Are Parents’ Representatives Links Between School and Family?
European Conference on Educational Research
Since the 80’s, public policies have been implementing new modes of regulation in educational systems, based on decentralization processes and shared responsibilities between central governments and local communities. Links between schools, families and communities became crucial in this new context, because schools had to open to outsiders like students’ families, local authorities, and other local organizations, and also because families have new sets of responsibilities towards schools and their children’s educational paths. In a first level of school regulation, where external elements, like families’ representatives have to know, criticize and help teachers improve schools learning and teaching processes and school results. On a second level of school regulation, all classes have a class council, to define, monitor and evaluate each class progress, constituted by all teachers, other professionals that develop some kind of work in each class, one students’ representative and two parents’ representatives. These families’ representatives must be selected by all parents at the beginning of the school year, in the first parents meeting with teachers. Therefore, all families must select their representatives for schools and class councils, and these elements main tasks are: to help teachers define, monitor and evaluated all school/class strategies, and represent other families, which implies that they are able to communicate with others and serve as links between schools and families. These new responsibilities include not only to be present at several different meetings in schools, and to have regular contacts with other parents, but also to be prepared to read, analyze and comment on documents and strategies, some of which of complex nature. Changes made in educational systems towards families new responsibilities, especially selecting representatives, communication between these elements and other parents, and their role as regulators, were imposed on parents through publication of several legal documents. Families now have to perform tasks that were, until recently, sole responsibilities of teachers, which may raise insecurity among parents about their competences in school and class boards, or lead to situations of parents “domestication” by teachers. This research aims to explain how families’ representatives play their new roles in schools and how teachers receive and work with them, answering the following questions: a) how are families’ representatives being selected?, b) are they communicating with other families?, c) how do they act in school and class boards?; d) how do teachers accept those new elements within schools? Empirical data was collected through semi directed interviews to school principals, presidents of parents associations, teachers and parents, non-participant observations in schools and class councils, and from school documents, in six different Portuguese schools. School principals and presidents of parents associations transcripts and educational projects document content analysis gave a general view of how each school deals with families’ representatives, selection processes for school councils and respective mandates. While teachers and parents interviews transcripts enlightened over communication processes between representatives and schools and other families, and about selection process of representatives for class councils. As main results: - School guidelines have more to do with leadership within school than families’ socioeconomic status. Differences in families’ actions at the strategic level are associated with their socioeconomic status. Parents Associations and representatives in school councils act as regulators and stakeholders in schools where parents have the highest socioeconomic status and school graduations. When socioeconomic status and graduations are lowest, parents tend to accept teachers strategies and actions without questioning them. - At class level, teachers and families tend to play their new roles in schools that have clear guidelines for formal parents participation especially through representatives in class councils. In schools with no clear guidelines, teachers do not work with parents, and representatives do not contact all families, so they are not capable of representing all parents. - In all schools, teachers and parents claim that it is difficult and rare to receive any kind of feedback from all parents. And interviewed parents state that they prefer to talk with their children’s teachers instead of talking with their representatives. - Many parents still remain to be engaged in their new roles (as shown by the low number of associates in Parents Associations and lack of communication between families and their representatives). And schools tend to practice national guidelines, but many teachers do it because it is written in legal documents without thinking about actual practices and effects on daily relationships.
Parents, Schools, Representatives, Links, Representatives