Hilltop Road Public School, located in Merrylands, NSW, is a government-supported primary school currently providing services for 763 students from diverse backgrounds. The school was founded in 1952 with only three classes and 90 children (“About our school,” n.d.). By its fiftieth anniversary, it had 19 classes and 580 learners (“About our school,” n.d.). In 2019, 41 teachers were providing the rate of full-time equivalent teaching staff equal to 46.0 (“Hilltop Road Public School, Merrylands,” n.d.).
There were five non-staff members of personnel, which made the equivalent of non-teaching staff 4.7. As of 2019, the index of community socio-educational advantage (ICSEA) constituted 977 at the general school value, which is below the average, and 35 as per school percentile. 763 students (367 boys and 396 girls) are enrolled in full-time education (“Hilltop Road Public School, Merrylands,” n.d.). Out of these, 3% were indigenous children, and 78% were students having a language background other than English.
The results of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in 2019 were quite good, the school’s average being close to students with a similar background (SIM) in most of the indicators. Year 3 students were close to SIM in writing, spelling, and grammar, but below SIM in reading and numeracy (“Student results,” n.d.). Year 5 students were close to SIM in reading, writing, grammar, and numeracy, and above SIM in spelling (“Student results,” n.d.).
NAPLAN participation for the school is 98%, which is 3% higher than for all students in Australia. A positive tendency has been noticed in students’ progress compared to previous years (“Student progress, n.d.). Families are commonly newcomers and feel isolated in the community at the beginning, which urges the need for establishing a productive partnership between schools, families, and communities. The core reason for low results in some areas is the isolation of newly arrived families with diverse language backgrounds in the community. Therefore, the school realises the potential of involving parents in its activities.
Parental involvement plays the utmost role in achieving children’s progress at school. Research indicates that with parents’ help, young learners can demonstrate considerable progress in reading skills and mathematics (Scott-Baker, 2018; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005). Recently, the school implemented a partnership approach that presupposes parents’ active participation in various processes. The project is dedicated to making indigenous and newly-arrived families immerse in the school’s environment, which leads to new opportunities for children (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). The programme is based on the RICE model: Relationships: Interests: Connecting: Engagement (“Parents and community connecting with learning,” n.d.). The main goal of the approach is the involvement of parents in the school’s life through a variety of outreach programmes. The school arranges computer courses, gardening programmes, and bicycle courses for parents. With the help of these and other measures, it has become possible to interest the wider community in the school’s life.
Before the implementation of the partnership programme in Hilltop Road, parental engagement was not the most important feature of the school culture. As a result, students’ families’ mentality and the relationship between parents and the school produced a negative effect on children’s achievements. With the introduction of the programme, however, everything has changed for the better. Children feel much safer and more secure now that they know their parents can come to school and participate in various activities there (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). This achievement is of utmost importance since children who do not feel secure and safe struggle to learn well due to many psychological constraints.
The community engagement programme aims at cooperating with different groups of people in the school and providing the best it can to meet their needs. The school takes into consideration the whole family’s wellbeing rather than only student needs. By supporting families, the school manages to create a favourable atmosphere for young learners, their parents, and their communities. For instance, parents are taught how to create a resume and apply for a job, how to improve their living conditions, and how to take care of themselves. There is a school counsellor helping newcomers deal with major changes and traumas (“Parents, carers ad the community,” n.d.). In fact, parents are invited to participate in school activities much earlier than their child starts attending. That way, it is much easier for families to assimilate.
The Seesaw approach enables parents, children, and teachers to collaborate successfully. Hence, the school becomes “the hub” of the community (“Hilltop Road Public School,” n.d., para. 2). The school also provides parents with no knowledge of English with interpreters to arrange effective communication (“Parents, carers and the community,” n.d.). As a result, parents gain a better understanding of what community is and develop a sense of belonging (Chua et al., 2017; Epstein, 2018). Building home-school partnerships produce a highly positive effect on children’s values (Crea et al., 2015). Attendance rates improve in the conditions of such collaboration (Sheldon, 2007). When children see their parents at school, they can come over and have a chat or ask for some help. The program has demonstrated its effectiveness and positive outcomes for schools, families, and communities alike.
