part they could play. Two evenings, both including discussion, were followed by a long week-end study of children's literature. Friday night began with an introduction to a large exhibition of some 600 books of good quality, provided and displayed by the county library. On Saturday, parents came, some alone, some with their children of all ages, to browse and to list books to be


[page 23]

asked for at the local library or for Christmas presents, and were invited to visit the exhibition in their own time until mid-week. A hundred and forty parents attended the Friday session and many others visited afterwards.

To help parents choose suitable books for their children some schools display a good selection on open days and especially about Christmas time when presents are being chosen. One school sold 60 worth of paper-backs in an evening. Some schools maintain permanent bookstalls. In one such school, a well-chosen stock of inexpensive books is kept on a trolley in the hall, and both parents and children can buy books. The headmistress and staff make sure that a child who can never buy a book is given one periodically. Parents of sick children are particularly grateful for the opportunity to buy suitable books in an area where it would otherwise be difficult.

Some schools are also doing much to inform parents about the way children grow, which is the basis of the curriculum. One school has recorded talks on child development on tapes, which parents may borrow and listen to quietly at home. An infant head, formerly a college of education lecturer, runs evening courses in child psychology for parents, and is now beginning an afternoon course. These lectures and some similar series initiated by parent-teacher associations, are given under the auspices of evening institutes. In one such case, where the head of the primary school is also chairman of the parent-teacher association and in charge of the evening institute, there have been several courses for parents; there are also examples of primary school teachers, responsible for adult recreative classes in such subjects as art and craft, taking the opportunity to familiarise parents with children's work and to compare it with their own.

Normally, those responsible for adult education try to avoid using primary school buildings. There may be no suitable furniture and children's day-time work may be disturbed. In the instances quoted, however, the classes took place in primary schools and there were clear advantages in this. Children's work displayed in the school was a starting point for discussion. It can be almost as helpful in courses on child development, as in the more obvious case when a junior school which is a centre for the Nuffield mathematics project is used for a parents' course on primary mathematics.

The various bodies which provide adult education are also increasingly taking the initiative in helping adults to a better understanding of children's development and education. They have been stimulated by the general interest in children and their education, by the pre-school playgroup movement, and by the publication of the Plowden report. University extra-mural departments,


[page 24]

the Workers' Education Association, and colleges and institutes of further education have all provided courses at many levels on child development and psychology, on the child and his family, and on child care, while some local education authorities have organised courses on the primary school and its curriculum.

The steady flow of television and radio programmes on children and their education is both cause and effect of the general interest. Some programmes are intended to help parents to understand children's development at home and at school: some are directed at parents as well as at children: a group of radio programmes aimed at the married women who may return to teaching is heard by a large number of women with small children at school: some parents listen to programmes for teachers. There is also a large audience of eavesdroppers for all the schools' programmes. By these means a great many parents find out the kind of thing which children are being taught at the present time.

In a number of areas, courses in colleges and institutes have been based on the viewing and discussion of adult education programmes on television. In several of them the further education officers of the education authority and of the BBC have worked together to organise viewing groups, some meeting independently, some in institutes or colleges, to follow such series as Growth and Play, The Springs of Learning and Your Child at School. In some groups most of the members have been teachers; others have been much more successful in attracting parents, often by making contact with local parent-teacher associations. A talk to a parent-teacher association meeting can provide an excellent trailer for a course.

Such developments in parent education call for collaboration between those who are knowledgeable about children and primary school, and those responsible for adult classes: some local education authorities have encouraged their advisers in further education and in primary education to work as a team in this context.




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5 Helping the school


Help given by parents falls roughly into four categories: practical help in the construction of buildings, apparatus and equipment, ranging from covering books to the making of swimming pools; fund raising in order to provide equipment and additional facilities; assisting teachers in various ways within the school, on visits to places of interest, on school journeys, at the swimming pool or on the games field; and organising or helping with out of school clubs.

Some of these are old established. For many years, mothers have made and washed sports gear and individual towels - and not only for their own children - and have made costumes for school plays, while fathers have mended toys. Mothers have also helped in the preparations for Christmas parties and for outings. School funds, whether derived from jumble sales or from more ambitious projects, have been commonplace. The advance from class teaching to individual learning in many primary schools in the postwar period was in part made possible because parents and teachers supplemented the resources provided by local education authorities for the purchase of books and equipment. Some educationists have expressed anxiety about the effect on schools in areas which tend to fall behind as a result; others, while agreeing that special help may be needed for schools in educational priority areas, believe that parents who contribute to a school's equipment are also likely to identify themselves with its work. It is widely accepted that when parents contribute their labour, when parents and teachers work together, improved understanding between home and school follows.

In the past few years, the scale of parents' help in money and labour has risen sharply and the range of help has widened. It has become increasingly common for parents to help teachers with out of school activities. Most recently of all in some schools parents' help is now welcomed in the classroom. Some heads, it is true, are anxious about these developments; they anticipate difficulty in selecting parents to help, or fear that parents may encroach on matters of professional skill. Ways have nevertheless been found in which all parents who wish to help can do so. A mother, even one who is highly skilled in art or needlework, may want to give children more direction than teachers think is good for them; but teachers have found that such a situation provides an excellent starting point for a discussion of modern primary school methods.


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In schools which invite parents help these difficulties do not seem to arise very often, and teachers find an extra pair of hands, an additional adult who will talk to - and listen to - the children, a great help. Parents appreciate an opportunity to work with teachers, understand more clearly the purpose of what is being done and sympathise with the difficulties which are being experienced. One school, which is unusual in drawing most of its children from an RAF station, typifies the response of many parents to a request for help.

"Circulars have been sent out asking for parents to give voluntary assistance according to their interest. Already 22 parents are helping with swimming, library, an ex-bank manager collecting dinner money and running the school's saving bank, sports activities, school journeys. The school built its own swimming pool with the co-operation of the RAF, the parents and the staff. The main plans were drawn up by a lieutenant-commander, United States Navy, the works manager was a corporal in the M.T. section and his labourers included a wing-commander, several flight lieutenants, sergeants and other ranks."
The construction of a swimming pool has often been one of the major projects undertaken. One school gives an account of a three-year project. The committee of the parent-teacher association undertook to raise funds and parents were also asked for personal donations. A grant of 800 was received from the local education authority and in just over two years 4,500 was raised. Hundreds of hours of labour were given voluntarily by teachers, mothers and fathers for digging, painting, assembling, concreting and joinery. Two enclosed pools, heated, filtered and with changing accommodation, were constructed, the smaller one for the infants. Lighting and air-heating are soon to be added. Every class receives swimming lessons; children who have recently left the school are allocated two periods a week, and the pool is open throughout the holidays under the supervision of parents. Fathers take over the maintenance of the pool during holiday periods. An evening course for parents, who could not swim, has been taken by a local policeman. Mothers also come during school time, on a rota, to help to dry and dress the infants after swimming lessons.

There are instances of the provision of school halls, craft rooms, libraries, adventure playgrounds and parents' rooms. Often the professional skill of parents who are architects or surveyors is put to good use and the labour is shared by all. Parents' rooms are occasionally committee or discussion rooms; more often they are workshops where parents can make and repair equipment.


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One by-product of this activity is that at least one school is finding that as parents become increasingly integrated with the life of the school, a room at one time designated for parents' use is no longer needed as such, since they may be found working and talking anywhere.

In addition to major building work, many schools have been given television sets, projectors, physical education equipment, seats for the playground and carpets and comfortable chairs for library corners, kilns and musical instruments. The provision of a mini-bus for excursions is rather less common. Last but not least there are books. The rapid growth in the number of books of good quality in primary schools is due in part to increased capitation allowances, but in part also - at any rate at some schools - to the initiative of parents and teachers.

One of the great advantages of material help, whether large or small is that it brings fathers into the schools. The parental attitudes survey, carried out for the Central Advisory Council in 1964, showed that nearly half the fathers in the survey who were manual workers had not visited their children's schools, and only 30 per cent of the fathers from all occupations had talked to the head. Yet, as children grow older, they are likely to be heavily influenced by their fathers' attitudes to their schooling. Fathers who might otherwise feel ill at ease will often accept an invitation to help with work in which they are competent, and which will benefit their own children. A headmaster in a mining area visited the pit and tried to find out the talents of the fathers who worked there. Digging a pond appealed to some, and others responded to an invitation to build an adventure playground. Tuesday evenings are now regularly set aside for fathers to help. In addition to these two projects already mentioned, changing rooms have been built and library shelves and display boards installed. In another school the teacher made a point of asking fathers who had never before visited the school to roof an animal house made by a group of slow-learning children. Several fathers came and did the job. Talk over a bottle of beer broke down the barrier between them and the school, and these formerly difficult families are now friendly. In a school where parents were notably anxious about their children's formal attainments, they were invited to help in widening the traditional primary school curriculum through the provision of closed circuit television; they and other members of the community are now involved in the production of programmes. A father who is a commercial artist is preparing illustrations for a session on heraldry, and the local children's librarian has reviewed and discussed books with two nine-year-olds in the headmaster's fortnightly television magazine programme. The medium has also enabled parents to see children learning and has thrown light on certain aspects of the curriculum.


