A policy forum is recommending ‘training in parenting’ to improve social mobility.
We have been here before of course. For decades now, there has been a lot of debate how schools can contribute to social mobility by involving parents in their children’s education. Homework is often the focus of this effort. But the value of homework is a highly contested issue, (especially since some schools thought it was a good idea to give it to five and six year olds recently). I’ve even heard of a secondary school who were helping to “train parents to help with exam revision”.
I am not against pupils and students taking ‘school’ work (set by teachers) home to practise or reinforce or research – I think that’s essential for (particularly older) children learning how to study.
But homework has also been thought by many to be a good vehicle for involving parents in their children’s learning. In my own career we had some very successful evenings where we invited parents in to school to do a variety of practical activities that demonstrated and explained how we, as teachers, taught various aspects of maths, reading or writing and offered ideas of how parents could support that.
I hope most parents went away feeling empowered rather than patronised. But if there was one thing I learned from all those ‘family literacy’ and ‘family numeracy’ evenings, it was that for most parents, even well educated middle class parents with greater access to resources, ‘home’ work is really not ‘home’ work at all – it is in fact ‘school’ work, going home.
And there’s the rub.
Parents can’t necessarily interpret homework in the way teachers intend. If you are a parent trying to help your child with homework, either you are anxiously thinking: “This is not the way they did it when I was at school… Help!” or your child is complaining “Dad… my teacher doesn’t do it like that…!”
I think if we really want to make successful inroads to meaningful involvement and partnerships with parents we need to think more about helping parents turn the everyday but implicit resources and opportunities they have at home in to everyday but explicit resources and opportunities. The role of the teacher here is not to ‘invade the home’ with ‘school’ work but to support parents in realising that learning is just as much about what goes on at home as it is about what goes on in school.
Just to give you one example: cookery. As a teacher, you won’t need an explanation of how much language, reading & writing, maths & science, let alone other ‘curriculum’ areas are covered by doing cookery activities. Let alone the fun it can engender and the myriad skills it can develop.
But parents just might need some encouragement and support for the idea that what they do every day at home actually counts as part of their child’s education.
Yes of course students need to top up what goes on at school with study at home.
But let’s give ‘what goes on at home’ some educational credence too. Parents might thank us for that.
If you’re interested in some recent research on this, have a look at the edcoms research on homework and revision.