The Main Approaches and Rationale
The approach utilised by the school was aimed at creating a stable and productive partnership with children’s families. The success of the programme can be evaluated both by means of parents’ feedback and results from scholarly research studies. The model of engagement used by the school can be characterised as a transmission, curriculum-enrichment, and partnership one (Hornby, 2011).
In the transmission approach, parents are involved in the school’s life to promote and support its objectives. In this model, teachers do not merely dictate to parents what they should do, but, rather, agree with the idea that parents can have suggestions of their own that may be useful for the school’s development (Hornby, 2011). The transmission model presupposes the knowledge of specific techniques by educators, with the help of which they can guide parents and generate positive collaboration with them. However, the school should be cautious when using the transmission model in order to avoid excessive pressure on parents.
The curriculum-enrichment approach enables teachers to make the school curriculum richer by assimilating families’ contributions. This model is highly applicable to Hilltop Road Public School since it focuses on multicultural education (Hornby, 2011). The curriculum-enrichment approach allows implementing elements of curricula that reflect different interests and cultural backgrounds of families whose children attend the school. Furthermore, this method enables schools to eliminate the language barrier and increase parents’ knowledge of English.
Another positive model of parental engagement is the partnership one. This approach is probably the most suitable for Hilltop Road since it gives equal value to teachers and parents: educators are viewed as experts on teaching, and parents are regarded as experts on their children (Hornby, 2011). By sharing their experience and knowledge, school and family can reach the optimal educational results for children. All stakeholders have various strengths, by adding which, they can bring about the most productive outcomes (Hornby, 2011). Partnerships between schools and families have a positive impact n NAPLAN results (Chua et al., 2017).
Also, such collaboration can promote children’s attendance significantly (McConnell & Kubina, 2014). Effective collaboration of parents and teachers is based on such principles as trust, communication, competence, respect, advocacy, equality, and commitment. If both the school and families take these into account, they will increase the power of their relationship to a great extent.
The school programme is based on a family-systems theory, which incorporates community engagement activities and providing for families’ needs. By doing so, the school concentrates not only on its pupils but on whole families, which boosts the opportunity for progress. A family-systems approach allows empowering families and enables them to reach better results (Dunst & Trivette, 2009). This method focuses on identifying the needs of the whole family rather than only on the child’s ones. Family-centred practice is a key component of establishing effective partnerships (Rouse, 2012). Specifically, setting common goals and encouraging parents to participate in decision-making promote closer participation of parents in their children’s school life. Moreover, such engagement also increases the opportunities of parents from diverse backgrounds to assimilate faster.
Home-school partnerships with culturally diverse families constitute a viable solution to developing parental engagement both in in-school and extra-curricular activities, which gives a number of opportunities for parents to accommodate to the new environment while simultaneously helping their children to assimilate into their school. Approaches for collaboration with the native population are not suitable for immigrant families (Vazquez-Nuttall et al., 2006). One of the reasons for differences in traditional and diverse populations is that the former is viewed as a typical family structure with a typical income and possibilities.
Meanwhile, immigrant families are frequently different from this definition, is composed of a single parent who may be non-employed (Vazquez-Nuttall et al., 2006). Another problem is that culturally diverse parents may not realise what they are expected in terms of helping their children with their school work. The understanding of cultural differences is what makes school-family partnerships stronger and more effective (Crea et al., 2015). Hence, the use of this approach at Hilltop Road promotes parental participation and encourages children to improve their results.
Another viable approach to utilise is Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. This paradigm concentrates on the interconnection between family and school as the most important ecosystems of a child’s development (Paat, 2013). According to Bronfenbrenner, ecology should be understood as the most significant theoretical approach for children from immigrant families since they are not isolated but are a part of a larger social structure, which is related to other social domains and institutions. Five subsystems make up the ecological systems theory: micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystems (Paat, 2013).
