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Reading ourselves against the grain: starting points for parental engagement with newly arrived families



In this paper, we bring together research literature on parental engagement and refugees and parental engagement to open up novel conversations about schools’ work with newly arrived families in the context of a moment of mass forced migration to communities and their schools across the European Union. This work was undertaken as part of the Open School Doors (OSD) project, a two-year Erasmus funded project involving researchers and teachers from Austria, Germany, Greece and the UK in collaboration with a pan-European parents association (EPA) that aimed to develop resources for teachers and schools working to include and support newly arrived young people and their families. We use the term ‘newly arrived’ as an inclusive term, taking account of families from both forced and more-established migration contexts as well as families from diverse Roma communities. This review identified the theoretical and contextual issues that framed OSD. Our review of the literature found that existing models of parental engagement neglect the complexity of social identity markers for newly arrived families and their inter-section with a UK teaching practice framed by white-ness and ‘post’-colonialism. Through this review, we problematise ideas of socio-cultural neutrality in home-school interactions, and draw attention to disparities in actions and outcomes for different agents (teachers, young people, parents) which have potential impacts for newly arrived and refugee families. Through this we foreground a multi-layered, intersectional approach to parental engagement. Our hybrid thinking mobilises new insights on parental engagement that demands de-othering of refugee families and reading ‘teacher-selves’ against the grain. Our review contributes recommendations for primary and secondary education, including starting points for reflection, review and practice development for teachers and school leaders.
Reading ourselves against the grain: starting points for parental engagement
with newly arrived families
Corresponding author: Alex Kendall, Birmingham City University
Co-author: Mary-Rose Puttick, Birmingham City University;
In this paper we bring together research literature on parental engagement and
refugees and parental engagement to open up novel conversations about schools’
work with newly arrived families in the context of a moment of mass forced
migration to communities and their schools across the European Union. This work
was undertaken as part of the Open School Doors (OSD) project, a two-year Erasmus
funded project involving researchers and teachers from Austria, Germany, Greece and
the UK in collaboration with a pan-European parents association (EPA) that aimed to
develop resources for teachers and schools working to include and support newly
arrived young people and their families. We use the term ‘newly arrived’ as an
inclusive term, taking account of families from both forced and more-established
migration contexts as well as families from diverse Roma communities. This review
identified the theoretical and contextual issues that framed OSD. Our review of the
literature found that existing models of parental engagement neglect the complexity of
social identity markers for newly arrived families and their inter-section with a UK
teaching practice framed by white-ness and ‘post’-colonialism. Through this review
we problematize
ideas of socio-cultural neutrality in home-school interactions. and draw attention to
disparities in actions and outcomes for different agents (teachers, young people,
parents) which have potential impacts for newly arrived and refugee families.
Through this we foreground a multi-layered, intersectional approach to parental
engagement. Our hybrid thinking mobilises new insights on parental engagement that
demands de-othering of refugee families and reading ‘teacher-selves’ against the
grain. Our review contributes recommendations for primary and secondary education,
including starting points for reflection, review and practice development for teachers
and school leaders.
Keywords: newly arrived families, parental engagement, home-school
interactions, reflexivity, intersectionality, postcolonialism
Open School Doors (OSD) was a two year, Erasmus funded, multilateral project that
brought together researchers, teachers and parents from Austria, Germany, Greece and
the United Kingdom to develop resources for schools’ work with newly arrived
families in response to a moment of mass forced migration to communities and their
schools across the European Union. In the first half of 2017, the year that OSD
launched, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that 105, 000
refugees and ‘migrants’ entered Europe. Unicef suggests the figure for the whole year
to be 171,300 with some 32,000 of these being children including at least 17,500
unaccompanied and separated children. Unicef further estimate that close to one third
of all asylum seekers in Europe in 2017 were children (158,000), with more than half
of them registered in Germany, the lead partner for OSD.
The right of refugee children to access education in a host country, regardless of
asylum status, is protected under international human rights law (see 1951 Convention
relating to the Status of Refugees, article 22). These figures have significant
implications for European schools and teachers working to welcome, include and
support new arrivals sometimes in contexts where there may be little or no prior
experience of working with diverse, multi-cultural or multi-lingual communities and
where as a consequent teachers’ skills and experience might be nascent and specialist
resources scarce. OSD aimed to respond to this by undertaking primary research with
teachers and parents across the partnership to explore gaps in knowledge, skills and
understanding, identify inspiring practices and generate resources for practice
development in response to findings.
Through our OSD work we self-consciously chose the term ‘newly arrived’ to
challenge negative popularist discourse around ‘migrants’ and ‘migrancy’ that have
become pervasive across European contexts (Greussing & Boomgaarden 2017) and in
resistence to ‘migrant’ as a primary, dominant or reductive descriptor of an
individual’s identity or lived experience we use these terms only where they have
been used by other writers and mark them self-consciously to draw attention to
problematise their usage. The project aimed to address specific challenges faced by
families from diverse linguistic and cultural contexts who had migrated within a
recent timeframe, for example within the last five years, such as those from refugee or
asylum seeking contexts. We also use the term ‘newly arrived’ in a broader sense to
include families who may have lived in the UK, or one of the partner countries, for
longer than five years yet were still awaiting decisions of migration status or were
excluded / isolated from the school environment for other reasons, such as Roma
We begin our discussion with an overview of models of parental
engagement/involvement as we think it is important that teachers new to this field
have a reference point for the different ways home school interaction has been
conceived and the issues, roles, identities and opportunities for action that contrasting
models make available to different actors/stakeholders within the community. We then
introduce the concept of intersectionality as a way of problematising the idea of socio-
cultural neutrality in home-school interactions (in all forms) and collide models of
parental engagement with critical readings of class and ethnicity. We examine how
socio-cultural issues ‘intersect’ with practice and the ways that social identity markers
may work to inflect practice and outcomes for different agents (teachers, young
people, parents) involved in the processes of home/school interaction. We pay
particular attention to issues of ‘white-ness’ and ‘post-colonialism’ and consider how
these might impact (implicitly and explicitly) on home/school interactions. Drawing
attention to the linguistic and textual nature of home-school interactions we over-lay
parental engagement with ideas from literacy studies to offer a framework for practice
that foregrounds the socio-cultural complexities of working with newly arrived
families and keeps in play the need for dynamic, reflexive approaches to the being and
doing of teacher identities.