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Sometimes parents who have worked on the construction of a swimming pool or have improved facilities for sports then offer to help with coaching and supervision. Other examples of help given are accompanying children on outside visits, helping with school camps, providing transport, acting as stewards, linesmen and stage hands. One headmaster says that without the participation of parents he could not send children on outside activities as frequently as he does. Another explains that "a visit to the market would be impossible for a teacher with a class of 40. But when you can rely on ten or twelve mothers, everything becomes easier. The teacher is free to assist with any group. Mothers enjoy the educational visits and say they get a lot from them."

Parental involvement in school often grows gradually over a period of time.

"It began with swimming on Saturday mornings when a number of interested parents volunteered not only to transport children to the baths in their own cars but also to help with instruction. A rota of qualified or good swimmers was organised and this enabled the children to be taught in small groups and relieved pressure on the staff. This led a number of parents to attend classes in the teaching of swimming and qualified parents now assist the staff in swimming instruction during school hours. One parent has a most interesting pond in an extensive, wild garden adjoining the school grounds. Her help in supervising children carrying out environmental studies has been most valuable. Pottery has been developed in the school because a parent lent us a kiln and has supported us with her own keenness and knowledge. Perhaps the most outstanding example of parents assisting in the work of the school and so enabling us to extend our activities was in connection with an archaeological dig in the village. Builders came across Roman-British remains when excavating foundations and it was decided to attempt a properly planned dig as a centre of interest. An ex-parent who is a keen archaeologist assisted with this and a number of interested parents helped in providing transport to and from the school, and in supervising small groups of children. We were fortunate in discovering a complete burial with a fine set of unbroken pots on the site of a small settlement. This aroused great interest in the locality; was featured in the local press and BBC television. The value of our find proved almost embarrassing and we had to seek advice from other archaeologists including the curator of the county museum who gave talks to both parents and children."
The following example shows a similar scale of help being given by parents in an infant school:


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"Eighteen parents have volunteered to come in and help the teachers with baking sessions (six children at a time). A stockroom has been fitted as a kitchen and as this is separate from the classroom, good co-operation between class, teacher and parent is essential. Twelve other parents have volunteered for a rota of duties other than baking, for example, covering books, making apparatus, etc. Fathers help with building large equipment. A father who is a policeman comes in to talk about road safety. Parents also help to escort children on school journeys. They are given a schedule of the visit, asked to come into school to see the pre-visit work and to do some enquiry for themselves. They are shown how to help children during the visit and finally asked to come back into school on the following day and help children to write it out."
Another example of parents helping with the supervision of children comes from an infant school:
"In September 1964 the head got permission from the managers and from the borough education officer to invite parents into school to help in a voluntary capacity. Never more than one or two were engaged at once through the past three years. This year, in response to an open letter asking for voluntary helpers to supervise groups of children working in a spare classroom, twelve mothers offered their services. They came to meet the head to discuss what they will be invited to do. All the activities the children would have to choose from were discussed and the head tried to explain the educational value of each, where the mothers would need to offer help and where they should refrain. Activities where we wish the children to have complete freedom are dressing up, painting, building with bricks and experimenting with musical instruments. An occasional comment from the mothers is appreciated but no direction. More help is needed with knitting, sewing, weaving, cut paper and collage work. It was arranged that mothers should come in two's and on a rota to work in the spare classroom. Two mothers bring their three-year old children. So far the experiment is working well. We have the spare classroom in full use four days each week. This is very popular with the children and the mothers are enjoying themselves. Two mothers are now studying to take GCE subjects and hope one day to do a teacher training course."
It is less common to find junior schools where regular weekly help in the classroom is given by mothers, though some examples have already been quoted. In several schools mothers give systematic help in the library, both in classifying and cataloguing books and in advising children about choice of books. One unusual instance of parents' help with environmental studies has


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been mentioned, but less dramatic examples are frequent. Farmers and farm labourers send examples of horse harness, farm measures and different kinds of wool to school, and come to talk about them to the children. Collections of Victoriana are made and parents who have contributed explain their exhibits. A survey is made of local occupations. Children prepare a questionnaire which is answered by their fathers and some then also come to the school to answer supplementary questions. Occasionally a father who has an interesting job in an interesting place is able to invite children to his place of work. In this way one class visited a police station. There was a competing highlight when a fireman father arranged for the brigade to visit the school to put out an imaginary fire.

An instance of all round help to an environmental study comes from a three-teacher village school in Wales, where the juniors are allowed to use a youth club hut close to a beach four miles from the school. From the hut, they go out to work on the shore, in the fields and by the hedges. For a fortnight in the summer, parents transport children to and from the school to the hut. Equipment required for the scheme is carried in a parent's lorry and the hut is converted into an outdoor classroom, dining room and display centre. On the last day of the fortnight, the infants join the rest of the school on the beach. Many parents come as well. Finally, a special parents' evening is held for them to see the results of the field study fortnight, and the whole operation gives them an appreciation of what the school is trying to do for its pupils.





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6 Some special cases


In this chapter attention is concentrated on schools which have other special problems arising from the nature of their pupils or of the neighbourhood.

Special schools

For parents of children in special schools, frequent informal opportunities for private conversations with heads and teachers matter most. But day schools often have large catchment areas, and many handicapped children are in boarding schools. The head of one such school for educationally sub-normal boys arranges for most pupils to go home at the week-ends. He and his staff make themselves available to parents on Friday afternoons and evenings, and on Sunday evenings. Another head invites parents to stay in a flat at the school. Another similar school has formed an association of Friends of the School, consisting of parents, teachers and friends. Since many of the parents are themselves slow, it is useful to widen the range of the association so that more help is available. Members take parents to functions at the school by car and some meetings are arranged in a centrally placed town, convenient for many of the parents. Special efforts also have to be made to keep correspondence going between children and their parents. Heads help to overcome this problem by recruiting voluntary helpers who write for the parents, or by providing stamped postcards and envelopes.

Problems for day schools with large catchment areas are little less acute. Some authorities meet the cost of home visiting. One special school head bought himself a motor scooter to make frequent visits possible. Common problems and some ways of solving them are described by the headmaster of a day special school for educationally sub-normal children:

"My difficulty lies in the large catchment area from which the children of the school are drawn and the long journey necessary by public transport to reach the school. From the day a child is admitted each parent is aware that he or she is able to visit at any time without appointment. This informality relaxes tensions and encourages parents to talk freely on problems connected with the home and child. Many of the parents are themselves of low intelligence and with memories of their own school days may regard the school, and particularly the headmaster's room, with a certain awe and uncertainty. During the eight years this system has operated, I estimate that visits from parents take-up two hours of my time each week. I usually find time and effort in our work with the child can be saved as a result of the contact.

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For geographical reasons many of the parents are unable to visit the school. To meet this situation I have visited homes for a number of years. Once the child has been given a place, I visit and tell the parents about the educational programmes and other facilities the school has to offer. An invitation to visit the school is extended and I suggest that parents may wish to bring the child with them.

Once the child has been admitted to the school the usual visiting scheme comes into operation. This involves going to the home of each child about once a year. In the case of children from problem or disorganised homes I visit more frequently. These visits usually take place during the evening or during the school holidays. I estimate my visiting commitments take up about two evenings each week and about two or three weeks of my holiday. This is for a school with a roll of 240 children. I also visit parents of the older children in connection with employment. When visiting I discuss the child's progress and programme, his problems and all aspects of his life in school ... the parents are given the opportunity to help by discussing the opportunities and stimulation they can provide within the home.

Many of the children come from homes where parents have difficulty with organisation or the handling of home finance. There are homes where problems are caused by unemployment or by both parents going out to work. I am frequently asked for help and advice over the provision of clothes, the completion of forms or advice on which authority to contact with regard to a particular difficulty. ... The evening home visit enables me to see the family as a unit in their own particular environment and to meet and talk with the father. Parents are much more confident and confiding in their own homes than in my office. ... We tend to assume that a child has certain experiences or knows certain basic facts. Home visiting has taught me that these may be dangerous assumptions."

Areas of social handicap

Special schools have relatively generous staffing and may be favoured in their contact with trained social workers. Their advantages highlight the problems of schools in areas of social handicap. When parents come to the school, it is more often to seek help on a social problem than to discuss education. When they do concern themselves with educational matters they are often anxious for children to make progress with reading, irrespective of whether they are ready for it. The usual channels of home and school co-operation often fail in these circumstances.