The most important system for a child’s development is the microsystem, since it shapes the child’s primary environment, needs, and possibilities. The microsystems that have the most significant effect on children’s evolution are, therefore, family and school. Hence, a successful collaboration between the two is likely to increase children’s opportunities, while the lack of such collaboration can reduce a child’s chances for successful development.
The importance of the ecological systems approach is largely recognised for the early development. According to Bronfenbrenner, the essence of a child’s progress is the growing capacity to do more (Leu, 2008). Thus, the association between parents and teachers can bring much better results than separate endeavours taken by each of these stakeholder groups independently. By combining their efforts, parents and teachers can find out the areas of improvement, as well as those in which children are quite successful already.
Effectiveness and Evaluation
The selected approaches used in the partnership have proved to be rather effective, relevant, and successful, which can be justified by participants’ feedback and the review of the literature. Additionally, students’ achievement and attendance can serve as indicators of the programme’s success. First of all, it is necessary to listen to indigenous and immigrant parents’ comments about the programme since these data are valuable in assessing the approach. In their evaluation of the school’s partnership efforts, parents unanimously agree that teachers and school administration have done everything in their power to eliminate various barriers existing for newcomers (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). Many families used to feel isolated when they first arrived in the area, and these feelings impacted children’s attitude toward performing school activities and communicating with peers and teachers. When Hilltop Road Public School introduced the learning community of children, families, and educators, the situation changed for the better (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). Immigrant families stopped feeling unwanted, unskilled, and unable to do anything for their children’s development or the community. The project allowed them to become integrated and re-evaluate their possibilities.
Another way of assessing the programme’s success is the arrangement of parent-teacher interviews. At such interviews, teachers can ask parents about their children’s problems and discuss their achievements (“Parent-teacher interviews,” n.d.). During a meeting, educators and families can ask each other questions and receive valuable answers, which serve as insights to further work with children. If a parent has difficulty speaking in English, the school provides him or her with an interpreter (“Parent-teacher interviews,” n.d.). Interviews help to create a study plan with the consideration of a particular child’s skills, inclinations, preferences, and prospects. During such meetings, parents can express their opinions on the programme, which promotes a more effective evaluation.
Hilltop Road Public School’s teachers find it crucial to arrange communication and collaboration with families. By using the Seesaw approach, which connects schools and families, educators are able to create suitable learning activities not only for children but also for their parents (“Hilltop Road Public School,” n.d.). An important aspect of evaluating results is gathering parents’ comments. The latest assessment indicated that not a single parent considered the approach as negative (“Hilltop Road Public School,” n.d.). It is possible to conclude that such significant success has been gained by utilising the approach of focusing on the whole family rather than a child as a unit of intervention (Dunst & Trivette, 2009). Other factors of success are empowering parents and using promotion as the intervention power rather than prevention or treatment. Parents’ attitudes toward the use of traditional and modern means of communication are also viewed as significant success indicators (Laho, 2019). Teachers’ role in promoting the adoption of new technologies among immigrant families cannot be overestimated.
The effectiveness of the programme can also be evaluated with the help of collecting parents’ feedback on their participation in decision-making. Since parents commonly refer to themselves as their child’s protectors, it is natural for them to expect a vote in the process of making important decisions (Mak et al., 2014). The key aspect in this process is information, so access to it, as well as to the means of sharing it, constitutes a point of significance for parents when assessing the school’s collaboration efforts. Hilltop Road parents are highly satisfied with teachers’ efforts taken in this respect.
The success of the partnership can be assessed by such indicators as students’ attendance and achievement. The 2019 results indicate that the school’s NAPLAN score has improved in comparison to the results of two years before (“Student progress,” n.d.). The number of students making above-average progress has also increased compared to past results. In 2015-2017, the percentage of year 3-5 students who achieved such progress in reading was 49%. Meanwhile, in 2017-2019, the number reached 51% (“Student progress,” n.d.). Innumeracy, the progress grew from 46% in 2015-2017 to 48% in 2015-2017 (“Student progress,” n.d.). Students’ attendance rate is also rather high, over 90%, it being the highest among indigenous children. Such indicators are closely linked to school-family partnership since parents’ involvement has been found to affect children’s likelihood to attend regularly (McConnell & Kubina, 2014). As such, attendance and achievement indicators are useful tools for evaluating the programme’s success.
