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Theme eight (archived)

Engagement with parents and community

The nature of communication activities

How parent feedback is used

Involvement of the Board of Trustees

Other challenges schools faced

Community engagement is one of the eight principles in NZC (Ministry of Education 2007a, p. 9). All the case study schools reported that they had communicated (at least some) information about NZC to families. This section discusses the nature of those activities and the challenges schools have encountered in carrying them out.

The nature of communication activities

The case study schools attempted to engage their communities in different ways and for different purposes. Some arranged parent evenings. Some used the newsletter and the school website to give families information about the curriculum. At some schools a newsletter was sent out to the wider community several times a year.

A wide range of methods was tried when attempting to gain parents’ views on school issues. Some schools sent surveys home to parents, but parent opinion has also been canvassed through children’s homework and, as already noted, at one primary school the students themselves had surveyed parents by phone. At one secondary school the school had identified “target” families who then held meetings in their homes.

Two of the schools had attempted to engage parents in the “bigger picture” of 21st-century education. At one secondary school the principal saw it as her responsibility to alert the community to educational issues and stimulate debate. She did this by providing the board of trustees with professional readings and by including comments on topical issues on the school website and in newsletters. At one of the primary schools the principal arranged for a MOE official to talk to the board of trustees who then in turn worked with groups of parents.

How parent feedback is used

Schools commonly reported that they sought input from parents as to what they thought would be important to include in the redeveloped new vision or charter. Once these views were gathered they were usually collated and reported back to the community in some way. However, it was not clear how parents’ views were actually used for any other aspects of curriculum development. If parents are to become more active participants in their child’s education, what form should this take?

It is notable that all the actions mentioned above involve either seeking opinions or information sharing. An exception was a primary school that canvassed parents for their views on which second language should be taught and then arranged for the most popular language to be taught. At another school the amount of science taught was reportedly increased following feedback from parents. One intermediate teacher, while valuing the emphasis on a school-based curriculum in NZC, reflected that the staff of the school rather than the community was currently determining what these needs might be. The value of involving parents in actual curriculum design may need to be clearly demonstrated with examples before more teachers are convinced it will be beneficial.

None of the case studies shed light on how schools might deal with the potential of opposing views from different sections of the community or what they did when views of parents were in conflict with staff views.

Involvement of the Board of Trustees

In most schools the board of trustees was closely involved with the development of school vision and charter. To the extent that board of trustees represent their communities, these schools could be considered to have successfully engaged their communities.

The intermediate schools face a particular challenge in engaging the school community, even through the board of trustees, in that 50 percent of the school roll changes every year. Two of the intermediate schools had responded to this challenge by beginning to collaborate with the board of trustees of the local college and contributing schools, in an attempt to develop a sense of a seamless education system for the community as a whole. One of these intermediates had taken this idea even further and in the rural town where the intermediate was located they had established an “education forum” consisting of the school leaders in the town and a member of the local council. The idea behind this is that education of the young is the responsibility of the entire community.

Some schools, again notably the intermediate schools, reported difficulty in recruiting board of trustees members. The principal of one intermediate suggested that there were few people in the local community with the expertise needed to run the board of trustees effectively which meant that he ended up carrying a lot of the work of the board and their function became more one of “rubber stamping” things. He suggested that it may be more effective in a community such as his if schools shared a board. Where board of trustees seemed to be working particularly well there were often board members who were involved in education in some way in their professional lives.

Other challenges schools faced

Despite the range of strategies tried, schools reported difficulty in engaging their communities in discussions around curriculum. This was evident in communities where parents were already involved in the school in activities such as parent helping and involvement with sport as well as in communities where it was more difficult to engage parent help. One board of trustees member interviewed made it quite clear that in her opinion the “nuts and bolts” of the curriculum was the responsibility of the school and she did not want to be involved in curriculum discussions.

At one primary school where a considerable amount of effort had already gone into engaging the community, the staff and the board of trustees representative interviewed all acknowledged that a lot more work was needed in this area. The board of trustees representative talked about the challenges of finding ways of engaging the community with new ideas about education without them having to do a lot of reading. One of the teachers acknowledged that deep engagement with the community required a real shift in the way we think about education and as such it was likely to take time and schools may need additional support.

These case studies point to the need for further work and support in the area of community engagement if communities are really to be empowered to effectively contribute to the future of schooling.

Published on: 15 Apr 2009