For decades, research has proven that parental involvement has a direct positive impact on academic achievement in children and young people.
With this in mind, ARE’s Routes2Success (R2S) Team held their first parent session at Brentside High School in Ealing last month which welcomed 14 parents of young people who had participated in the R2S programme. The session gave parents the opportunity to engage in their child’s education by learning about the work they had done in the R2S workshops and understanding how they can best support their child going forwards.
Mainstream research and opinion on parental involvement has long characterised Black parents and those from a low socio-economic background as disengaged, uninterested, and passive. Meanwhile parents from more privileged backgrounds are viewed as more caring and exerting more effort into their child’s education (The Guardian, 2010).
But is this analysis accurate?
My experience at Brentside school tells a different story.
The parents that attended, of which 82% came from a Black Caribbean background, welcomed the opportunity to be involved in their child’s education, pointing out that at secondary school opportunities for engagement outside of the usual parents’ evenings tend to be limited. Additionally, attendees were delighted by the support R2S offered, particularly around post-16 options and careers. They were pleased to see external organisations like R2S stepping in to fill the gap where schools may not have the time or space in the curriculum.
Encapsulating the mood at the Brentside session, one parent said:
more initiatives like this will benefit our children, enhance community, expand knowledge, dispel myths and fears, and lead to better outcomes for children, their families and the school”.
Admittedly, the positive engagement from parents at Brentside was due in large part to the school’s enthusiasm and receptiveness to organise the session. Not all schools share this same motivation, and it stands to reason that many Black parents experience significant barriers to involvement in their child’s education.
Often absent from the conversation on parental involvement are the voices of underrepresented parents who bear the blame for the achievement gap that currently exists between Black low-income students and their white counterparts. Despite the destructive impact of poverty, racism, and low social mobility on the educational attainment of Black and low-income students, the finger is often pointed at the parents themselves as the source of this disparity instead of the school and welfaresystems whose duty it is to mitigate education inequality.
From my experience working on Communities Empowerment Network and ARE’s joint Parent Engagement Programme, I have become familiar with some of the barriers to involvement experienced by Black parents, including:
- Strained relationships between parents and schools stemming from institutional racism in the education system.
This can be exhibited through “unequal access to resources, disparate discipline actions against Black children compared to white children, and the maltreatment of parents by white school personnel” (Mia Lavizzo, 2016). This prevents the school and parents from working amiably together in the interest of the child.
- A lack of cultural competency in educational settings which can adversely affect the way black children are viewed and taught.
The infamous example that many still talk about is the classification of Caribbean children as Educationally Subnormal, and their subsequent removal from mainstream schools, in the 60s and 70s. This had severe consequences on a whole generation which can be felt today.
- Negative perceptions and adultification of black children which can detrimentally affect the way they are treated in the classroom.
For example, one parent I spoke with during a PEP forum disclosed how her son suffers from undiagnosed ADHD but without an EHCP and due to racial stereotyping, he has been labelled a ‘troublemaker’ by school staff. These attitudes can incite schools to administer harsher punishments such as exclusions and cause parents to withdraw from interactions with the school.
Nevertheless, research suggests that despite differences in income or background, students whose parents are involved in their education are more likely to succeed at school, have higher grades, and better social skills and behaviour (National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, 2006).
As Lavizzo states “Parents who do not understand how to properly advocate for their children shrink into the background and the social distance between the teacher and parent increases; resulting in children left hanging in the balance”.
Therefore, it is vital that all parents – especially those from Black backgrounds – involve themselves as much as possible in the education of their child. This can be achieved by ensuring you attend all meetings with the school, maintain regular lines of communication, consider joining the PTA, an independent parent group, or becoming a school governor. Most importantly, ensure you are aware and receptive to your child’s needs and become their biggest advocate.
If you would like to access more information on how to advocate on behalf of your child, visit the Communities Empowerment Network.
If you’re a parent looking to build supportive peer networks and learn from those with similar experience. contact email@example.com to learn about the support available to parents through the PEP Programme.
Finally, if you’re from a school or an educator working with Black and ethnic minority pupils and wanting to nurture better relationships with parents, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the Routes2Success Programme.