Finally, teachers and other school staff regularly perform self-reflection to evaluate their success in establishing and promoting a school-family partnership. Such self-assessment enables professionals to single out the most and least productive methods they utilise in their work. When some gaps or disadvantages are found, teachers do their best to mitigate the negative outcomes for children and their families. For instance, if a teacher notices that some approach to communicating with parents is not productive, they will reconsider the method or even remove it from the system altogether. On the other hand, when an educator sees that some element of the programme has had a higher effect than average, they will do their best to increase the extent of this approach’s use in school-family cooperation. Self-reflection is a viable option for evaluating the efforts and finding out the positive and negative sides of the programme.
Challenges and Ways of Addressing Them
While school-family partnerships offer a variety of advantages for children, educators, and parents, it is not always easy to arrange them due to several challenges. There are four groups of factors referred to as barriers to successful school-family partnership formation. According to Hornby and Lafaele (2011), these are an individual parent (family), child, parent-teacher, and societal factors. Individual issues may include parents’ beliefs about collaboration, perceptions of teachers’ approaches to engaging parents, their life contexts, and ethnicity, gender, and class aspects (Hornby, 2011). Child factors include age, learning disabilities and complications, behavioural issues, and personal talents. Parent-teacher factors are dissimilar goals, different attitudes to learning, and disparities in languages (Hornby, 2011). Finally, societal factors include demography, history, politics, and economics of each family’s origin and current position. Each of the mentioned aspects can serve as a barrier to forming successful partnerships between school and family.
First of all, it might be impossible for teachers to help every single family in need because of having too much workload, which includes planning how and what to teach, how to make teaching effective, and writing various student reports. Furthermore, a teacher may lack training and experience in dealing with families’ issues. To eliminate these difficulties, the school should hire social workers to help teachers manage parents’ problems. Social workers are professionals in the sphere of problem-solving, so it will be easier for them to make referrals and provide the best services for families. Additionally, parents employed fulltime or single parents might not be able to join school programs during the week. Social workers, unlike teachers, could arrange a collaboration with these families during weekends so that every parent would have access to the cooperation projects, and teachers would not need to work overtime.
Another barrier existing in the sphere of teacher-parent cooperation is the language one. This is a very serious threat to the successful communication and learning of children and their families. Demographically diverse schools are more complicated to work in than demographically homogeneous ones (Cooper, 2009). Due to the school’s diversity, it may become more and more difficult to involve families’ participation, whereas parental interest in children’s education is a crucial success factor (LaRocque et al., 2011). One of the ways to eliminate this problem is dealing with the language barrier.
Currently, the school offers those parents who do not have a sufficient level of English interpreters services. However, despite the availability of such an opportunity, non-English-speaking parents may still feel isolated. Furthermore, translators may not be available for every single programme or meeting (“Parents, carers and the community,” n.d.). The school offers services for children coming from over 50 different countries (“Hilltop Road Public School,” n.d.). Naturally, it may be complicated for the school’s authorities to find a sufficient number of interpreters to be there every time family members need to communicate with teachers. Another consequent challenge is that meetings can take up too much time due to the need for interpreters to finish the translation. To manage this issue, the school could arrange a programme to teach students and their parents English together. This approach will not only help parents to build relationships with their children but also encourage parents to become role models for their sons and daughters. In this programme, children could use their native language to help their parents study basic English and start communicating with teachers and other families easily.
Finally, another possible difficulty is the lack of teachers’ efforts to engage parents in productive partnerships. Flecha and Soler (2013) note that family participation is primarily based on the school’s promotion of engagement. At the same time, Martjin Willemse et al. (2018) emphasise the existence of a two-sided problem. On the one hand, teachers do not always arrange systematic parental engagement. On the other hand, parents do not always respond to teachers’ efforts even if the latter is sufficient. It is possible to assume that the cause of such difficulties is the lack of time, preparation, and knowledge of parents, as well as the overload in teachers’ curricula. To manage these issues, the school might introduce artificial intelligence techniques, which are rather helpful and not time-consuming.