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Much time is bound to go in arranging for free meals or clothing for children. This may be the official business of the education welfare officer or the care committee worker, but the parent in distress thinks only "l'll go up and see her" - the headmistress. Much time may be spent in listening to "heartbreaking cases which completely defeat one". Yet for a parent to have someone to talk to may prevent breakdown. Sometimes it is possible to do more than listen. A child suffering from neglect because her father is alcoholic and her mother has a mental age of twelve and is bowed down by her difficulties, may become able to learn because the mother gets a fresh lease of life from a holiday arranged by a welfare organisation. Though heads of such schools certainly need easier access to the social services than they sometimes have at present, they find that they can hardly stop being, in some degree, social workers.

Circulars make little impact. Several heads have found that it is better to send short personal letters through the post, each dealing with one or two points of importance at that moment. Examples have been given in earlier chapters of parents' response to a direct request for some quite concrete assistance for a child or school. Though some schools in areas of social handicap end by setting up regular working parties of mothers and fathers, these have usually begun in a small way with an appeal for help with a particular job. Another head who is worried by parents' anxiety about reading, and arithmetic, invites three or four parents at a time to talk things over with her and then feels happier for children's books to go home.

A high proportion of immigrants

Teachers in schools with a high population of immigrants have added problems. Mothers may well be unable to speak English or often they are withdrawn and shy because of the tradition of their people which leave most dealings with outsiders to their husbands. They in turn may work long hours and have difficulty in coming to the school. There are also cultural barriers; most Asiatics are out of sympathy with co-education; West Indians often believe that "you have to put fear into a child to get him to learn." Europeans, Asiatics and West Indians, even when they rate educational opportunities in this country as higher than in their homeland, are doubtful about English educational methods. A typical viewpoint is: "At home, the teachers push the children into working; they force them to learn. Here, they're feeble. Every minute, every second, the children are playing."

English teachers, for their part, often need more information about the background and conventions of immigrants. Many local authorities have appreciated the severity of these problems. They have appointed additional ancillary workers for the schools, many of them trained nursery nurses. Some have strengthened


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the education welfare service by nominating one officer to concentrate on immigrants, or by appointing officers who are themselves immigrants and speak some of the more common languages. Such welfare officers are responsible for preliminary interviews, for arranging medical examinations and for placing children in schools. They also give advice to their colleagues in the education welfare service on matters concerning immigrants. Some authorities have also appointed an immigrant liaison officer whose duties are to visit homes, to be in touch with the leaders of the immigrant community and to link immigrants with the schools and with local education authority. Some of the many immigrant teachers who have been appointed spend part of their time visiting homes.

Some home visiting has also been carried out by English teachers and by voluntary workers. In one or two areas an interpreter is made available by a voluntary organisation. With or without this help many schools are making efforts to get in touch with immigrant parents. Invitations to open days and other activities are translated into a variety of languages. One head encouraged the use of her school for religious meetings and has since been invited to talk about her school to parents present. Others have spoken at English classes held for Indian and Pakistani mothers. Some heads have found that women are more ready to attend language classes if they are held in the primary schools. At one school where a teacher began a conversation class for Indian mothers, the outcome was that the teachers received many invitations to Indian homes and in return have welcomed Indian parents into their own homes. Teachers have also been able to help immigrant women with such practical problems as how to use an electric iron, how to curtain their windows and how to knit. The headmistress has developed a close link with the Council for Community Relations in the area and has given talks to groups at local churches about relationships with immigrants.

In another district the infant and junior school heads have worked together. They try to get in touch with all immigrant parents before their children reach school age, even those whose children, because of the local education authority dispersal policy, will eventually attend other schools. Invitations to meetings, written in Punjabi by one of the staff who is himself a Sikh, were followed by visits to each home made by two of the staff. This individual visiting gave a personal touch to which the Indian families responded. Thirty out of forty mothers came to the meeting, some bringing their young children. The headmistress of the junior school greeted everyone in English and then had a longer speech translated into Punjabi. Parents were invited to attend language classes taken by one of the staff in the primary school. Emphasis was laid on the importance of the education of girls and instances were given of


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Indian boys and girls who had been especially successful. A display of dancing was given and parents were told why children change their clothes. Afterwards they were invited to stay and talk to the staff and were helped by interpreters if necessary.

Through making contact with immigrant homes, many English teachers have become more knowledgeable about the background of their pupils. In some areas, immigrants have spoken about their country and its customs to groups of teachers. The publications of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants are also helping teachers to inform themselves.

Rural schools

Many think of country schools as being particularly favoured in home and school relationships. In some compact villages with a stable population, a conveniently placed school, and a welcoming head, this is indeed the case. A head in such a school writes:

"Few families move in or out of the area, and nearly all have contacts through relatives. People new to the district always visit me at my house and are shown round the school before their children start at it, or I attend the village function and we become acquainted in this way."
Another head writes:
"This is a small village school, where both teachers have been for twenty years. Consequently the teachers have taught many of the parents. The whole attitude is informal and many old girls bring their new babies to show the teachers. Living on the spot, the head teacher is often contacted out of school hours and meets many parents at village affairs. The managers and local farmers are most co-operative. Most are parents or grandparents of children at the school."
In such villages as these the head works closely with the health visitor and the local doctor who are also often school nurse and school doctor. The head teacher or the infant teacher is usually "at the gate" at the end of afternoon school. Young children come along to school functions with older brothers and sisters and may be enrolled as soon as they are three. The school is often close to the post office and the shops, and parents can easily call. Many country schools are church schools where it is traditional to invite parents to services at the church's chief festivals as well as to other activities.

Many country schools are feeling the need for devices common in larger schools. "No official parent-teacher association exists but there may be a good


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case for one as our numbers grow and contact is less easy to establish informally" writes one headmaster, and there are others who echo him or have already established an association. Sometimes associations and their activities are open to the whole village. It is still more common for schools to adopt a positive programme of inviting parents into the school, without having a formal association. In one large rural county, new heads are being encouraged to earmark two afternoons a week when they will see parents after school. Parents may make appointments for these times, and the heads invite those whom they rarely see. More thought is also being given to children's entry to school, a big step for those from remote areas who may have had few opportunities to play with other children. Parents are often encouraged to make a preliminary visit themselves to see the facilities and then to bring the children on two or three occasions, using the school bus if necessary. Individual interviews with parents about transfer to secondary education are also becoming common. They cannot be fruitful unless primary school heads also know the secondary schools. It is particularly important that country parents should understand about differences in primary and secondary schooling since transition from a small village school to a secondary school often imposes a heavy strain on children.

In the intimacy and informality of village schools parents often gain an insight into the curriculum simply from talking with the head while the school is in session before their eyes. There are many examples also of parents being invited into village schools to use new equipment, just as they are doing in urban schools. It is often a tradition that country parents contribute to harvest festivals, help in preparations for Christmas parties and join in organising school sports. With a small staff, there are often areas of the curriculum and of children's interests which cannot be fully covered, and voluntary help from parents can, through their own occupations or interest, help to fill the gaps.




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7 Parent teacher associations


Facts about parent teacher associations are few. Even their number is unknown since only a small proportion are affiliated to the NFPTA. Seventeen per cent of the sample of schools surveyed for the Plowden report had parent teacher associations, but a quarter of the parents who were interviewed said that there was an association at their children's schools. This suggests that they are most commonly found in the larger schools. Certainly their density varies from district to district; where there is one parent teacher association, there are often many.

There is no uniformity either in the constitution or the activities of associations which bring parents and teachers together. Some are designated "parents' associations"; some include past parents; most are for parents and teachers; some are open to all members of the community and virtually become community associations even though they may be known as a "Friends of the School Association". Some associations dispense with a subscription so that all parents automatically become members. Many associations have a formal constitution often following the model put out by the NFPTA; others have "a loose casual organisation" or no constitution at all. All types have been defended by heads on the grounds that they help to safeguard the professional freedom of the schools and allow for adaptation as the needs of school and community change. In many constitutions it is laid down that the head should be chairman of the parent teacher association committee; in others this responsibility is specifically reserved for a parent. Occasionally the terms of a constitution include a provision excluding affiliations to outside bodies.

The stock image of a parent teacher association is of a rather formal money raising concern, which must be watched lest it encroach on the educational responsibilities of the teaching staff. Some heads give this impression to parents who ask for an association - "the headteacher has no time for parent teacher associations, nothing but fund-raising activities and social functions, she says." Yet many parent teacher associations consciously avoid making fund raising their primary aim. Some even exclude it apart from one annual occasion which makes it unnecessary to levy a subscription.