Towards concluding we synthesise our reading into guidance for school leaders and
classroom teachers that offer starting points for reflection, review and development of
Our approach to the literature review
The first phase of the project involved a literature review in each country to
understand the theoretical and contextual issues that framed the later research and
development phases. In this paper we share the outcomes of the UK review. We focus
our literature search on the United Kingdom (UK) context, however, due to the
emergent nature of literature on schools working with refugee parent communities in
the UK we also draw on research from the wider Anglophone context (Australia and
the United States of America) where this has helped to extend and develop our
thinking in relation to the UK context. We also acknowledge that whilst we focus on
the ‘UK context’ our literature is primarily based on that from the English and Welsh
education systems.
We carried out the literature review by drawing on peer-reviewed, academic literature,
published where possible within the last ten years due to the rapidly changing political
and educational environment for families from newly arrived contexts. We used a
threefold approach to our literature search. Firstly, we focused on the key terms of
parental engagement, parental involvement and parental partnership to establish
traditional models used in UK schools. We then carried out a literature search based
specifically on newly arrived families, that is literature which had as key terms
asylum seeker, refugee, Roma and English as an Additional Language (EAL).
Thirdly, we accessed literature focused on issues of discrimination, inclusion and
diversity in educational contexts, and added to this with literature from a broader
postcolonial theoretical context, such as the concepts of intersectionality and white-
ness / white privilege.
Our final section on ‘recommendations for schools’ comes from our own theorising
based on our reading of the literature. We analysed the content we read on newly
arrived families by picking out the main challenge/s identified in the document and
then turned this ‘on its head’ into a statement of positive action to address this
challenge. Similarly, with the more general literature on parental engagement we used
our theoretical postcolonial framing that drove our work to pick out what was
deficient in the existing model for newly arrived families and turned this deficiency
into a statement of action.
Establishing our postcolonial, intersectional theoretical framework
We begin our discussion by establishing the theoretical framework from which we
approached the literature review and concluding recommendations. Due to OSD’s
focus on newly arrived families we felt it was essential to approach the literature from
a ‘post’- colonial perspective and to remain self-conscious about the way race, class
and gender intersect to pattern and frame experience. A key concept in our approach
was that of ‘intersectionality’. Chapman et al (2013) describe intersectionality as “a
model for understanding, analyzing and engaging with forms of difference.
Intersectionality can be understood as a dynamic, rather than a static process that is
constantly changing and evolving at different times and in different spaces.
Intersectionality is based on the notion of identities constantly shifting to reflect the
context of specific situations and actors” (2013:564). Paying attention to
intersectionality enables us to see beyond neutral descriptions of school parent
interactions as simply one set of choices over another or one model of participation
over another and take account of the way that different actors within those interactions
are differentially positioned (and positioning) by concept making about race, class and
Conceptualising Home-School Interactions
With this notion of positionality in mind, in terms of position of the school
practitioner and the parent, we start the review with an overview of models of home-
school interaction as we think it is productive that teachers new to this field have a
reference point for the different ways home school interaction has been conceived and
the issues, roles, identities and opportunities for action that contrasting models make
available to different actors/stakeholders within the community.
Models of Parental Engagement
The part that parents in developed countries are expected to play in their children’s
schooling has, according to Selwyn, changed significantly over the past 20 years
(Selwyn 2011). The notion of the “engaged parent…” acting as “…quasi-consumer
and chooser in educational ‘marketplaces’” and “monitor and guarantor of their
children’s engagement with schooling” (Selywn, 2011:1) in combination with
research evidence (Harris and Goodall, 2008; Deforges & Abouchaar, 2003) that
parental involvement results in better outcomes for young people, has meant that the
imperative to involve parents in schooling has gained widespread political traction.
However defining what is meant by parental involvement in schooling, the kind of
interactions most likely to yield benefit and the nature and beneficiaries of any added
value, remains controversial and politicians, researchers, schools, teachers and
parents’ groups and children have failed to settle on shared definitions or priorities.
Although often presented as a “unified concept” parental involvement “has a range of
interpretations, which are variously acceptable or unacceptable by different
constituents”(Crozier, 1999: 219) and is at times characterised by power struggles,
and tensions between different constituents (ibid: 220). As Harris and Goodall’s
(2008) study of parental interaction in schools illustrates, whilst parents were more
likely to understand their involvement as support for their children and children, in
turn, saw their parents as ‘moral support’, teachers viewed it as a “means to
‘improved behaviour and support for the school’” (2008: 282).
Epstein’s (2002) classification of practice has been influential in establishing a
typography for parents’ involvement with school. Epstein’s Framework (2002:6)
identified “six spheres of influence within which parents, teachers and others have the
potential to influence student learning and development.” The six types of
involvement, parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision
making, collaborating with the community, are illustrated with sample practices, re-
definitions of key roles and identities and predictive outcomes for students, parents
and teachers. The typology aims to provide a “comprehensive programme of
partnerships” (ibid 30) as well as ways in for teachers and researchers to explore and
analyse parental involvement.
More recently Goodall and Montgomery (2013) have argued for a more refined
approach that moves interest away from parents’ interactions with school generally
towards a more specific focus on children’s learning. They make a key distinction
between involvement and engagement suggesting that the latter invokes a “feeling of
ownership of that activity which is greater than is present with simple involvement”
(2013: 399) and propose a continuum that moves from parental involvement with
school to parental engagement with children’s learning. This new concentration on
children’s learning, they argue, represents a move away from a focus on the nature of
the relationship between parents and schools toward an emphasis on the ‘object’ of
that relationship which they identify as ‘children’s learning’. Goodall and
Montgomery understand this significant shift in relations in terms of a redistribution
of authority and agency with school relinquishing totalising control over the locality,
content and processes of children’s learning and affording parent’s greater
recognition, tenure and discretion. This might, they contend, be particularly important
for parents (and of course children) from ethnic minorities or those facing economic
difficulty who, research has shown (ibid 400) are more likely to find engagement with
school difficult but who nevertheless have strong commitments to their children’s
learning. This is a key issue for the Open School Doors project.
