A True Partnership?
By Janet Ouston and Suzanne Hood
Summary of the Main Findings
Schools were required to have home-school agreements in place by September 1999. These should have been drawn up in consultation with parents, who are then ‘invited to sign’. Pupils may also be invited to sign where governors consider that they have sufficient understanding to do so. But there is no obligation to sign, and there are no penalties for refusing.
The DfEE intended that these agreements should provide a framework for improved partnership between parents and schools. While there is consensus about the educational value of good home-school relationships, the idea that signed agreements might help to achieve this has provoked considerable debate among politicians, educationalists, professional associations and parents’ organisations. The research has examined the initiative by recording the experiences and views of teachers, parents, governors and students. It also aimed to investigate the extent to which home-school agreements were perceived to improve, or be likely to improve, partnerships between parents and schools and to provide suggestions for good practice.
The study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and carried out by the Research and Information on State Education Trust (RISE) between December 1998 and March 2000.
Views and experience of headteachers
There were no significant differences in attitudes towards home-school agreements between primary, secondary and special schools. However, schools which had introduced a home-school agreement before they were required to were considerably more likely to report that teachers and governors were enthusiastic than schools which were currently working on, or yet to begin work on, their agreement. These ‘early implementers’ were also more likely to have given the initiative a higher priority and to have had a home-school policy in place.
Drawing up the agreement:
- Nearly all schools consulted the DfEE’s published Guidance
- Of those working on their agreements in 1999, nearly all had consulted parents, but only two thirds had consulted parents individually, as required in the legislation. The remainder had held meetings with parents, or had consulted through the PTA
- Parental response rates were very low, the majority of schools had responses from less than 25% of parents. But these were mainly positive.
The most commonly cited advantages of home-school agreements were that they:
- Clarified roles, responsibilities and expectations
- Enhanced partnership, communication and involvement with parents
- Made the schools values and vision clear.
The most commonly cited disadvantages of home-school agreements were that:
- There is no compulsion to sign and they are not enforceable
- They will not be signed by those parents whom schools would particularly like to sign
- They add to the burden of schools’ administrative work and may be costly to implement.
Teachers’ and governors’ positive views and experience:
- Can ‘encompass’ established school ethos and behaviour policies
- Can provide a useful summary of expectations to be introduced at the beginning of the child’s school career
- Can provide a useful reminder to be used throughout the child’s school career
- Can be ‘tailored’ to the needs and circumstances of the individual school
- Are meaningless without a framework of established values, practices and policies.
Their negative views and experience:
- Will fail to reach those parents who are unsupportive of the school
- Are unnecessary where home-school relations are already good
- Are unnecessary as they duplicate existing school material
- Are of little value without sanctions attached
- Introduce an unwanted formality to home-school relations, particularly in primary schools
- Are problematic to implement as it is difficult to ensure that all parents and students sign, understand and ‘own’ agreements, particularly in secondary schools.
- Thought agreements were a good idea because they emphasised that parents had a role to play, alongside schools, in the education of children
- Thought that the school’s responsibilities as set out in the home-school agreement amounted to no more than what was required of schools
- Thought that the parents’ and students’ responsibilities were fundamental and should be accepted without needing to be written
- Were largely unconvinced that agreements would have any significant impact.
- Supported agreements in principle, but saw many problems with the idea in practice
- Were concerned about the number of points that they were required to comply with
- Were divided about whether agreements would have any impact
- Were increasingly sceptical with age: year 10 students were notably more sceptical than those in years 6 and 7.
Teachers, governors, students and parents agreed that:
- Agreements are unlikely to make any difference to those ‘supportive’ parents and students who already ‘comply’
- Agreements are unlikely to make any difference to those ‘unsupportive’ parents and students who will not ‘comply’, whether or not they sign
- Agreements may possibly make a small difference to a fewparents and students who will benefit from being informed or reminded of their responsibilities.
The study has provided information about schools’ progress in implementing home-school agreements and about the responses of key participants in the initiative. The findings highlight widespread support for the underpinning principles of good home-school relationships together with significant concerns about the idea of home-school agreements ‘in practice’. While agreements are viewed positively in some schools, there is a considerable degree of scepticism among teachers, governors, students and parents concerning their likely impact and the potential they have for enhancing partnership between home and school.
It is important to note that home-school agreements were new to the majority of schools at the time of the research. The responses of key participants may change as agreements are more widely used.