An outstanding parent teacher association, established two years ago on an estate rehousing families from the inner ring of a northern city, makes its first


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objective to establish liaison between teacher and parent to their mutual benefit and the ultimate well-being of the children. Subordinate to that is the aim of providing such amenities for the school as are not normally supplied by the local education authority. An even more important objective in the eyes of the headmaster, though he keeps this to himself, is to have "children, parents and teachers joining together in a common activity which is associated with the school, however remotely". Recreational groups are provided in the evening and at the week-end for parents and children, the parents arranging swimming and keep fit classes for the children. There are no age limits to the community associated with the school. Adolescents use the playground for football on Sunday. In return they help in such tasks as putting up library shelves, and have kept the school and its playground under scrutiny, with the approval of the local constable. Old age pensioners are invited to some of the parent teacher association functions, and the old and the sick on the estate have been visited by parents and children. Special occasions such as the celebration of bonfire night on the school playing field have been attended by councillors and the divisional education officer with their families. Their presence was thought to be one of a number of things which improved the morale of the estate. Partly by contributing their labour, the parent-teacher association has provided the school with a library, an aviary and many other amenities. The head finds it increasingly easy to discuss educational ideas with the committee and with parents generally. Changes of policy in the school are now introduced with the understanding of parents. The success of the parent teacher association has brought enquiries from - and contacts with - other associations in the area and strengthened the sense of pride in "our schools" and "our estate". Even so there is a minority of parents who are rarely seen save when the head visits them in their homes.

Almost the same range of activities is to be found in another school which was opened at much the same time but in an area which though socially more diverse, is also lacking recreational amenities. In this school, parents are co-operating in educational experiment by building the mobile room dividers which are transforming classrooms into workshops, suited for individual and group activity. They are encouraged to spend time in the classrooms and to see the school in action. A number of mothers give regular part-time help which includes mounting displays, preparing materials for art, helping with needlework, joining in on class projects, hearing children read and reading to children in small groups. A small committee consisting of the head, his deputy and two members of the parent-teacher association talk over new ideas about school curriculum and organisation. They have recently discussed the value and organisation of school visits and school journeys. The head and the staff are in no way abdicating their responsibilities but believe that they, as well as


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the parents gain in insight from this collaboration. From their latest discussions, they have come to the conclusion that the parents should organise for the children trips of a mainly recreational character, while teachers should concentrate on visits related to school work, either in the immediate neighbourhood or in contrasting areas. This school too is growing into a community school with evening activities for parents and children, ranging from badminton and chess to French, taken by staff and parents under the general guidance of the deputy head.

What these schools are doing on a surprisingly comprehensive scale is being tried by many other schools on a smaller scale. One parent teacher association includes in its programme four rambles a year, usually attended by whole families. A collection is often made of something of interest for the school, such as fossils or insects and parents become interested as well as children. In another school parents who attend a dressmaking class have clubbed together to buy a sewing-machine for the school. In this way interests for parents bring direct as well as indirect gain for the school. Several parent teacher associations run playgroups and supervise swimming pools in the holidays. One infant school parent-teacher association has met weekly for the last eight years, one educational meeting a month, one evening working for the school and two socials. On the sewing evening, opportunity is made for parents and teachers to discuss individual children. At many associations, "Meet the Staff" evenings when parents have an appointment to discuss their children with class teachers, are the most popular activity.

Advantages and disadvantages

A parent-teacher association has certain advantages. Its very existence is a declaration of a partnership between teachers and parents and is heartening to many parents. It provides a formal machinery by which parents can be represented on managing and other bodies. Often the parents themselves take over the responsibility of involving new parents in the life of the school. It is not uncommon for stewards from the association to call at the homes of all newcomers to a school. In one instance parent and teacher call together. When parents' help is needed, to take part in a school visit or for other purposes, the association is able to provide it. The best parent teacher associations are undoubtedly most valuable institutions which foster relationships as good as may be found and are often the equivalent of a community association. Among the schools which were reported to the Central Advisory Council as having exceptionally good relationships with parents, a surprisingly large number had parent-teacher associations. Yet there are many other schools which welcome parental participation just as cordially and have no association.


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The parent teacher association may well attract the more confident parents and put off others. The parental attitudes survey conducted for the Central Advisory Council showed a marked connection between attendance at parent teacher association meetings or activities, and social class. Twenty-five per cent of professional parents, but only five per cent of unskilled workers had attended meetings. During the pilot enquiry "working class mothers who had been to parent-teacher association meetings said that they did not care for them as the more affluent and confident parents dominated the meetings and they themselves were not able to express their views". A number of schools have sought to combat this tendency: for example, at a large urban school the parent-teacher association includes all the families whose children are in the school, several families whose children have left, all the teachers and all the managers.






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8 The local education authorities


Most local education authorities regard it as an important duty to inform parents and the public about the local structure of the education service and to guide parents when crucial decisions have to be made for their children. Most of them for instance have long issued pamphlets explaining the nature of transfer from primary to secondary schools and the choices available to parents for their children. Rather few have yet drawn up comparable publications describing primary schools for issue to parents before or on the first admission of their children. Some primary schools fill the gap by preparing their own simple but informative leaflets or booklets for this purpose. Local education authorities which face new problems have often made them less serious and more manageable by explaining the situation to parents. For example, the methods adopted to deal with immigrants - and the reasons for them - have been described at parents meetings, and wide coverage given in local newspapers, and in this way parents have been helped to understand that decisions taken are for the benefit of local children as much as the immigrants. Many have taken similar steps to make known and to explain their plans for secondary re-organisation.

Following the success of the first education "shop", an enquiry stall run by the Advisory Centre for Education in a store at Ipswich, a neighbouring local education authority has experimented with similar enquiry centres operating once a week. Three centres have been opened. A notice in the local papers announced that an officer from the local education authority would be in attendance on a weekday evening at a room in the local branch county library, and that he would be willing to answer parents' questions about education or to provide them with written answers later. The opening of these enquiry bureaux was also announced to parents through children at school. Questions from parents came slowly at first, but have since increased considerably. As a result three more centres are to be opened. The local education authority are intending at the end of the year to compile and publish a book of parents' questions together with the answers provided.

The Central Advisory Council recommended that bodies of managers should include parents of children in the schools concerned, and some authorities make provision for this arrangement. There is in fact considerable diversity of


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practice concerning the constitution of managing bodies, and a research inquiry is at present being undertaken under the auspices of the University of London Institute of Education. It has been found that managers who gain real knowledge of a school give it friendly and frequent support and by this criterion, parents could be very useful members. The names of managers are sometimes made available and better known, possibly through school leaflets, newsletters or a list in the school foyer.

A few authorities are systematically bringing together managers, parents and teachers. One authority arranges tea parties for managers of a dozen or so schools at a centrally placed school where an exhibition of work in the schools concerned is on show. This is followed by a meeting of parents from the schools in the evening. Talks are given by the primary school advisers on the developments in primary education and the principles underlying the work exhibited. The chairman of the primary education sub-committee and the chief education officer take the opportunity of talking at any rate to the managers about the administrative aspects of the education service. Several authorities have encouraged or sponsored joint public meetings with voluntary associations such as those for the advancement of state education, and these are naturally attended by substantial numbers of parents. Others have organised meetings to discuss the Plowden report, many of which have placed particular emphasis on the relationship between home and school. In some districts area conferences on this topic have been held so that each primary school head could be included. Elsewhere questionnaires on parent-teacher relationships have been sent to the schools; the outcome has been analysed by working parties and local education authorities are now considering what advice they should give to the schools. In at least one authority, the views and practices of the schools are to be supplemented by a survey of parental opinion. Similarly in some districts, parents have been invited to some parts of the conferences for teachers on the Plowden report; in other places, meetings on the report were arranged specifically for parents. Conferences for parents, organised by local education authorities, are not however confined to such special occasions as the issue of the Plowden report but extend to broad aspects of educational practice. The main responsibility for explaining the curriculum to parents rests with the schools, but there are useful instances of local education authority advisers arranging meetings, on such topics as mathematics, for parents of children in a group of nearby schools. Parents have also been invited to teachers' centres and given an opportunity to use and discuss the primary school equipment and materials collected there. Early indications are that such schemes are proving helpful.

The policy of the majority of local education authorities is to foster and guide good relationships between home and school but to refrain from any direction.


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But several authorities are now becoming rather more detailed in their advice to schools. Bulletins describe new ventures in home and school relationships. One large local education authority is planning to issue its own pamphlet on home and school relations. Another local education authority, as early as the 1950s, prepared through the advice of its teachers' consultative committee a draft constitution for schools wishing to form parent-teacher associations. Yet another has set up a central committee to provide for collaboration between those schools which have home and school associations. Freedom is left to the heads to decide whether they prefer the structure of a parent-teacher association or a more informal approach.

Some local education authorities make an annual entertainment allowance which makes it easy for teachers to provide modest refreshments for parents. Travelling allowances enable teachers in special schools to visit homes which are often widely dispersed. Graded posts may be assigned to teachers with responsibility for home and school relationships. The appointment of ancillary helpers may do much to improve contacts with parents. In an emergency, helpers can take children home; they also free teachers from non-teaching responsibilities and so make it easier for them to spend more time with parents. One practical point which sometimes needs attention is proper insurance cover for parents and other voluntary helpers when they are undertaking tasks for the school. Several local education authorities are also recasting their education welfare service, a point which is touched on later.