Whilst these frameworks acknowledge the complex, dynamic nature of relationships
between parents, school and children’s learning and open meaningful opportunities for
dialogue and re-negotiation of roles and responsibilities they trouble, rather than re-
imagine, a traditional paradigm of home school relations. As such the risk of simply
(unintentionally) reproducing/reinforcing the ‘involvement’ dynamic and the roles it
makes available for teachers, children and parents is high. Without genuinely
reflexive, open discussions about the purpose of learning that transcends the urgent
and narrowing priorities of schools’ accountabilities, driven, as they tend to be, by
managerialist metrics imposed by external government agencies, and which inevitably
distract and pre-occupy teachers and school leaders, the boundary crossing aspired to
by these models runs the risk instead of simply “colonising” (Grant, 2009:14) young
people’s experience. Grant warns that “reframing children’s lives outside school and
family life purely in terms of an educational project” could lead to the “worst case
scenario” of children being “continuously worked on by ambitious parents and
teachers” (Grant, 2009:14) and leading “a curricularised life within a professional
logic” (Smith et al 2008:97 cited in Grant 2009:14).”
Faced with the possibility of a ‘curricularised’ life for their children Grant goes on to
suggest, many parents may choose, quite reasonably, to invest in insulating the
boundaries between school and home life seeing “part of their role as protecting
children from school’s incursions into the home and ensuring that children socialise,
play and relax as well as learn” (ibid). For others such boundary work might also be
an expression of self-protection as they seek to protect their own identities against the
‘colonializing’ effects of school. Such actions may be understood negatively by
schools and parents labeled as unresponsive or ‘hard to reach’.
‘Hard to reach’ parents or Hard to Reach Schools?
The term ‘hard to reach’ has often been used to ‘label’ and pathologise “parents who
are deemed to inhabit the fringes of school, or society as a whole—who are socially
excluded and who, seemingly, need to be ‘brought in’ and re-engaged as stakeholders
(Crozier and Davis, 2007). Although the label has been problematized in recent
literature, it remains an enduring concept in policy and practice discourses in the UK
(Hamilton 2017:301) and may have particular implications for recently arrived
parents as they encounter the potential double bind of navigating an unfamiliar
education system in a new language. Campbell (2011) defines ‘hard to reach’ parents
as those who: “have very low levels of engagement with school; do not attend school
meetings nor respond to communications; exhibit high levels of inertia in overcoming
perceived barriers to participation” (2011:10). The term is often used to refer to
parents who fail to reproduce the attitudes, values and behaviours of a ‘white middle
class’ norm described in Deforges above, which, argue Crozier and Davies (2007),
underpins consciously or unconsciously, school expectations - as one of Campbell’s
participants, a deputy head teacher remarks: “Our hard-to-reach parents are a mixture,
the unemployed, the low income, English as an additional language parents, parents of
poor attendees. They are non-responsive.” (Campbell, 2011). Here we see the
definition used pejoratively to describe the deficit characteristic of ‘non-responsive’
which is explicitly linked to economic status, class and ethnicity, serving to stigmatise
and ‘other’ particular groups of parents.
Goodall and Montgomery (2013) reference the difficulties that may be experienced by
ethnic minority parents who may be ‘labelled’ as ‘hard to reach’ because school may
not yet have facilitated an appropriate or effective way of building relationships with
them. Findings from the Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement Project (EPRA)
indicated that for some parents, often those characterized as ‘hard to reach’, schools,
especially secondary school, can be experienced as a “closed system”, as hostile or
disorientating, due perhaps to the parent’s own experiences of school or wider
structural relations that they may feel position them negatively in relation to the
‘authority of school’ (Harris and Goodall, 2008). In her 2017 study of home-school
relations and ‘migrant’ parents Hamilton contends that Epstein’s typology of
involvement types has led to ‘classifications’ of parent behaviours suggesting that
some types of involvement are more highly valued than others and argues that
“whether parents are able to move beyond involvement type one are dependent on an
array of complex and inter-related factors, linked to their socio-economic standing,
cultural positioning, upbringing and personal educational experiences” (2017:300).
Goodall and Crozier (2007) position this debate within the wider context of the new
managerialist paradigm that, they contend, dominates the English education context.
This, they argue, imposes a target driven performativity culture that requires schools
to focus on examination results, inspection outcomes and league table performances.
As an outcome home school interaction becomes understood as a strategy for
‘performing better and the role of parents to provide compliant support for the
demands the school must make on young people to perform successfully in public
examinations. Discourses of the compliant or non-compliant, or ‘hard to reach’,
parent emerge as expressions of this dynamic and become inculcated in to the
‘common sense’ of a performative culture.
Thandeka et al (2012) push this argument further still putting to work Derrick Bell’s
concept of ‘interest-convergence’. Bell’s concept of ‘interest-convergence’ argues that
“moments of racial progress are won when White power-holders perceive self-interest
in accommodating the demands of minoritised groups; such moments are unusual and
often short-lived.” They argue that the UK and the US are currently witnessing an
inversion of this process, that is to say a period of what they describe “as pronounced
interest-divergence, when White power-holders imagine that a direct advantage will
accrue from the further exclusion and oppression of Black groups in society”
(2013:563). This has far reaching implications for newly arrived families forced to
‘compete’ for resources in a system of which they have very little knowledge and
understanding leaving them with limited ‘educational capital’. We draw on
Crenshaw’s (1993) concept of intersectionality to explore how socio-cultural markers
of class and race interact within this context to multiply these discriminatory effects
for different groups of parents and communities in home school interactions.