One of the viable solutions is offering parents educational materials on YouTube with the use of subtitles in their native languages. This approach will eliminate translation and understanding problems, as well as it will reduce the need for interpreters. Another approach is parent-teaching association via Zoom meetings. This technology is easy to master and utilise, and it saves much time and effort, making it possible for teachers and parents to meet at a convenient time.
The analysis of the case study about a professional partnership between teachers and parents at Hilltop Road Public School allows concluding that current approaches used at school are rather successful. Indeed, many barriers may exist to the implementation of such projects (Flecha & Soler, 2013; Hornby & Lafaele, 2011; Martjin Willemse et al., 2018). Still, Hilltop Road teachers do their best to eliminate difficulties and utilise opportunities. Acceding to Dunst and Trivette (2009), the focus of school-family cooperation should be made not on the child but the whole family. It is possible to say that Hilltop Road Public School corresponds to this requirement since it concentrates much effort in making parents, not only children, assimilate easily to the new environment (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). Family-centered practice is emphasised as a crucial prerequisite of successful children’s education by such researchers as Rouse (2012) and Vazquez-Nuttall et al. (2006). Both of these studies make a focus on establishing partnerships between schools and families as a positive factor in children’s progress. Hence, the school’s approaches may be viewed as suitable since they are correspondent with current societal requirements and scholarly research.
Moreover, the school utilises a partnership model of engagement with a parent, which is considered the best one by specialists in the sphere of parental engagement in school life. According to Hornby (2011), forming a partnership between teachers and families is the best way of gaining the best outcomes for children. Thus, the school’s direction of progress is positive and determined, which is justified by scholarly research findings.
Next, the school meets the National Quality Standard Framework (NQSF) in the area of collaboration with parents. Particularly, such elements as 6.1.3 (support of families) and 6.2.3 (community engagement) may be discussed in this respect (“Quality area 6,” n.d.). Element 6.1.3 presupposes the availability of information to families concerning the school’s services and the accessibility to resources for families’ wellbeing and parents’ support. Based on parents’ feedback and teachers’ reports, the school meets this requirement (“Parents and community connecting with learning,” n.d). Element 6.2.3 requires establishing relationships between school and family and maintaining the link with the community (“Quality area 6,” n.d.).
Parents’ feedback on this aspect is also rather positive (Australian Learning Lecture, 2018). Parents note that the school does everything possible to simplify their adaptation to the new environment, which has a positive impact on their children’s learning results. Other elements of the NQSF, such as respect for parents’ views, access and participation, and engagement with the service, are also promoted by the school to a sufficient extent (“Quality area 6,” n.d.). Such results indicate a generally favourable approach of the school toward forming partnerships with families.
Having analysed a variety of elements of the case study, it is possible to make some suggestions for the improvement of school-family partnerships in the future. While the programme is functioning quite successfully at a current phase, the school needs to develop new approaches and continuously evaluate its achievements. To do so, teachers should adjust their programmes to new children’s and parents’ needs. Furthermore, it is necessary to obtain government funding to support the partnership programme over time. Additional funding would allow hiring social workers and information technology specialists who would take some workload off teachers’ shoulders and leave them time for actually educating children and parents. At present, it seems that teachers are overworked and under the constant pressure of numerous assignments and responsibilities. By giving a part of duties to social workers, teachers will be able to concentrate on their direct duties.
Another suggestion is to implement transformational leadership in social workers’ work. By doing so, teachers will attain better learning outcomes for children and gain positive changes not only for learners but also for their parents. Social workers utilising the transformational approach will have more energy and passion for ocncentrating on supporting both the school and family (Cooper, 2009). By encouraging the development of common goals, social workers will promote new ways of thinking and doing things. Furthermore, a clear vision of communication within the partnership will be possible to achieve. In order to have better relationships with families, teachers need to understand what is going on in their students’ lives. This information will enable social workers to find solutions to the most burning problems. Regular meetings with social work specialists will allow teachers and parents to resolve emerging issues and move to mutual learning activities faster.
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