Parents are being pushed out of school, despite evidence that parental involvement plays a key role in student success.
This week it emerged that one of the U.K.’s largest chains of schools no longer allows parents to sit on governing bodies that monitor how the schools are being run.
The chain is just the latest to jettison parents from a formal oversight role, part of a trend that has raised fears schools are becoming increasingly divorced from the communities they serve.
AET, the Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs 62 schools in England teaching 33,000 children, has revealed that it has removed parents from its governing bodies, which hold school leaders to account, as well as provide support and challenge.
Julian Drinkall, who took over as trust chief executive in 2016 following criticism by school inspectors, said previous governing bodies lacked the skills and understanding required.
Parent roles on governing bodies were often taken by the “playground bully parents,” he said. Instead, he wanted to attract a more diverse group of parents onto parent and community advisory boards, which would represent parents’ views, he added.
The decision has been criticized by Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, which provides guidance and advice for school governors. She said removing parents from governing bodies did not tally with the issues Mr. Drinkall describes.
“To say that ‘playground bully parents’ dominate governing bodies is a narrow-minded view reflecting that AET prefers to remove voices instead of ensuring that elected parent governors properly understand the scope of their role,” she said, in a letter to The Times newspaper today.
“Parents whose child is a pupil of the trust’s academies have knowledge and a perspective which others without that experience do not, and therefore parents can make a very valuable contribution to holding to account the headteacher for the performance of the school.”
But AET is not the first group of schools to remove parents from their governing bodies. E-ACT, which runs 28 schools with 18,000 students,
its parent governors, replacing them instead with parent ambassadors, whose role is to ‘celebrate the academy’s achievements’ rather than hold it to account.
A former education secretary, Justine Greening, ditched plans to allow academy chains to operate without parent governors, saying schools should not think they did not need them.
The move will fuel fears that schools are moving further away from the communities they serve. A policy change brought in under Tony Blair in 2000 allowed schools in England to opt out of local democratic oversight by becoming academies. The aim was to give them more autonomy, but also means they are less accountable to their local communities.
The creation of trusts, which can run dozens of schools across the country, such as AET and E-ACT, puts further distance between school decision-makers and parents.
But this distancing comes at a cost: parental engagement has long been
as one of the most accurate predictors of student success.
When parents are engaged in their child’s education, it aids achievement, promotes good behavior and fosters a lifelong love of learning.
Of course parents can be an annoyance to school leaders, particularly in the age of helicopter parenting, and school leaders need to lay down clear boundaries if parental engagement is to be constructive.
But if schools attempt to shut parents out altogether, the evidence suggests that it is the kids who will lose out in the end.