Social Class and home/school interaction
Goodall and Montgomery, discussed above, rightly demand that attention is paid to
the way that social and cultural issues position different groups of parents in relation
to schooling. However many of the home school interaction models discussed above
fail to take full account for the way cultural and social and capitals circulate and are
put to work within schools to secure benefits for certain groups of children and their
parents. Social and cultural capitals describe the non-monetary ‘capitals’ (Bourdieu
1986) that more middle class parents bring to the encounters with school. Cultural
capital “encompasses a broad array of linguistic competencies, manners, preferences
and orientation” (Reay, 1988) and describes the skills and knowledge that middle
class parents make available to their children. Reay identifies three variants of
Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital “first, in the embodied state incorporated in mind
and body; second in the institutionalized state, that is existing in the institutionalized
forms such as educational qualifications; and third in the objectified state, simply
existing as cultural goods such as books artifacts, dictionaries and paintings
(Bourdieu, 1986 cited in Reay, 1988: 34).” Social capital is the privileged network of
social contacts and associations that children from middle class families have access
to. Capitals, Bourdieu argues, can be combined, converted and complemented to reap
material reward and educational success and work to ensure that certain groups of
parents (and their children) maintain the advantage. This has traditionally enabled
them to gain benefit in relation to attainment as noted by Deforges. Citing Reay’s
(2000) work Harris and Goodall (2008) draw attention to the way that middle class
parents tend to increase their positional ambition to ensure they maintain a relative
advantage as the educational aspirations of the lower classes rise. This they argue
ensures that barriers continue to be manufactured as others, for example access to
education, are broken down.
Deforges’ (2002) systematic review of the realised benefits of parental involvement
on children’s school attainment establishes the degree of significance of this. He
found that whilst parents engaged in a broad range of activities to promote their
children’s educational progress (including sharing information, participating in events
and school governance) degree of parental involvement was strongly influenced by
social class and the level of mothers’ education: the higher the class and level of
maternal educational qualification the greater the extent and degree of involvement. In
addition the review also noted that low levels of parental self-confidence, lack of
understanding of (expected/normalised) ‘role’ in relation to education, psycho-socio
and material deprivation also impacted negatively on levels of participation in school
life with some parents simply being “put off involvement by memories of their own
school experience or by their interactions with their children’s teachers or by a
combination of both.” (2003:87). The review concluded that whilst quality
interactions with school (for example information sharing and participation in events
and governance) are characteristic of positive parental involvement in education, a
child’s school attainment was more significantly bound up with a complex interplay
of a much broader range of social and cultural factors, including “good parenting in
the home…the provision of a secure and stable environment, intellectual stimulation,
parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values
and high aspirations relating to personal fulfillment and good citizenship; (2002:5).
Identifying ‘at-home good parenting’ as the key factor in determining children’s
attainment the review found that this form of involvement “works indirectly on school
outcomes by helping the child build a pro-social, pro-learning self-concept and high
educational aspirations” (2003:87) and had a much greater impact on achievement
than the effects of school in the early years of schooling in particular. Grouping these
factors together as ‘spontaneous parental involvement’ the report contrasted the
positive correlation with children’s attainment they combined to secure, with the
effects of “interventions that aim to enhance “spontaneous levels of engagement”
(ibid 5). Although the extent and variety of intervention activity, which included
parenting programmes, home school links and family and community education, was
noted to be substantial the review was not able to find a positive correlation between
these activities and attainment data and suggested they were “yet to deliver the
achievement bonus that might be expected.”
Ethnicity and home school interaction
Chapman and Bhopal (2013) challenge what they call “majoritarian tales
of parents of color” (2013:563) that present women of color as “uninvolved and
uninterested in their children’s education” (ibid). Drawing on data from two studies in
the UK and US they argue that women of color [sic] are “involved and active leaders
in the lives of their children by pursuing schooling options, advocating for their
children, and pushing them to obtain higher education” (563) but that because their
“actions are most often seen as hostile, and in opposition to the desires of the schools,
women of color have not received credit for their actions” (ibid). Chapman and
Bhopal found that the mothers in their study were highly committed to their children’s
education seeing Education as a “gateway to success [and] greater social advantage”
(577) and described an ‘immigrant mentality’ (578) that created a culture of high
expectation for children within the family context. However the mothers perceived
that they were judged differently than white mothers when making complaints to
school and “were not seen as being equipped with enough social and cultural capital
to be taken seriously. Yet when similar complaints were made by white mothers
(particularly those from middle-class backgrounds) they were treated differently.
Women were judged by the amount of social and cultural capital they were defined as
possessing. White, middle-class norms of behavior were seen as acceptable within the
white space of the school, but black working-class values were not” (570).
Crozier and Davies’ (2007) study of schools interactions of parents from Bangladeshi
and Pakistani communities in two towns in the north east of England found similar
mis-recognition from teachers and schools of the roles parents played in nurturing
their children’s learning and development. Often labelled as ‘hard to reach’ by schools
parent participants discussed that they were not very involved with their children’s
schools and knew very little about the education system but saw their role as
providing a conducive home environment and as sense of community belonging,
giving support, helping their children to construct a British Muslim identity and
providing wider learning opportunities such as religious learning. Crozier and Davies
suggest that because schools privilege what they call ‘expert’ and ‘transplant’ models
(2007:300) of home school interaction parental contributions to children’s learning
that do not adhere to expected norms tend to be de-legitimised or rendered invisible.
The ‘expert’ model describes the taking up a position of expertise to which parents’
experiential or tacit knowledge is deferred and the ‘transplant’ model describes the
transference of these idea about school expertise and the recruitment of parents as
compliant collaborators. In combination the models operationalize a version of home
school interaction that works to position and exclude non-conformist family and
community practices.
Schools, Ray et al (2010) argue are often “the prime contact between refugees and the
host country” (364) and as such have a crucial role to play in brokering the
relationship families make with their new environment and that identities and roles
that parents and children both build for themselves and make available to each other.
They caution therefore against the potential affect of “colonial discourses of
‘helping’…vulnerable communities.” (2010: 347). Researching the relationships
between schools in the US and Vietnamese Hmong refugee communities they notice
the emergence of what they describe as ‘colonial’ language reflected in “desires to
redirect their [Hmong families] time in a positive manner’…and to ‘assist [Hmong]
parents helping them realize [what] some of their needs are” (2010: 363). Whilst
recognizing the well-meaning motivations of practitioners on the ground working to
develop ‘capacity and success’ in Hmong communities they warn against the
imposition of a politics of universalism that “ensures the reproduction of a social
order in which ‘the dominant or majority culture becomes the mold into which all
other cultures are cast; the majority culture becomes the universal norm’ (Larson and
Ovando 2001: 72 - cited in Ray et al 2010:363) and can lead to what they describe as
‘subtractive’ forms of education that can be socially and psychologically damaging for
refugees and refugee communities. This may be a particularly important issue in the
English context where the historical legacy of colonialism in combination with the
current milieu of a post-Brexit referendum political environment may combine to give
new expression to colonial discourses of ‘saving’, ‘rescuing’ and ‘helping’.
