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In my opinion: Parents need to get involved with schools at every level

As I leave the formal parent movement, I have had time to reflect on the past as well the future for parents in education.

The NPCpp was established in 1985 by Minister Gemma Hussey. She wanted to give parents a voice in the education of their children. Parents were involved in fundraising after the recession of the 1980s. There were problems with buses, pick-up points, catchment boundaries and seat-belts, to mention but a few of the issues.

In the '90s, many parents had free time on their hands. They raised funds for their schools, set up book rental schemes, supported field development activities and canteen provision in their local schools.

Due to the passing and enactment of the 1998 Education Act, parents were beginning to take their places on Boards of Management. They were delighted to be called "partners". There was a sound structure in place between parents at school level, their national body and NPCpp .

A team of trusted, dedicated and unselfish men and women emerged who became valued as partners by the Department of Education, the Minister for Education, Management Bodies, Teacher Unions and NCCA.

With the coming of the Celtic Tiger, much changed.

The boom years have left parents with little time to participate in the parent movement.

Families are now much smaller than in the '90s. The shelf life for involvement is now much shorter.

There is a serious difficulty with communication from NPCpp to school associations and in the return of information to NPCpp.

For parents whose children have left post-primary education, few seem anxious to remain involved. Those who wish to remain can be "put out to grass very quickly" as not all members in their relevant sector see a place for them in spite of their expertise or qualifications.

There are variations of opinions across the parent movement on their participation. It needs respectful consideration.

For the NPCpp to move forward and become more effective, there is a need for a vision and policies that encompasses the grass roots and meet their identified needs. Parents can no longer live in ivory towers.

They must re-organise on a regional basis regardless of the type of school they represent, possibly along the lines of the newly proposed VEC structure.

On-going training is necessary. Information must be given to parents on how to communicate effectively with the partners in education.

Parents must be supported to overcome difficulties in relation to their own individual child's problems.

The annual Leaving Cert helpline, run with support from sponsors -- the Irish Independent, eircom and the DES -- is an initiative that aims to meet the needs of parents and students. NPCpp needs to participate in projects so as to be seen to meet the needs of the modern parent and student.

The organisation must move from being reactive to becoming pro-active. It must embrace technology by having an up-to-date website so as to minimise delays in communication with parents. NPCpp, since its establishment, has been non-political. It must remain neutral and not give a platform to aspiring politicians or to those who hold extreme views.

Parents, please become involved so that you can bring meaningful partnership to education.

Irish Independent