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9 Medical and welfare services


Children who are fortunate enough to obtain a place in a nursery school benefit early from the team work of teachers, doctors and health visitors. For others a foundation for the team approach is the medical examination for school entrants, which for many children is the first time since infancy that medical examination has taken place. It is concerned not only with the detection of hitherto untreated medical conditions but with an assessment of how these conditions may influence the child's response to education. It must therefore involve parents and teachers. Since the presence of the parent at the first medical examination is almost universal, it provides a unique opportunity for the parent and school doctor to establish a good relationship based on the needs of the individual child, and for the concern of teachers in it to be made apparent.

Pre-school medicals

In a few authorities, voluntary pre-school medical examinations have been tried. In one, where the arrangement was introduced in 1962, health visitors notify parents of the scheme and help them to fill in a form giving medical details of the child. Parents are told that the examination is a voluntary alternative to examination after entry to school. They are also told that the school doctor, health visitor and school nurse will be present at the examination. As a result, there is no break in medical history. The pre-school medical examination also provides an occasion for parents and children to become familiar with the school. Parents know that head teachers will be available to welcome them and their children and to introduce them to class teachers and to the school building. They are told "this pre-school examination is an admirable opportunity to review the physical and emotional development of your child. Any problem or condition which might affect the education of your child can be discussed." Heads have found great advantages in this scheme. They receive children with a full medical record. Contact with health visitors and parents adds greatly to their understanding of the children. Arrangements are made for physically handicapped and emotionally disturbed children to be admitted to school after other children, when they can be given some special help.


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Selective medical examination

Since the great majority of school children are in good health, the school health service is concentrating its attention increasingly on those children who have disabilities or problems. When disease and defects were more widespread, the need for routine screening by inspection was clear. At first children were inspected four times in their school life. Since the 1950s local authorities have been allowed to experiment with fewer than three inspections during the school years, and at the time of the Plowden report more than a third were doing so. Selective inspection, usually in place of routine inspection of children aged ten to twelve, concentrates the help of over-pressed staff on those children who are most in need. It also makes more important and easier the collaboration of teachers and parents with the medical services. Though practices of authorities vary, it is usual for parents, teachers and health visitors to be able to suggest medical examination for children. Often the proposal will result from an earlier examination or from discussion between teachers and parents which has brought to light the need for medical help. In authorities which have adopted selective medical examination, the school doctor is likely to be more frequently in the schools, and therefore in contact with teachers and able to hear from them of children with problems of adjustment or of learning which may be in part caused by medical factors. Unfortunately changes of medical staff as well of teachers may hinder this collaboration.

Children with special problems

When children are handicapped the school doctor has a direct responsibility for ensuring that relevant medical information and its implications are understood by others dealing with the children. Doctors and teachers, psychologists and social workers share the task of ensuring two-way communication with parents. Understandably, parents sometimes have difficulty in coming to terms with children's handicaps and in responding to them in the way which is best for children. School doctors and educational psychologists can do much to reassure parents, to guide them in their own handling of children, and give them confidence in what teachers are doing. In some instances the head teacher, already accepted by parents, is the best person to explain to them that children would benefit from transfer to a special school. Counselling is an essential feature in the education of a handicapped child.

When children have difficulties in learning or in emotional adjustment, the help of the child guidance clinic and the school psychological service is often invoked by parents, teachers or doctors. Child guidance clinics which are fully staffed include a psychiatric social worker whose specific responsibility is to assess home relationships as they bear on the individual child, and to seek parental co-operation. Educational psychologists often have a double role:


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they are members of the child guidance team led by a psychiatrist and also in charge of - or members of - the school psychological service which is under the ultimate authority of the education officer. Like most of the medical and social services referred to in this chapter, the school psychological service is often under-staffed. In these circumstances it may be difficult for psychologists investigating the learning problems of individual children to have sufficient contact with parents. It is therefore particularly important for teachers and others to pool their knowledge of the children's homes.

Head teachers who have had close contacts with parents, whether formal or informal, can also invite doctors and psychologists to give general advice to parents. Talks or "Any Questions?" sessions of this kind are usually popular. It is particularly helpful for parents to be given some insight into the behaviour which can be regarded as normal; they are then less likely to worry excessively about minor deviations. But equally they should be encouraged to discuss with teachers and others problems which give continuing cause for anxiety. Now that children are maturing early, it becomes increasingly important for them to be informed in the primary schools about the facts of reproduction. The school needs the collaboration of parents in this matter. Some schools have found that one way of securing it is to invite parents to see a film before it is shown to the children. In this way parental consent is obtained, the parents themselves may gain in knowledge, and misunderstandings are avoided. Other schools lend books to parents before making them available to children.

Social services

At the time material for this booklet was being assembled, the Seebohm report on local authority personal social services and the changes desirable to secure an effective family service was still awaited. In the meantime, some authorities have established working parties to report on school links with medical and social services in the light of the Plowden report. The progress of converting the attendance officer (still regarded with suspicion as the school board man or a whipper-in in some areas) into a school social worker began many years ago and has gathered momentum despite some difficulties. Some authorities are releasing education welfare officers to take two-year social service courses, or are encouraging them to work for the new certificate in education welfare. In some areas a fully trained social worker has been put in charge of the education welfare service. A few authorities are re-casting their service. In one instance where it is being decentralised, teams of officers are to be given office accommodation in secondary schools. Each team will work with a group of secondary schools and their contributory primary schools, and it is hoped that they will be able to make close and continuing contacts with schools and homes. The role of the education welfare officer is changing: in many areas,


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less attention is being given to routine cases of absence, more to homes where there are thought to be welfare problems or where there is no contact with the school. Head teachers make a point of asking education welfare officers to visit parents who do not come to the school. A few authorities are experimenting, especially in socially handicapped areas, with the appointment of teacher-social workers, though most of them have been assigned to secondary schools. The existence of experimental courses in the training of teacher-social workers is likely to lead to an increase in these appointments. Education welfare officers and school social workers are attending parents' meetings to explain the school welfare service.

Many local authorities took action to ensure co-ordination at head of department level following a joint circular issued in 1950 by the Ministry of Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Education. At case conference level, initiative is sometimes taken by medical officers, children's officers, or child care officers. It is a cause of concern to many heads that the schools are sometimes left out of these conferences. In some schools with serious welfare problems, heads have arranged regular business lunches in the school, attended by the education welfare officer, the probation officer, the child care officer, the education psychologist and members of the teaching staff. It has become increasingly clear that teachers cannot do their job unless they are in contact with parents; often enough, too, they need a word of advice about particular children from school doctors and educational psychologists. In most schools there are a few children, and in some schools a great many, whose welfare problems are so acute that they can absorb an undue portion of teachers' time and energy, and demand a training that few teachers have had; these are cases which might be better dealt with by a general purpose social worker or referred by him to more specialist agencies.




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10 Voluntary bodies

The National Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations (1)

There are at present ten local federations of parent-teacher associations affiliated to the National Federation, and some 400 affiliated individual associations, representing an estimated 70,000 parents and teachers. The executive committee of the NFPTA includes representatives of the teachers' organisations. The NFPTA provides a forum for parent-teacher opinion through its annual conference, where resolutions have ranged from suggestions for the improvement of primary school buildings to the desirability of their use by parent-teacher associations without charge, and for safety measures for children inside and outside the home. It publishes a periodical twice yearly, the Parent-Teacher. Many of its articles, such as reviews of children's books, are intended for parents and there is also a children's page. News from associations is a regular feature and a means by which information about successful activities can be pooled.

Help is also given in other ways to affiliated and would-be PTAs by a series of leaflets on forming and running associations. Leaflets for parents' use on such topics as children starting at school, on play, and on number are also available. The NFPTA maintains regular contact with parent-teacher movements abroad. Periodicals are exchanged and delegates go to international conferences.

The Advisory Centre for Education (2)

The Advisory Centre for Education, set up in 1960, is primarily and by its origin a service to individual parents. It has a membership of over 25,000, almost all of them belonging to the professional classes. Most are parents of children of primary school age or younger, and some 2,000 are themselves head teachers. Advice is given to members through a periodical Where, which appears every other month and is supplemented by reports on single themes, and through written answers, provided by a panel of consultants and by its own staff to members' questions. About 5,000 questions are received in a year, half of them about schooling. Many parents want to know what help to

(1) National Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations: Hon. Joint Secretaries
Mrs. M. L. Swinson, 10 Stoke Newington Church St., London, N.6.
Miss P. Girling, 5 Elm Terrace, Tividale Hall Estate, Dudley, Worcestershire.

(2) Advisory Centre for Education
Executive Director, Mrs. Kathleen Hartley, 57 Russell St., Cambridge.