Home School Interaction and Refugee or Recently Arrived Parents
In this section we explore the literature on home school interaction and refugee and
newly arrived parents. As we have found only a limited number of UK based studies
relating to refugee and asylum seeker parents we have also ‘borrowed’ from work on
newly arrived parents.
Home school interaction and newly arrived parents
Two studies, Puttick (2016) and Hope (2011) highlight specific challenges in home-
school interactions faced by refugee parents. The former, based on Somali refugee
parents and two primary schools in Manchester, highlights the confusion newly
arrived parents can experience as they encounter the ‘norms’ of a new education
system for example around school legislation, school safeguarding laws, school
attendance and punctuality procedures, and particular parts of curriculum delivery.
Schools addressed these challenges, which had led to tensions between this group of
parents and the schools, by reviewing their communication methods and
implementing specific measures for this cultural group. Examples of actions taken by
the schools’ include establishment of a Somali parent representative on behalf of the
Somali parents which had helped to build trust and collaboration, acting as a mediator
with the school, as well as extending their community provision for parents in the
form of ESOL and Family Learning classes (Puttick, 2016). Hope’s (2011)
ethnographic study of family learning provision in two South London primary schools
similarly found that refugees had specific needs and strengths which schools required
an understanding of, particularly the existing networks refugee parents are part of, and
a call for schools to involve them in the design and delivery of refugee parent
provision. As has been discussed extensively, Hope also links this process of school’s
interaction with refugees to the theory of ‘symbolic capitals’, ‘to acknowledge the
stores of wealth that refugee families may possess, which can be activated in the new
environment to create ‘transcultural capital’’ (2001: 91).
Whitmarsh’s (2011) study of six asylum-seeker mothers with children attending early
years’ school provision in Wolverhampton, found tensions despite the mothers’
strenuous efforts to support the education of their children. These included: ‘the
provision of resources in other minority languages, together with the lack of resources
in, and speakers of, their home language has led the mothers to perceive their culture
as devalued and inclusion as a token gesture’. Moreover, the study found an
underpinning of ‘possibly racialized discourse’, and some of the mothers were found
to be ‘self-excluding’ themselves from the schools as ‘the mothers perceive teachers
as the experts in children’s education, therefore they are less likely to engage with a
western model of white, middle class partnership’ (2011: 13). Interestingly,
Whitmarsh in relation to this process of self-exclusion on the part of some of the
mothers, posits that perhaps it is in fact the teacher that is ‘hard-to-reach’.
In her study of schools interactions with newly arrived parents from Eastern Europe in
North Wales, Hamilton (2017) found that initially it was language that created an
exclusionary barrier between teachers and families. Parents relied on their children or
other members of the community to act as translators but this sometimes created
additional problems of partial or inaccurate circulation of information, particularly
where children chose to ‘filter’ information or where parents were subject to the
vagaries of the local grapevine. Hamilton found that language barriers resulted in
significant delays for parents to become aware of rules, routines and expectations
about schooling and parental involvement and significant disparities in the
expectations parents in turn bought to their experience of schooling in the new
country. This related particularly to pedagogical style, age grouping and approaches to
managing discipline and behaviour.
Hamilton draws particular attention to the ways that patterns and processes of
migration, for example a father arriving in the UK first and being more competent in
English or parents working long, sometimes unsociable hours, to support re-
settlement, impact on family dynamics and emphasises the stress that this can put on
family relationships and parents’ capacity to interact with school or provide support
for children that align with expected ‘norms’ (discussed above). As such she suggests
“the support parents are able to provide in addressing their children’s social and
emotional needs may diminish and parents may give less priority than normal on
fostering relations with their children’s school” (2017:312). Teachers’ in Hamilton’s
study expressed a desire for teacher education that supported them to orientate a new
situation and Hamilton argues that “practitioners who adopt a respectful, collaborative
and reflective approach are more likely to achieve a positive learning environment,
assisting learners and their families acclimatisation to new school cultures” (2017:
Looking forward: Third Spaces and Multi-Directional parental Engagement
In this next section we draw attention to approaches to home school interaction that
seek to address some of the issues and challenges we discuss above. We pay particular
attention to Price-Mitchell’s notion of ‘multi-directionality’ and consider its
usefulness as an underpinning model for more intersectional approaches to home
school interaction and discuss the contribution that whole family approaches to
literacy might make to a multi-directional approach.
Price-Mitchell’s notion of ‘unidirectional’ draws attention to what she sees as an over-
emphasis on school learning as the only, or priority, objective of home/school
interactions. As such schools offer a ‘mechanistic view’ which separates educators and
parents rather than connecting them with “educators see[ing] themselves as experts”
in children’s learning “rather than equals” (2009:5). This she argues creates
hierarchical relationships and limits capacity to understand and develop partnerships
that create new knowledge. While many parents need and appreciate transfer of
information, this unidirectional process lacks the characteristics of a learning
organization, where people’s capacity to learn exists at all levels (Senge, 2006). In
schools, this includes children, teachers, administrators, parents, and community
members – all those who have an investment in the outcome of education. (2009:8)
The effect of this she argues is that “many schools continue to emphasize participation
and volunteerism over partnership and engagement” (ibid). Such unidirectionals
models miss the opportunity to think through the potential for alternative knowledge-
producing community partnerships that are what Price-Mitchell describes as ‘multi-
directional’. With the notion of multi-directionality Mitchell-Price imagines a
paradigm shift, a move way from the traditionally bounded notions of school and
home where individuals take up prescribed roles and identities, as expert or inexpert,
in relation to who learns and what is learned, towards a community of practice model
that “takes into account the tacit nature of knowledge” and embraces a “collective
process of dialogic learning” within which parents and schools “value the knowledge
and experience of one another” (2009:12). Crucially Mitchell-Price pays attention to
the way that social capital circulates within the context of school and its potential to
include or exclude parents from different social and cultural groups. Attending
instead to the work of building communities has the capacity, she argues, to generate
new opportunities for building social capital. Citing Santana & Schneider (2007)
Mitchell-Price suggests that “lower income and ethnically diverse parents who
traditionally have less access to resources for their children benefit greatly from social
networks as a way of accruing benefits otherwise unavailable to them” (2009:19).
