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Newsletter Four Winter 1996
 
When Newsletter 4 was issued, there were 350+ individual schools registered with the Ethos Network.

Editorial

Education, like life, is a series of consolidations and fresh ventures, new resolutions. 1997 begins, but the school year is already well advanced. There are no clear cut beginnings and endings. Parenting is the same. With each new phase of the child's life, there are specific new challenges and delights, but there remain the continuing responsibilities to provide fundamental security, love and adequate stimulation.

The nature of the relationships change, however, as the learner grows. There is perpetual debate in human development about whether to focus on the continuities or the discontinuities? Parents and school staff have to keep reviewing. Is 11 pm still a reasonable time to expect the young person home at night?

Should the learner still have the same level of support for planning workload? Does homework still need to be formally checked? The process of evaluation is never complete. Educators constantly balance what is satisfactory and needs to continue with what aspects of expectation and behaviour must change.

At the Network base, you will see we have similar continuities and innovation. We maintain our pattern of seminars being held in different locations throughout Scotland but we have also enjoyed several breaks with the past. We held our first"in-school" seminar in October, when the topic was "Parental Involvement". We were delighted to see one or two parent delegates. More will be better. This Newsletter focuses particularly on parents - although we would still welcome more contributions from parents.

At our November meeting, pupils participated for the first time both as delegates and presenters. We feel sure that now the benefits of pupils, parents, School Board representatives and staff working together at seminars are so clear, this will become an established part of our tradition. The occasion raised new questions about the high media interest and whether the presence of journalists during frank discussion might be inhibiting.

Keep up the good work being done. Move forward with hope and determination.

Judy Arrowsmith


 

Juniper Green Primary School


Ethos - one of the seven key areas

Parental Involvement
This was our first 'in-school' seminar and we were thrilled by the welcome. Everyone in the school team contributed, including Kathryn Smith (the headteacher/hostess), the pupil council (who guided/explained), the janitor (readily on hand to help), the secretary (cheerful backup) and the cook (excellent lunch provision) - perhaps above all, the staff and pupils of the school who somehow managed to maintain an air of normality throughout.

Delegate comments included, 'an interesting day in a beautiful setting' and 'I shall certainly be following up in school'.

Cameron Munro, Director of the Scottish Initiative on Attendance and Absence spoke to the group and provided a lot of support materials. He reminded delegates that the recent Audit Unit document 'How good is our school?' suggests that we should ask ourselves 3 questions:

  • how are we doing?
  • how do we know?
  • what are we going to do now?

Cameron offered 5 sets of starter questions about parental involvement under the headings of:

general information

decision-making

effective learning

quality service

staff development

For example, under decision-making:

do you give parents a voice in decisions which affect their child and the school?
do you ask parents what they like about the school?
do you include parents on working groups?
do you ask parents about the style and content of written materials before they are sent out?
do you ask parents what they think about the parent meeting and reports?
do you consult with parents on policy developments?


Why engage parents?

Parental involvement in education is widely recognised as one of the most significant factors in determining the extent to which children can benefit from learning experiences - even those provided in school. We talked about some of the pleasures and pitfalls of negotiating appropriate involvement and ways to encourage interest.

Staff Support and Development
One of the discussion groups in the afternoon focused on Staff Support and Development. These were some of the ideas talked about:

  • need for training in communication with parents at both pre-service and in-service stages
  • need for pre-meeting guidance to be given to parents by staff, so parents come prepared (time implication!)
  • special emphasis on developing listening skills: for staff recognition of parental impact at meetings
  • reminders of the importance of summaries of meetings with parents (e.g. 'so we agreed that X is fine...but still needs to work on...).

Seminar Report
Creating Respect - Reducing Bullying
Circle Time
  • group listening system in a caring environment
  • raises self-esteem - all contributions are heard
  • encourages turn-taking (helped by 'talking object')

Lina demonstrated the use of a 'puppet with a problem' to generate discussion.


Buckhaven High School
  • supported by psychological services
  • initial guidelines offered to all tutors
  • timetable suspended for 4 x 1 hour slots during exam leave to involve 925 S1 - S3 pupils
  • combined expectations after consultation shared in assembly and P.S.E.
  • results fed into the School Development Plan

St George's School for Girls

They exemplified the team approach adopted throughout, with pupils (class time, circle time, P.S.E.), parents (Parent-Tutor Forum Open Evening) and whole staff (from nursery to upper school including dinner and office staff):

  • devised a shared anti-bullying policy (guideline distributed with punchy bullet points on bright yellow paper)
  • more trust generated
  • guidance staff seemed more accessible
  • school rules rewritten as 'Rights and Responsibilities'.

Workshop

Issue
Ethos in the classroom was good but the playground was 'a problem'; children wanted more to do.

Development

  • decided on 4 different areas for football, quiet chat, games and free play
  • divided the ground with plastic markings
  • appointed playground monitors (with formal applications and interviews)
  • devised rules
  • monitored the training given
  • monitored the duty rotas drawn up

Database Query

The following information is taken from a consultation done on 29th November 1996, based on 61 school entries. Schools provided data via the 1995/96 Database Entry Form sent out to all Ethos Network members.

Question
To what extent have parents been involved in the school ethos work at any stage?

1. Planning
2 nursery schools, 9 primaries, 7 secondaries and a special school have involved the parents at the planning stage.

2. Data collection
45 schools collected information from parents, nearly all using questionnaires. Some (for example, St Thomas of Aquin's, Westruther Primary School and Anderson High) used parent discussions also. Some schools, like St Ninian's High, Glasgow and Elgin High, used a greater variety of methods involving interviews and structured conversations as well.

3. Data processing
Only 4 schools involved parents in processing the data. Deans Community High used parents to process the sheer numbers, while Mount Carmel Primary, Carrick Academy and West Calder High had them organising comments as well.

4. Action
This often included:

  • revision of homework policy
  • improved communication with parents (written and oral)
  • establishment of a newsletter or modification of the current version
  • revision of school rules.

Examples of action in specific schools included:

  • production of regular videos of children at work/play for parents to borrow from the nursery library (Clackmannan Nursery School)
  • development of a Parent / Teacher Charter, with a statement of Rights and Responsibilities / Code of Conduct (for example, Anderson High School, Lerwick)
  • also, Parents' Rooms, Parents' Curriculum Evening and a welcoming entrance hall upgrade (Markinch Primary School, Glenrothes)
  • a review of the dates of parents' evening (Mintlaw Academy, Peterhead)
  • on-going parental programme established with extension of role of Parents Association and revival of the School Board (Mount Carmel Primary, Kilmarnock).

5. Feedback
Most schools offered summary statements to parents, either by special bulletin or an insert in the newsletter. Many invited parents to discuss the issues at open meetings and some discussed the points raised at School Board level.

6. Practical suggestions
These included very honest evaluations like:

"We had only 65 responses from parents out of around 250 families - even when offering a prize draw for the returns. It may be that parents would have responded better to the actual Ethos Indicators Questionnaire, as ticking might have been easier. Comments are a handful to collate!" (Springhill Primary School, Aberdeen).

"Two years later, we had a major HMI inspection which involved questionnaires to parents etc. and the fact that we had already completed a similar exercise was definitely to our advantage. I feel that there is a need to carry out a survey every three years and it is most important that action is taken on matters raised" (Achaleven Primary School, Oban).