Wednesday 13 December 2017

Partnership approach is proving to be the way forward for schools

Aine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary CEO. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Aine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary CEO. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Aine Lynch

IT was this time last year that Dr Joyce Epstein from Johns Hopkins University, in the US delivered her keynote address at the National Parents' Council Primary (NPC) annual education conference. Joyce told parents that the conversation about parental involvement in education had moved on.

She challenged that parental involvement should not be the goal but instead the focus must be on improved children's success in their educational lives.

Decades of research clearly illustrate that when parents are involved children do better, so what is the shift in thinking?

Joyce went on to argue that schools should not be just encouraging parental involvement but should be working in equal partnership with parents and not only parents but also with the school's local community to ensure the best possible education outcomes for children in the school.

Joyce and her team in the National Network of Partnership schools in Johns Hopkins University have been working for decades with schools in America to work in partnership with students, parents and their local community to improve grades, attendance, behaviour and many other benefits for children.

The main focus of this partnership work in schools is the Action Team for Partnership (ATP). The ATP creates the opportunity for teachers, support staff, students and community members to work together to discuss the current work of the school and to find ways to enhance this work.

We are now a year on and, in the intervening time, three schools in Ireland decided to follow Joyce's model of school partnership. The work in these schools has been supported by the NPC and the Irish Primary Principles Network (IPPN).

This year's NPC conference, which took place last weekend, saw Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn launch Partnerships Schools Ireland, the joint initiative between NPC and IPPN which aims to develop and support a network of partnership school in Ireland. The launch of Partnership Schools Ireland is a new exciting partnership between parents and principals in Ireland that makes success for children its key aim.

At the launch, the three schools that had developed ATPs in their school over the past year illustrated how it had changed the way their school worked. They described how they looked at the existing school improvement plan in their schools and developed goals from this plan that it was agreed would benefit from a partnership approach.

In one year, these three schools have changed the way they work: they don't seek opportunities to only hear the child's or parent's voice anymore, they instead work in true partnership with parents, children, school staff and local community in reviewing, planning and implementation of activities in the school that all have the aim of improving outcomes for children. All three schools now see the ATP as the way they do their business.

The future is looking good for Partnership Schools Ireland and already schools have signed up to become partnership schools in the next school year. It now feels that the conversation about parental involvement in education in Ireland is moving on too.

Aine Lynch is CEO of the National Parents Council Primary

Irish Independent

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