The praxis of multi-directionality is characterised by: boundary spanning’ approaches
to leadership; explicit discussion of tacit knowledge; careful attention to social capital
and how it can manifest both productively and destructively to support
inclusivity/exclusivity; and generation and nurturing of actionable knowledge to
support networked innovation. Towards concluding Mitchell-Price imagines a
community of practice model spanning home, school and the wider community that
shares a common concern and responsibility for the education of the whole child.
Realisation of such a model, she suggests, requires all members of the school
community who work with parents to “pro-actively embrace the role of boundary
spanner”, taking up roles as practitioners who learn “to build relationships that hover
at the peripheries of home, school and community” (2009:14). Such a role, we argue,
substantially shifts the dynamics of what it means to practice education re-positioning
professionals from the safety of ‘expertise’ towards researchers paying attention to
the complex and shifting dynamic of home-school relations.
Hamilton argues that this requires teachers to develop an ‘outreach mentality’
(2017:313) going beyond “promoting awareness among parents of rules and
expectations” towards deep, reflexive exploration of their own socio-cultural
positionality as a ‘teacher’ and representative of authority and taking responsibility for
the agency they have in the processes and practices of home school interaction.
Hamilton challenges teachers to ask of themselves:
Does my social positioning (gender, ethniciy, linguistic, socio-economic)
make it difficult for some families to foster sustained connections, dictating types of
Do I, or colleagues, hold stereotypical and homogenous perceptions based on
social markers (gender, ethnicity, linguistic, socio-economic factors)?
How are minority ethnic/linguistic families accepted by established
How can the enrichment brought to educational settings as a result of cultural
and linguistic diversity be understood, appreciated and shared across the wider school
community? (2017:313)
These contentions that socially justice approaches to parental engagement must start
with teachers’ acceptance and embrace of the political identity work to be (un?)done,
chime with Street’s assertion that new theories require us to ‘read ourselves against
the grain’ (Street,1997: 51). By this he means not simply challenging dominant ‘ways
of knowing’ but living with the psychological consequences of putting under scrutiny
our deepest professional desires and fears and coming to know ourselves differently.
Challenging our practice
Towards a conclusion we offer our own synoptic reading/s of the literature to
characterise the qualities, values, principles, behaviours and actions that might
facilitate a more intersectionally sensitive approach to parental engagement with
newly arrived families. At the heart of our recommendations is the need to read our
teacher (and researcher) selves ‘against the grain’ and to offer reflexive starting points
for understanding how the actions and identities of teachers’ and leaders, as key actors
within the ecologies of educational practice, might be re-framed towards more
inclusive, socially just approaches to parental engagement.
Home school interactions with newly arrived families are most effective when
leaders ensure that:
‘one size does not fit all’ and meeting the needs of the local community
broadly and the needs of newly arrived families specifically are an explicit
stated priority for the school;
initiatives and interventions are informed by multi-directional principles and
form part of the schools’ ‘vision’ or ‘ethos’ and must be visibly and actively
endorsed and supported by the school leadership team;
initiatives and interventions are carefully planned with full consideration given
to resource implications;
senior roles, responsibilities and commitments in relation to driving initiatives
and interventions should be clear and well disseminated to the wider
focused teacher development is recognised and prioritised as a key factor in
achieving successful outcomes;
schools should have a clear sense of what they hope to achieve and a
collectively agreed vision of success criteria – ideally both vision and success
criteria should be developed collaboratively with parents;
home school interaction priorities and actions are incorporated into and
included in school development plans;
progress against actions are regularly monitored and progress (and challenges)
effectively shared and success celebrated with the wider community.
Newly arrived families and carers are most likely to feel included in home school
interaction when schools:
are open, welcome spaces that visibly and explicitly celebrate the diversity of
their communities: through actions and behaviours of staff and students; wall
displays; welcoming messages in entrance halls and reception areas; roles and
responsibilities that are open to and taken up by refugee/m parents in school;
have good, up to date knowledge of the legal frameworks within which newly
arrived families from forced migration contexts operate and the resources and
networks (including government, charity and community led) that families and
schools can access to provide additional support and guidance;
have demonstrate understanding and awareness of how education systems in
key countries differ from their own and how normalised practices around
grouping, assessing, behaviour, defining SEN and transitioning through school
phases may differ from country to country and culture to culture;
can make available a diverse range of language and cultural resources that
ensure that home school interaction is accessible, hassle free and a positive
experience for all parents;
recognise and support the basic needs that a newly arrived family may have
(keeping warm, keeping clean, keeping well fed, access to school uniform,
access to basis equipment etc) that impact on home /school interaction in
fundamental ways;
feel confident that what is beneficial to newly arrived parents/carers/families
is likely to be beneficial for all parents/carers/families;
actively collaborate with newly arrived families (parents and children) in
design of home school interaction programme, taking account of the expressed
aspirations and needs and wider networks within communities;
draw on their wider professional and community resources to adopt and
‘outreach mentality’ that provides scaffolded support (resources, peer support,
language resources etc.) for home school interaction
develop home school interaction programmes are context specific and tailored
to the needs of specific communities;
develop models of parental engagement that recognise the important role
parents play as partners in children’s learning and involve parents/carer as
‘experts’ in children’s development and as decision makers to avoid the
‘colonisation’ of the home and the role of parents;
treat home school interaction as ‘knowledge exchange’ activity through which
teachers and parents as equal stake-holders work collaboratively to create an
optimum environment for young people to thrive as learners and citizens;
creates ‘third spaces’ for home school interaction, that is to say spaces that
bring together ideas and priorities from home and school in dialogue to
generate new fruitful conversations about how best to support children;
afford parents opportunities to gain vocational skills that will support their
employability and enable them to gain references may help families to build
sustainable, more secure futures that provide the conditions for young people
to be more successful in school;
provide access to whole family activities is likely to yield significant benefit.
