An education inequalities expert has warned that OFSTED's ambitions for increases in the standard of education, better classroom behaviour and better performance in rankings (such as the programme for international student achievement - Pisa), will not be met by focusing only on the performance of schools.
Dr Lynn McDonald is Professor of Social Work at Middlesex University and founder of parenting programme 'Families and Schools Together'.
"As OFSTED publishes its annual report we’ll debate how to raise standards in schools, but we won’t see the progress we need while our focus is purely on what happens within the school building."
"Reports suggest that some schools may be letting down poorer children, but teachers can’t tackle the social determinants of education on their own and that's why parenting programmes which bring the community and schools together could transform the education of children from deprived areas."
"Simply restructuring the way we test students or putting increasing pressure on schools to do better can only take us so far. The Government backs the idea of parenting programmes for young children, so now is the time to mainstream schemes that bring parents and families into their local school, improving a child’s results, behavior and building community relations."
• Dr McDonald leads the FAST parenting programme at Middlesex University, which in partnership with Save the ChildrenUK has worked with over 200 schools in deprived areas, bringing schools into close contact with parents and families of their pupils.
• She is urging the Government to expand community/school parenting programmes to 5000 primary schools in disadvantaged communities in the UK with socially marginalized low income families
• She notes that whilst improvements to schools are welcome, they can’t overcome the social and community problems often faced by children such as social exclusion, stress, family conflict, neglect (scientifically proven to damage a child's ability to learn).
• The FAST programme sees parents of primary school children invited to attend their school with their whole family, using regular structured activities for 8 weeks, then monthly meetings led by local parents afterwards. Currently funded in the UK by Save the Children, they are run by trained facilitators who forge strong bonds between parents and their child, their child’s school, other parents and the wider community.
• Research has shown that after taking part in the FAST programme, thousands of UK children living in poverty are happier at home and at school, and are more engaged in learning. Parent-child bonds improve, family conflicts decrease, parents’ involvement in school increases and social support networks develop between parents. This enables them to learn from their teachers with increased motivation, curiosity, and aspirations.