Monday, 29 June 2015

Parent Power (Home-School Agreement consultation)

At Matravers we believe that it is our role to educate children with their parents rather than for their parents. Our Home-School Agreement (HSA) acknowledges the importance of parent power in education saying,  ‘[Parents/Carers] are the primary educators of [their] children’. With that in mind we wished to consult parents and carers when it came to updating some of the wording on that document.

I take it that the vast majority of parents and carers were happy with the new version. We made it clear when asking for their views that we would take 'no response' as a sign of agreement. In all he consultation elicited 9 responses. Of those 9, 1 was in full agreement, 2 made no comments, and 6 included various points. We have changed the wording of the HSA reflect some of the constructive criticism from parents/carers.

As we expected, the point that proved most controversial was the one where we ask parents and carers to:

•           Refrain from using social networking sites to discuss sensitive issues or complaints relating to the school.

There are a number of reasons why we updated the HSA to make reference to social media. When speaking to a Pupil Voice Panel at a recent Governor Visit Day it became evident that students’ pride in their school was being dented by negative comments about Matravers on social media sites. The Ofsted Report noted, “A small minority of parents do not recognise the rapid improvements made by the school.” That's a shame, but so much is evident from comments made on certain social networking sites.

Further, if a parent or carer wishes to avail themselves of the official Complaints Process, matters aren’t helped if they have already discussed their complaint on social media. Under Stage 3 of the process complainants have the right to appeal against the Chair of Governors’ decision to a panel of three governors. According to the Complaints Process those governors must not be tainted by ‘prior involvement in or knowledge of the case’. It makes it a bit difficult to ensure we can do that if the complaint has been the subject of comment on social media and has then been taken up by the local press. Parents are depriving themselves of due process when they 'discuss sensitive issues or complaints relating to the school' on social media and then wish to make a formal complaint using the proper channels.

A couple of respondents suggested that having parents and carers sign up to the point in question is a breech of their civil right to free speech. However, asking parents and carers to agree to forbear doing something is not the same as trying to force them to do so. We have no power or wish to do that. But we think that it is reasonable to ask parents and carers to refrain from tarnishing the reputation of the school to which they have chosen to send their children by making negative comments about Matravers on social media. Especially given the impact that kind of thing has on our students. Fair enough? 

Another complained that it is patronising to request that parents agree not to, "discuss sensitive issues or complaints relating to the school" on the internet. I respectfully disagree. Should a member of staff criticise the school on social media, up to and including the Headteacher, they would face disciplinary action. Students who do so have been warned that they will be suspended from the school. Governors who comment on matters relating to the school on social media know that they will soon find themselves ex-governors. I for one can't see how it is patronising to ask parents to act in the same responsible manner as staff, students and members of the Board of Governors when it comes to social networking. 

As the consultation revealed, the vast majority of parents and carers support the updated Home School Agreement. Of those who responded, only three expressed reservations about the point on social media. The objections don’t stack up and there are very good reasons for asking parents and carers to abide by this commitment.  

As their children’s primary educators parents and carers have great power. But as Spiderman’s uncle often admonished him, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.