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give primary school children, whether for example, they should teach children to read. ACE also runs a "parent to parent" report service on schools, to help its members to choose a school for their children. ACE has launched a number of projects, some as demonstrations of what parents need from or can contribute to the educational system, and others to try out services which could later be taken over by local education authorities or the Department of Education and Science.

Confederation for the Advancement of State Education (3)

The first Association for the Advancement of State Education was formed in 1960. There are now 120, and each usually covers the area of a local education authority. They are supported mainly by parents of children in maintained schools who wish to inform themselves and others about local educational facilities, to work for their betterment, and improve communication between local education authorities and other members of the community - particularly parents - who are interested in education. Members of some associations have been co-opted to education committees. More often, members of education committees have been recruited as members of associations. Most of the associations work through meetings, study groups, newsletters and publicity in local papers. Some provide a library service for their members. But in addition they often undertake detailed investigations. Examples are the surveys of primary schools, of schools for handicapped children, and of nursery provision made by some associations. In one town, with the support of the borough education officer, members called at doors to inquire into parents' educational problems. In another, leaflets were delivered inviting parents to a meeting in an infant school at which parents' questions about schooling would be answered. One upshot was that the infant school headmistress asked parents to visit the school to see the methods they were puzzled about.

The Confederation of Associations for the Advancement of State Education (known as CASE) was formed in 1961 to represent the local associations at a national level. Evidence has been given to such bodies as the Central Advisory Council and the Public Schools Commission. An enquiry has been made into the response of authorities, parents and teachers to the Plowden report. A working party on the education of handicapped children has produced a pamphlet. The Confederation issues a monthly newsletter, Parents and Schools.

A new Home and School Council (4)

In October 1967 a new Home and School Council was set up to represent the three main voluntary bodies described above. Each association will retain its

(3) Confederation of Associations for Advancement of State Education
Hon. Sec.: Mrs. Diana Lamb, 9 Addison Rd., Great Ayton, Middlesborough, Yorks.

(4) The Home and School Council
Field Officer and Director, Mr. R. A. Finch, Derwent College, University of York, Heslington, York.


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identity and continue its particular work. The council will invite affiliations from schools as well as from parent groups and individuals, and will provide stimulus and advice for schools through a publication supplementary to those already produced, and through pamphlets on various facets of home and school relations. The Council has appointed a full-time field officer in Yorkshire to work with local education authorities, teachers and parents to stimulate better relationships, suited to the circumstances of the individual schools and areas. He will be especially concerned with those parents who do not respond to invitations to visit schools. Projects undertaken will be described and evaluated so that others can learn from them.

Pre-School playgroups association (5)

Although its work lies with young children below the age of compulsory education, this chapter would be incomplete without reference to the Pre-School Playgroups Association. Since its inauguration in 1961 its growth has been rapid and remarkable. Voluntary pre-school playgroups encourage parents to share responsibility for their children's education in the nursery years. The association's statement of policy declares: "As parent participation makes the playgroup an extension of the family, parental help should be welcomed in supervision of the children as well as with organisation and administration of the group. By increasing parents' awareness of the needs of their children, by showing them how these needs can be met in a prepared environment under careful supervision, by bringing them a knowledge of child development, the association believes that the playgroup enriches family life, and through the family, makes for a healthier society."[*] Many local education authorities help local associations with advice, encouragement and occasionally small grants for the purchase of equipment. There are now approximately 2,000 groups belonging to the association and they care for 40,000 children. The publications of the association give parents help in starting and maintaining groups.

(5) Pre-School Playgroups Association, 87a Borough High Street, S.E.1.

[*The closing speech-marks are missing from this paragraph. I have therefore guessed that this is where they should have been.]




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Appendix



Some Individual Accounts

These four accounts are written by the heads of the schools concerned, or by others who know the schools intimately. They are representative of a much larger number which were made available.

1. A village school

This school is nearly a hundred years old. A typical flint building, one large classroom and one extremely small one with the headteacher's house forming one wing. There are 39 children on roll. The headmistress has been at the school for over 25 years and her infant teacher has been with her eight years. They have become quite close friends and work in complete accord. They have the same educational philosophy, the same friendly, though down to earth, attitude to the parents and the village in general.

This is an aided school in more than name; the children are used to going into the very beautiful old parish church nearby, not only for services but to draw it, to study its architecture and to learn history from it. The vicar is an actively interested manager. The headmistress and 15 of the children sing in the church choir and choir practices are held in the schoolroom after school one afternoon each week. The organist is also a manager. There is also a choir of mothers who help the children at their Christmas and Easter carol services. The managers all know the school intimately and are very proud of it.

The headmistress knows every family well and has taught many of the parents of her present pupils. A formal PTA would be out of place here for close links are continually being forged without formality. Parents come in and out of school freely and naturally; it is quite usual to find one or two mothers in the schoolroom at the end of the day discussing problems or a child's progress. They often bring little gifts, mushrooms, or eggs. It is clear that they all regard her affectionately as the leader of the village and one of the leaders of the church. They obviously feel they can talk to her frankly about their personal problems; they trust her discretion and reliability, and they value her kindly yet shrewd and astringent assessments of their children. With her they don't have to "pretend" and it would be impossible here for a child to play off school against home.


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There are various activities in which parents are involved:

(i) they always help to organise school expeditions to places of interest in the neighbourhood, e.g. this summer six parents organised transport and drove the whole school over to the Roman villa and took an interest in the follow-up work that was done;

(ii) several fathers helped to coach football and the parents organise a sports afternoon every summer;

(iii) they provided a delightful supply of plants and flowers for the schoolrooms;

(iv) fathers are always ready to make things, e.g. bookcases and sports apparatus. Mothers of course, help the headmistress with clothes and properties for nativity plays and pageants, etc.;

(v) money raising does not obtrude but parents organise and run a social evening and a sale of work every year with excellent results. It is remarkable that such a small village raised 740 towards the school's swimming pool in a year.

This school is scheduled for closure in a few years' time, when the buildings of a school in a near-by larger village are extended. The community will bitterly resist this change and it is significant that ten families in the larger village are at present sending their children to this school, in spite of transport difficulties, because they prefer the more intimate "family" atmosphere. This account might more accurately have been called village and school for the school spreads its influence to the whole community and serves it.

2. A junior school with a mixed catchment area

There is not at the moment, and I am determined never will be, direct parent-teacher relationship at this school. Rather, there must be relationship, by, through and what-you-will of the child, but always because of the child.

Our first contact with parents is made by their children knowing us, as people with whom they have had close contact, long before they enter this school. I make it a regular duty to go to our contributory infant school where the relationship between the two schools allows me freedom to make personal contact with the children. Later, in the last term of the children's infant career, the two teachers in charge of the first year classes for the following year, go across and listen to each child read, look at the children's work generally and while they are acquiring a knowledge of the pupils' attainments and potential are much more aware that they are there to sell themselves, as future friends and teachers, to the children.


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Still later, the children are brought across to the "big" school where they are met by the two teachers and myself and are given a conducted tour of the school. This includes every classroom, the toilets, stockroom, staffroom, especially my office, where they are told they will - if they are good boys and girls - be allowed to bring dinner books and biscuit money etc. There must be no unknown corner, we sell the school. Consequently, on the first day when each child comes to school with its parents, there is no nervousness, no venturing into the unknown. The children are not brought on that first day "by" their parents, rather they are bringing "their" parents to be introduced to "their" school and "their" teachers.

Many of the parents have or have had children in school, a number of the parents are ex-pupils themselves, there is a climate of belonging, we now have to bring new parents into our family proper and at the same time reinforce our bonds with old friends.

At this time there is opportunity to make certain points:

(a) There is no time when parents are not welcome in school "While we would appreciate an appointment, we realise this is not always possible, so don't hesitate to come into school at any time. Do not wait for a specific reason. The fact that your children are in this school is reason enough to come in at any time to have a talk about them. The more we know about your children the better we shall be able to teach them."

(b) It is part of the normal school function for parents to join us for morning assembly. "We expect you, so will your child. Don't let your child feel that other parents are more interested in their children than you are in them, because other parents join us regularly for assembly and you do not." Moral blackmail? Of course it is. The parents realise this, it flatters them that they are important enough to be so needed. The school benefits - so do the parents.

Quite often it is important to remind parents where their duties lie. Parents will back you to their limits if they know what you are doing is born out of sincere regard for their children's welfare and when at times they may not be fully aware of the full implications of a course of action, they will go along with you because they know that action comes of the same genuine concern.

(c) I not only appeal to parents at this time, but this is a "soapbox" I mount at other meetings. "Make us popular with your children. We are human enough to want to be liked by you all, but whether your personally like us or not, try always to express yourself kindly towards us in front of your children. You want your children to work well at school, children do work well for people they like, you can help us - at all times make us out as likeable people."


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The parents are at first amused by this request, but realise the truth behind it. Later I suspect - or hope, many are hoist by their own petard and indoctrinate themselves as well as the children. Anyway, the children benefit.

