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Involving the family in supporting pupils' literacy learning
Involving the family in supporting pupils' literacy learning

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2 Involving parents and carers in students' literacy learning

Activity 1

Before you begin to read this section reflect on the following questions:

How do you feel parents and carers might or should be involved in supporting their children's literacy development once those children have entered the formal education system?

What experiences have you had of involving parents in programmes designed to support the literacy development of students who experience difficulties and what significant issues were raised by those experiences?

How, in your view, do the partnership arrangements that currently exist between parents/carers and your school have the potential to constrain or facilitate the literacy development of those students who experience difficulties?

In a wide-ranging review of the literature on parent–professional partnerships, Dale (1996) identified five common partnership arrangements between schools and parents/carers:

  • The expert model represents the traditional way of working. It is like the doctor–patient relationship. The professional uses his or her expertise to make judgements and take control of what needs to be done. The involvement of the parent is not of primary importance and is limited to providing information.

  • In the transplant model, parents are seen as an untapped resource for helping in the teaching of the child. The role of professionals is to share their expertise – in other words, to transplant their skills to the parents to help the parents to become teachers, like the Portage programme. The professional still has the ultimate responsibility for decision making.

  • The consumer model involves more of a partnership between parents and professionals. In this model, there is a shift of power from the professional to the parent. This model uses ideas from the marketplace. The parent and the child with a disability are seen as consumers of services. They are acknowledged as having expertise about the child's needs. As consumers they have control over decision making because they draw on their expertise in deciding what services they need and want for their child. Many recent educational reforms in industrialised western countries have incorporated this model of parent–professional partnership. A clear example of it is in countries where legislation gives parents the right to choose which school their child attends.

  • A more recent model of parent–professional partnership is the empowerment model. Here the right of the parent to choose as a consumer is combined with a professional recognition of the family as a social system. As a social system, the family is made up of interdependent relationships which have an important effect on how a family is able to cope and the type of support they will need. Research suggests that parents rely as much or more on informal networks of support – neighbours, other family members, friends, their church, than on the formal network that exists between the professional and the parent. Under the empowerment model the job of the professional is to help empower the family to meet its own needs rather than to make judgements and decisions about those needs.

  • The final model is the negotiating model. The idea of this model is that both the parent and the professional have separate and valuable contributions to offer and that negotiating about these differences in perspective is the key to developing partnerships that lead to the best decisions for children. This model proposes how parents and professionals might negotiate to reach a decision.

(Dale, 1996, Chapter 1; summarised in The Open University, 2001b, pp. 96–7)