Schools could provide lists of local places, or facilitate activity in local spaces
that newly arrived parents may not be aware, this may also support
knowledge, understanding and confidence building about accessing wider
community provision and or access and entitlement to local services;
play an active role in facilitating and support peer to peer support for newly
arrived parents/carers to enable them to be inducted in to and informally (or
formally?) supported and mentored to become active participants in the school
cultivate high trust environments that enable teachers to be creative and
experiment with their practice to evolve responsive, ‘grounded pedagogies’
and to build communities of practice that share new knowledge and expertise
to the benefit of both teachers and the wider communities they serve;
enable families to extend their funds of knowledge and build social and
cultural capital that will support achievement of expressed aspirations.
Home school interactions with newly arrived parents work best when teachers:
have opportunities to reflect on their own positionality and how their identities
as professionals and representatives of authority as well as their own socio-
cultural markers (gender, class, ethnicity etc) play out in their work with
families and parents – this is particularly important when the social profile of
teachers is significantly different to that of the school community/refugee
have opportunities to explore their own communication repertoires (including
their language and literacy identities), the strengths and weaknesses of the
communication strategies they currently use to interact with parents and their
ideas for developing and extending their work;
explore the ways that the social and cultural capitals (funds of knowledge) that
families bring to their home school interaction may work to include or
understand the transition journeys of young people and their families;
are professionally curious about the cultures and values that parents/carers and
families bring to their engagement with schools and have an opportunity to
explore, critique and challenge prejudices and stereotypes (including in the
UK context a consideration of how colonial legacies play out negatively in
contemporary relationships);
are committed to balancing expressed needs of parents/families/carers with the
professional demands and responsibilities of their role as teacher (within legal
have an awareness of the way education systems function differently outside
their home country and accept that parents/carers/families/young people bring
may different values and expectations about education to their encounters with
school and that the teacher must build bridges to support successful
schools have a good understanding of how education systems in key countries
differ from their own and how normalised practices around grouping,
assessing, behaviour, defining SEN and transitioning through school phases
may differ from country to country and culture to culture;
understand how to work with young people and families who have
experienced ‘trauma’ , the impacts of this on a young person’s interactions
with school and know when and how to signpost to fellow professionals;
are empowered to balance the needs of the young person with the ‘norms’ of
school practices e.g. when a child’s ‘legal age’ appears at odds with their
developmental or social age;
have some working knowledge of how to work with parents/carers/families of
young people who have additional educational need and or who don't speak
the official or dominant language/s of the school;
have opportunities build their pedagogical repertoire to understand the
differences between working in a learning context with children and working
in a learning context with adults (andragogy);
explore how best to marry competing priorities, advocate and lobby where
local accountability cultures and the best interests of the young person and
their families are not well aligned.
Crozier, G. 1999. “Is it a Case of ‘We Know When We’re Not Wanted?’ The Parents’
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Price-Mitchell (2009) Boundary Dynamics: Implications for Building Parent-School
... Although one participating educator explained that 'parents … might feel disempowered' by a different educational system including the expectation of an 'active' role 'in their child's learning' (VIC1 Educator), another educator emphasised the need of 'active parenting' (TAS3 Educator), including the benefits for the child of parent-initiated contact with the school. However, the assumption that all parents can equally advocate on behalf of their child ignores how, for instance, cultural, linguistic, and educational factors differentially position parents within the school community (Kendall & Puttick 2020). ...
... Expectations about the extent to which parents participate in their child's school are shaped by socio-cultural norms, that are changeable over time and in different contexts. For example, the perception that parents are only 'engaged' if they adopt specific actions and behaviours (Kendall & Puttick 2020) can lead to the assumption that refugee background parents are 'uninvolved' unless they adopt the behavioural norms of their Australian school community. This may overlook 'invisible' strategies refugee background parents use to support their children's learning in the home context (Azerdogan 2019). ...
... It has been argued that teachers are better positioned to support students' learning if they are open to value and learn from the knowledge that parents possess about their children (Jones 2020). Similarly, Kendall and Puttick (2020) assert that teachers need to be 'boundary spanners' (p. 44), so that they can tap into the knowledge and experience that parents from refugee backgrounds possess about their children. ...
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A descriptive overview of the Turkish context relying on a synthesis of the literature to identify ad hoc educational policy changes that progress towards mainstreaming forced immigrants into public education. As a transit but also high-receiving country, Turkey has had to go through several changes at the policy and practice levels. This chapter provides us with a picture of measures taken to ensure the continuation of education for refugee children.
With a focus on parental engagement strategies, this ‘think piece’ provides insights drawn from the perspectives of parents from Hazara ethnicity and their children as well as English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers from four public secondary schools in Tasmania, Australia, that participated in the author’s doctoral research. It was found that strategies and practices associated with Parent-Teacher meetings in these schools differentiated between English-speaking and non-English speaking background (NESB) parents. The consequence of being positioned together with other NESB parents as if they were a homogeneous group, overlooked other social identity markers such as ethnicity, class, and gender. Whereas ‘mainstream’ parents met individually with their child’s subject teachers, this was not an option for the Hazara parents unless they could provide their own interpreter. Instead, they were invited to an EAL Parent-Teacher meeting where the EAL teacher and interpreters provided an overview of the children’s reports. It is argued in this paper that to ‘create a learning community with the child at the centre’, teaching staff and refugee background parents need to work together in sharing their experiences and knowledge of the child both at school and at home.
In this paper we ‘plug in’ ideas from post-qualitative thinking to read empirical material from Erasmus+ project, Open School Doors, and mobilise new ways of conceptualising teachers’ work with newly arrived families. Driven by commitments to inclusion and social justice teacher participants described tacit, in-the-moment, knowledge-making, that felt contingent and risky, as they sought to respond to encounters with families that demanded compassionate action but pushed them beyond the threshold of professional certainty and the would-be neutralities of ‘professional’ identities. We understand these affective responses to the work of teaching as ‘abductive’ moments of breakdown, rupture and estrangement, that draw attention to the always already becoming nature of professional practice. We put to work the concepts of entanglement, assemblage and rhizomes to make use of ‘abductive’ moments as productive opportunities for exploration of teachers’ messy, implicated, intra-relatedness to their practice worlds and to imagine models of professional learning that promote connection and knowledge-in-the-making as ethical, ‘response-able’ post/rhizo-professional alternative to linear forms of professional learning. Our discussion is embedded in a specific context but has important broader implications for the design of teacher education as preparation for complex anticipated working lives.