Increasingly, I am aware and here I am not being ego-centric, that parents tend to judge a school far more on the personality of the headteacher than on any other factor. If it is blame then the headteacher rightly should accept responsibility, but all too often the plaudits come exclusively to him, which seems a little unfair on his colleagues. Consequently, I believe that it is part of my job, on all occasions, to act, not so much as PRO [public relations officer], but as publicity agent for my staff with the parents. I believe it is correct that a parent should be told what a nice person a certain teacher is and how pleased you are with what they are doing, soon there is a mutual admiration society going on behind a teacher's back. This works both ways, in like manner a parent's good qualities should be held up in front of the staff.

Twice a year we issue a report to every parent based on a battery of five Schonell tests and every child is placed in a quartile. We are aware that the norms for these tests are probably not correct for the present day child, but they allow us to indicate to parents a degree of attainment and an indication of progress of their child in competition against its own age rather than its comparative attainments against other children. While I am not prepared at this point to argue the rights and wrongs of testing children of this age and whether the way we do it is as valid as it could be, we are convinced - and my staff me fully behind me on this - that parents need some indication of progress based a little more clinically than a general comment on their child's progress by a teacher and which allows teacher and parent to have a common knowledge of attainment on which they can more rightly base their discussion on the more cogent factor of a child's attitude.

The June test is always followed by two days when the school is open to parents to come into school to view the work of their children. The reports on their children have been issued previously so that these can be compared with the children's classwork and then, in discussion with the classteacher, a fairly full understanding can be reached by the parents of their child's progress and more important, the part they can play in furthering this.

These open days are also used to display certain school talents, our orchestra, choir, choral-speaking and movement. We also believe that the standard of these "party pieces" must be as high as possible, that it is not enough to allow child-based sentimentality to capture a parent's heart, but there must be real pride in the standard. Consequently our parents are our best press-agents, which is as it should be.


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One thing that we do wins us a lot of co-operation. We mount a large display in the assembly hall, collected from all the classes, of all the work the children have done relevant to various educational journeys. We then, very openly, tell the parents, that when, from time to time we ask for them to provide various amounts of money in order that their children can go on this theatre trip or that educational journey, it is allowing their child an experience which will be the stimulus needed to involve their child in learning. The proof of this rather blatant propaganda is that when our school goes anywhere, without question, the whole school goes, parents co-operating all the way.

I have mentioned that we run a school orchestra. This orchestra plays for all morning assemblies plus all parent functions. It comprises some 20 violinists, 2 violas, 1 cellist, a few melodicas, brass, one antique keyboard glockenspiel and some 50 recorder players. Only the glockenspiel and cello belong to the school, all other instruments are bought by the individual parents. No child, no matter how poor its circumstances, is denied its right to be in the orchestra. One parent, very poor, paid in instalments over two years. These instalments were not regular, no-one ever asked for them, they all came eventually. The reason we ask parents to buy the instruments is obvious when you see the care the children lavish on their own instrument, plus the fact that the parents are more obviously concerned. What is more important is why all parents are willing to do this. We endeavour to make sure that each child invited to be in the orchestra will succeed with the instrument. So far, in four years, we have had no failures, no child who has given up playing through sheer frustration of not keeping up to its fellows. The child uses the instrument every day; in other words we make it very clear to the parents that we are not being half-hearted over the business. Possibly, the best way we make this clear and some indication of our relationship with the parents is the fact that the string-players' parents are asked to sign a paper stating that only the headteacher can give permission for a child to cease learning an instrument.

It is not enough for a school to expect parents merely to back intent, it must be cemented by ceremony and bonded by practice.

The ceremony however must not be a mere pandering to autocratic power, but an expression of faith from both sides. The signing of the paper is explained to them that there will come a time when the new toy has lost its glamour and the drudgery has shown its head. This is the time that small girls - and boys, but the girl image seems especially significant - will climb on to Daddy's knee and say, "Daddy, tell that horrible Mr. So-and-So, (depending on whom they fix the blame) that I don't have to play that nasty violin again." If two small tears accompany this request, Daddy is willing to come and tear down the school to rescue his princess from the dragon. I remind fathers that this paper he is


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signing blunts his lance and that the dragon may well be sitting on his knee and that at this time the child needs patience, understanding and firmness to combat what is always a temporary phase.

Later, so many parents tell us this happened as we had predicted and how they have nursed the child over a difficult period. They are always so full of admiration for our predicting what seems so apparent.

This does however bring up the one point this school tries so hard to do and that is to keep all parents informed of what we are doing but more importantly, the reason why we do things. There still comes a time when the reason why is not sufficient for certain parents to do the right thing by their child and it is at these times that a school should be prepared to demand a standard of conduct towards every child that comes so easily from the good parent. E.g. Every January we take all the school to see a Christmas play - not pantomime. When the buses arrive back at school from the excursion, every child has an adult to meet it. Any child not so met is taken home by the staff, but next morning I am prepared to send the parents of such a child a strongly worded letter or pay a personal visit to ask what kind of parents allow a small child to risk walking a town's dark streets. The proof of our co-operation is that I have never had to do this, possibly because the parents know this would happen and a few, a very few, may curse us for it, but I feel sure never "blame" us for it.

This leads to a further point, there is not one of us on the staff who does not realise that we can, inadvertently, do something foolish, which can be offensive to a parent. Equally, there is not one of us who will not, upon realisation, apologise, quite humbly, to the offended parent. This has led to our parents not taking offence over foolish things we might have done or seem to have done. Consequently, while an anxious parent may come into school, we never appear to get angry parents.

Possibly an outline of occasions when parents were specifically invited into school over the last year may give some indication of the opportunities for contact:

June. All parents of third year children invited into school at 4 p.m. Tea and biscuits provided, when the staff address them on the work of the children in the fourth year. This is a year of great worry to parents. Grammar school gremlins are already upsetting parental dreams. We discuss the problem frankly, we do not specifically want to allay anxiety, which seems both natural and healthy, but we can at least put the situation into reasonable perspective.

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June. A garden party, ostensibly to raise enough money to buy a 16mm sound projector for the school, but in actuality a proof of how our parents were willing to work for the school, how willing they were to give and what a happy community we are in each others company (we raised 170).

July. Two days, when parents can come into the classroom in which their children are working (this has been described).

Sept. A meeting with all the first year parents to discuss the school, what we aim to do with their children. To ask parents to give us any individual picture of their children, their health, their anxieties. We also aim to do away with some of the mystiques with which parents surround teachers and teaching and which all too often teachers tend to promulgate.

e.g. Question: "Can we help our children with their arithmetic or will we be interfering with your methods?"

Our answer: "Who is the better mountain climber, the one who only knows one way by which to tackle a certain mountain or the one who has climbed it from a variety of different angles? We will show the child the easy methods, but your methods, though probably more old-fashioned can be co-ordinated to give your child a better understanding of number bonds." We point out that help from parents breeds better attitudes to learning because of the interest they are showing to the child.

Parents so want to help. I believe it rather egotistical of our profession that we lose a lot of home-engendered ego-involvement of the child by refusing parents this right on the basis that only we can teach the correct way.

Dec. Three separate opportunities for parents to join us in our carol service. This year the service is based on the story of Caedman and is done as a full school project over the whole of the Christmas term. Also at these services we invite the rest of our school family to join us at the same time, the nursing service, kitchen staff, divisional office staff, caretaking staff, plus a host of people who have been in school during the year and helped. At a brief talk before we commence we acknowledge these people, we push very hard at the word "family".

These "formal" occasions are coupled with parents joining us for assembly throughout the year plus an ever-open school.


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This above all, as a staff we are genuinely all good friends, this is the best basis for friendship in which the children can join in and through them the parents. There is no loss to authority, rather it gains because it is so little needed.

3. A city school

The school is situated in an area which was previously good class residential, but which has since the Second World War become a "problem area" in the city. The substantial properties were occupied mainly by Jewish people in the first instance, and later by central European nationalities. The community is now one with a large immigrant population. Many of the children come from broken homes and are living in the confined space of one or two rooms.

There are still parents who speak little English though quite a number of the children are bilingual. Such is the situation in the environment of the school which includes in its population children of some fifteen nationalities.

There is no parent teacher association, because it is felt that contact with all parents is a greater necessity. The parents are encouraged to come into the school quite freely to see the teachers and headteacher to discuss their children's progress and any difficulties that they might have. One West Indian father recently came to the school to ask for details of books (and prices) used in the teaching of reading. He had formed a small group of children in his own home, and was hearing them read to help their progress in school. Such was his anxiety that the West Indian children should do well.

The headteacher spends considerable time in advising about visits to doctor, dentist and hospital and in helping to fill-in forms of various kinds, but also in that which is more valuable, in listening to the domestic problems and gaining a knowledge of the children's background which is at times almost unbelievable.