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Wide-ranging educational, political, economic, social, and cultural factors have an influence on the extent of marginalisation to integration experienced by newly-arrived refugee families to the UK This study focused on diverse Somali refugee families in Manchester, UK, many of whom had none or low levels of previous education in their first language of Somali (L1). An inter-disciplinary approach was utilised drawing primarily from the fields of applied linguistics , education, and refugee and migration studies to identify the specific needs of refugees. The study addressed the linguistic and cultural discourses and challenges which arise in the global context of acculturation. It considered how such factors could lead to conflict between diverse communities, focusing on the situational context of the UK primary education system. Conflict was shown to arise, to different extents, from a lack of understanding regarding legislation, school safeguarding laws, school attendance and punctuality procedures, and aspects of curriculum delivery. Practical suggestions were made to address these issues as well as the needs of parents with low literacy skills. Recommendations were also made regarding improving communication methods between schools and second language (L2) parents, and developing an inter-agency approach, particularly through family learning and ESOL provision.
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In 2015, Europe faced the arrival of over 1.25 million refugees fleeing from war-affected countries. The public mainly learned about this issue through domestic media. Through the use of computer-assisted content analysis, this study identifies the most dominant frames employed in the coverage of refugee and asylum issues between January 2015 and January 2016 in six Austrian newspapers (N = 10,606), particularly focusing on potential differences between quality and tabloid media, and on frame variations over time. The findings reveal that, apart from administrative aspects of coping with the arrivals, established narratives of security threat and economisation are most prominent. Humanitarianism frames and background information on the refugees’ situation are provided to a lesser extent. During the most intense phases of the crisis, the framing patterns of tabloid and quality media become highly similar. Media coverage broadens to multiple prominent frames as issue salience sharply increases, and then ‘crystallises’ into a more narrow set. In sum, the results confirm a predominance of stereotyped interpretations of refugee and asylum issues, and thus persisting journalistic routines in both, tabloid and quality media, even in times of a major political and humanitarian crisis.
Technical Report
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Parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school. It is their support of learning within the home environment that makes the maximum difference to achievement.
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Commonsense understandings of school practices have historically painted parents of color as inattentive and non-participatory actors in public school settings. Racist implementations of policy and individual actions, based on teacher ideology and deficit paradigms of race, force parents of color to take an oppositional stance in public school settings. The commonsense notion of “good” parenting is countered by descriptions of how parents of color, particularly mothers, remain involved and active leaders in the lives of their children by pursuing schooling options and opposing enactments of school policies and practices that further marginalize their children. Using data from two studies in different countries, the authors explore how women of color enact racial justice by advocating for their children and preparing them to face racism in public school settings.
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This article draws on systems theory, complexity theory, and the organiza - tional sciences to engage boundary dynamics in the creation of parent-school partnerships. These partnerships help children succeed through an emergent process of dialogue and relationship building in the peripheral spaces where parents and schools interact on behalf of children. Historically, parental in- volvement and parent education programs evolved from mechanistic thinking. This review and interpretation of multidisciplinary research suggests reframing parent-school partnerships in the context of schools as learning communities that generate new knowledge and innovation as the experiences and com- petencies of teachers and parents interact to make tacit knowledge explicit. Knowledge society concepts including social capital, actionable knowledge, networked innovation, and communities of practice are applied to parent- school partnerships. Acknowledging vast contributions of research to current understanding of parental involvement, the article also explores the limitations of existing theoretical models and seeks to expand that understanding through the introduction of boundary dynamics and systems thinking.
Current government policy, which calls for closer working relationships with families, together with the escalation of globalised communities places mounting pressure on teachers to take account of increasingly diverse family values, traditions and parenting styles. Considering the disproportionate number of minority ethnic children facing educational underachievement in the UK, one could argue practitioners take up this challenge. In view of increased European migration, this paper considers factors which remain the key to enabling migrant worker parents to establish and sustain effective links with their child’s school. After decades of research and government reports, how far we have come to ensuring that all families are enabled to become involved in their children’s schooling? The findings, which stem from a broader qualitative study, are largely presented through three collective vignettes which represent the voices, and different experiences, encountered by nine migrant worker parents. Factors identified as having significance to home–school relations include language barriers, issues associated with changing family structures, and community relations.
Over the last two decades, women have organized against the almost routine violence that shapes their lives. Drawing from the strength of shared experience, women have recognized that the political demands of millions speak more powerfully than the pleas of a few isolated voices. This politicization in turn has transformed the way we understand violence against women. For example, battering and rape, once seen as private (family matters) and aberrational (errant sexual aggression), are now largely recognized as part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as a class. This process of recognizing as social and systemic what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual has also characterized the identity politics of people of color and gays and lesbians, among others. For all these groups, identity-based politics has been a source of strength, community, and intellectual development. The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with dominant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination-that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist and racial liberation movements, for example, is the view that the social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of political empowerment and social reconstruction. The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite- that it frequently conflates or ignores intra group differences. In the context of violence against women, this elision of difference is problematic, fundamentally because the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover, ignoring differences within groups frequently contributes to tension among groups, another problem of identity politics that frustrates efforts to politicize violence against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color' have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Al-though racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as "woman" or "person of color" as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling. My objective here is to advance the telling of that location by exploring the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color. Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy. Focusing on two dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape-I consider how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourse of either feminism or antiracism... Language: en
Based on the literature of the field, this article traces a continuum between parental involvement with schools, and parental engagement with children’s learning. The article seeks to shed light on an area of confusion; previous research has shown that different stakeholder groups understand “parental engagement” in different ways. Other literature makes it clear that the greatest benefit is derived from the furthest end of the proposed continuum, that is, parental engagement with children’s learning. The continuum gives examples of each stage of the movement along the continuum. The continuum is illustrated not only in prose but as a diagram. The article concludes with a discussion of the agency of parents and schools in the movement along the continuum.