On Thursday afternoon each week, the infant school has the use, by arrangement with the head teacher of the junior school, of an indoor swimming pool. The parents come along and help to rub down their own and other children, and also to enjoy watching the children's activities in the pool. They come along to Christmas festivities and help with the children's party. Some immigrant mothers are employed as dinner helpers.

All the washing of PE briefs is done by the mothers, and they do a considerable amount of sewing for the school. They also collect cartons and waste material for the activity periods.


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At a recent non-competitive music festival held for infants in the various areas of the city, the children of the school sang a song which was brought to the notice of the headteacher by a West Indian mother and which everyone enjoyed.

There is as yet no nursery school in the area and a need was felt to provide some place where the children might have a space to play and opportunity for mixing with other children and of learning to speak a common language. A small group of parents, immigrant and English, met periodically in their own homes and raised a small sum of money with this thought in mind. They invited the headmistress of the infant school, two local clergymen, and one or two other people whom they thought might be interested, to a meeting in one of their homes and a steering committee was formed.

With the help of the housing committee, premises were secured at a low rental. Students from the university, parents and helpers, cleaned and decorated and eventually a pre-school play group was established. This however, was but a beginning and the play group has now become a children's centre. Play groups are being held in the morning and afternoon and there are after school club's for the infant and junior age groups. This is most valuable as a very large proportion of mothers are at work until 5 p.m. or later.

A needlework class, a handicraft group and a drama group are being held for the senior age groups. Girls from one of the city's high schools have made toys and apparatus for use at the centre. With the assistance of a member of the Sikh temple and a lecturer at the university, classes are being formed to help some of the parents to speak English. The work has so far been almost entirely voluntary. Much of the money has been raised by public appeal, and a film showing the play group at work has been used to rouse interest.

A great deal remains to be done but progress is interesting and, incidentally, provides greater opportunity for contact with parents outside school as well as within.

4. A school with a high proportion of Indian immigrants

Before it is possible to make suggestions about establishing a good working relationship between groups of people, it is necessary to make an appraisal of the situation and consider the aims and aspirations of the constituent groups as they existed before they came together. Then common ground can form a basis on which to build, and differences can be resolved and ideas emanating from both groups incorporated into the new joint structure. This is what has been attempted here.


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In 1956-57 when the number of Indian families coming to live in the area, caused the primary and secondary modern boys schools in the district to have a noticeable number of Indian pupils, the situation was that the district had no council houses, the properties were owner occupied, and were terraced or semi-detached villas built before 1914 and without garages. In many cases, as a result of post-war housing shortage, they were occupied by an elderly couple and their married son or daughter with their young children. As these young families prospered they tended to move away into more modern houses. There was a high rate of employment, a rising standard of living and, consequently, by the parents, an interest in, and great expectations from, the educational opportunities of their children.

The primary and secondary schools had a deservedly high reputation. There was no lack of accommodation or amenities. They had been built about 40 years. About 25 per cent of primary pupils passed on to grammar schools and extended courses were successfully run in the modern schools, where the leaving age was sixteen rather than fifteen. But there was beginning to be a drop in numbers, noticeable in the infant schools as the prosperous families left the district and the families coming in were poorer and the properties were considered less desirable than more modern ones in adjoining areas. Thus there were at that time both housing and school places available for the Indian immigrants.

Although there was no formal parent/teacher association, there was close co-operation between parents and teachers. Many parents had attended the schools themselves and the staff had been so stable that some had taught both parent and child. Valuable intimate knowledge of a child's personal background was thereby available to all the staff. Functions were held each term to which 80 to 90 per cent of the parents came. Written progress reports were sent home. Routine health inspections brought parents to the school and gave opportunities for meeting the headteacher, contacting class teachers and making an enquiry without the feeling of going to the school only when a complaint had to be made. Local councillors lived in the area and their children attended the school. Thereby a close link was made with the local education authority and members could speak from personal experience when projects involving the school were being discussed.

The Indian adults ranged from graduates through craftsmen and retail traders to peasants illiterate in their own language as they had never been to any school. But they all ardently desired schooling for their children, for its financial benefit and for social prestige. The children were sent to school regularly and reasonably dressed and clean according to their parents standards. They were


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conscious of differences amongst themselves. Some thought they could obtain privileged treatment by offering payment. Those who had some education expected a very formal curriculum, and offered to teach the children "the book" if we would tell which book was used. But in general they did not expect to be involved in the school life or feel any obligation to participate even by attending medical inspections. Curiosity brought them to school functions rather than a feeling of duty towards their children or a desire to contribute to or share in the child's school life. They had a great respect for teachers, but did not expect to discuss their children openly, even with a Punjabi speaking teacher.

We were fortunate in having a good relationship already in the school between teachers, pupils and parents and most parents, both English and Indian, were concerned about their children's education. The staff were genuinely interested in the welfare of all their pupils and prepared to try to cater for the individual needs of each child, whether he was a "problem child" or a bewildered non-English speaking Indian, a bookworm, an artist or an athletic type. We looked for and found all the possible varieties among English and immigrant pupils and soon treated them as personalities regardless of racial origin.

We made the school a lively interesting environment to which the children wanted to come and then tackled any parent, English or Indian, who did not co-operate over regular attendance, suitable clothing or cleanliness. Whenever the opportunity arose for informal contact with parents, when calling for a child for a clinic appointment, met in the street, as spectators in football or netball matches, they were made to feel welcome, even if communication had to be made by gestures or translation through a child.

The greatest difficulty which had to be overcome was the fear of the unknown and mutual distrust. Both communities had inaccurate information about each other and were looking for pre-conceived troubles that they expected to arise. Also they each feared that the other would prejudice the educational opportunity of their children. We tried to alleviate these fears by not altering our school work except in minor ways to make it possible for Indians to participate fully. The following are some examples of our fears and prejudices and how we dealt with them.

The English parents complained that the lack of spoken English meant their children were held back while the teacher taught the Indians. We had special reception classes and only when they could join in were the Indians put in with English children.

The English thought the Indians were dirty, verminous and diseased. We had special medical and cleanliness inspections and dealt with any cases very


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promptly and published the Medical Officer's reports to show how exaggerated the rumours were.

We continued successfully to participate in school journeys, in school sports and music activities, including Indians in our teams as they became sufficiently proficient.

Although the Indians had to get someone to translate for them we continued to send home a letter at the beginning of each term telling the parents the dates of holidays, special occasions and activities such as swimming so that they knew what was going on in the school, and a written report about child's progress at the end of the year which was signed and returned to the school. In this way, amenities already accepted by the English community were retained.

The Indians were afraid that the reception classes meant discrimination, until they saw how their children progressed and were transferred and, in time, some were given places in the grammar schools. In order not to offend sincere religious beliefs, no Sikh was asked to cut his hair, for example, but the unsuitability of national dress for little girls was obvious when parents visited the school and saw the children on the gymnastic apparatus.

Whenever we realised that a difficult situation was developing a parents' meeting was called and the matter discussed openly. Sometimes we had a meeting for English parents only, for example to deal with a rumour that the school was to become wholly Indian: sometimes for Indian parents only to explain the English school system and acquaint them with the educational opportunities available: sometimes, for example, discussion of secondary reorganisation, a joint meeting. In the latter two cases a talk was translated into Punjabi by an interpreter.

In the neighbourhood of the school the children took part in such social work as taking harvest festival gifts to old people, singing at socials for the disabled and they were encouraged to join organisations such as Brownies, Cubs and the Life Brigade, therefore meeting and knowing one another's relatives. By such contacts, the spirit engendered in the school flowed out and was felt in the neighbourhood.

If a good relationship between the school and the home is to be established, there must be knowledge about the local situation and people involved so that no unreasonable demands are made. Then there must be mutual respect and confidence between teachers, children and parents and all must feel that they


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are working together for the good of one another and receiving their fair share of attention.

Matters, usually complaints, must be discussed openly and with patience and courtesy so that tolerant understanding is established.

Opportunities must be found for enjoyment in which all share; concerts in which all take part, for example, open evenings to which children accompany their parents. An interest must be taken in the neighbourhood so that the school takes a real place in the life of the community.

To achieve this pleasant relationship, great demands are made on the teaching staff, and all connected with the school. But it is well worth it to achieve an atmosphere without tension or ill-feeling and the value of this is obvious even in the children's purely academic progress while at school, and it must surely affect their attitude to their fellows throughout their lives. As a parent wrote "We can only be thankful that they have an opportunity to mix with, and maybe learn a little about people of different races, languages and creeds while they are young. We hope this will enable them to grow up into well adjusted adults without any of the bigoted opinions which to our dismay seem to be on the increase."





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Also in this series:

Education Survey No. 1 - Units for Partially-hearing Children Education
Survey No. 2 - Drama
Education Survey No. 3 - Language Laboratories
Education Survey No. 4 - Blind and Partially-sighted Children






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