Gill Crozier


  I’m Gill Crozier.  I’m the Professor of Education at the University of Sutherland in Britain. 

We’re hypothesizing now.  We – well, the reason I’m stumbling here is because parental involvement takes on many different forms and we do have different types of parental involvement in existence at the moment, and of course, different kinds of parents engage in different kinds of parental involvement.  But specifically with regards to decision making and advocacy, if parents were able to play a forepart in making decisions and advocating on the part of their child.  One, I think this would present fairly huge challenges to the school and – and it would be difficult, and it is difficult because they’re struggling with these sorts of issues now, but if they – if they engage with the parents to achieve this then it could actually enable schools to be much more community based rather then separate from their community rather then isolated and so on.  It would also, um, enable the schools to understand much more fully the needs of the – of the children that they are teaching.  I think it’s generally recognized or at least (unintelligible) to that parents know more about their children’s needs then anybody else and yet schools are not really enabling parents to present that knowledge and understanding.  So if parents were more involved in the decision making and were able to act more fully as advocates then I think it would have – it would have that kind of impact on the schools.  And, of course, there would be a corresponding impact upon the children too because it would enable their needs to be more fully met, and – and children particularly who are not doing very well in school – perhaps we’ll talk a bit more about that later – and it – it would help the parents to support those children and in turn engage the teachers in a discussion about their particular needs.

Well, I don’t think it has really been embraced.  Not to such and the nature of my (unintelligible).  In Britain I don’t think that Joyce Epstein’s model of parent/school relationships has really been embraced.  The nature of my research is not, and certainly at the moment, it’s not that interventionist action research type of work and so I haven’t, um, embraced that either.  What I’ve done is my research is more sociologically based so I’ve looked – I’m looking at what’s actually going on and just – and describing that, but also developing an analysis of that, particularly in relationship to education government policies.

I think in Britain, um, parental input into, uh, a school administration, um, is related specifically to the role of the governing body.  Each school in Britain has a governing body and the members of the governing body comprise, uh, the head teacher, 1 or 2 teachers from the school, some parents, uh, member of the local auth – education authority and co-opted members, which maybe people from gov – or from business or some such person.  And the government – the previous government – the previous conservative government (unintelligible) has imp – has enhanced the numbers of parent representatives on these governing bodies.  However, parents from working class groups and ethnic minority groups tend to be under represented as school governors.  And even where they are represented, uh, the little research that has been done has shown that they tend to be marginalized on the governing body itself.  For (unintelligible) middle-class parents, they’re much more in the forefront.  They have more confidence, more power really to voice their views.  The other thing to say about governing bodies, however, is that the parent representative is not mandated.  So although their – they are elected by the parent body – uh, onto the governing body, they’re not actually mandated by the parent body to speak for the parents.

To some extent, uh, the government has instigated policies to enable greater parental involvement, not advocacy.  I’ll come back to that in a moment.  I mean I’ve already said that the numbers of parents have been enhanced with regard to representation on the governing body.  There’s a – a strong movement in Britain – well, perhaps I shouldn’t talk about Britain.  I should really just talk about England and Wales because their education systems for Scotland – uh, their education system for Scotland is different.  But, the thing – there’s a strong movement in England and Wales to – to encourage or even pressurize parents to become more involved in a certain way and the government is strongly advocating that.  So how are they doing that, um, apart from through the governing body?  There – there is something called the home school agreement.  Uh, it’s like a contract but it’s not binding and parents don’t have to sign it.  Schools are suppose to consult with parents in drawing this up and – and they kind of did initially, but – but once it’s drawn up its almost set in stone.  Um, it’s – it’s not really, um, a very dynamic way of encouraging parents to actually have a say or to be involved in decision making.  So although on the face of it there are policies that, uh, are suppose to support parent involvement and actually encouraging parents and giving them the confidence and enabling them to have a say and to advocate for their children, there aren’t those policies at the moment.  How could schools change that?  I think schools – I think this could be done at various levels.  I think schools as a whole have to make themselves more welcoming.  They have to recognize the diversity of their parent body, as well as the diversity of their people’s needs.  And in recognizing the diversity of their parent body they have to see that – that parents, um, will relate the school in different ways, and also that the school needs to relate to them in different ways.  Now there are dangers in that.  There are dangers with regard to perpetuating a deficit model, but what I’m talking about is actually developing respect for all parents and reaching out to parents to enable them – or to reach out to them and to inform them.  And this is a key aspect, I think, that parents need to be more informed.  They need to be more informed about their child’s progress.  I think also parents need to be more informed about how they can, um, work in (unintelligible) specific ways with the school.  I think the channels of communication need to be developed much more then they have been.  And schools do actually send out a lot of information to parents, but it doesn’t seem to take on board that parents relate their written word in quite different ways, and some people don’t relate strongly to the written word actually.  And when I’ve interviewed parents they’ve said, um, you know, some of the information just goes over their heads.  “I don’t really understand what it’s about,” or indeed, why they are being sent this information.  What they’re not sent much information on is their child’s progress.  So just to recap – so I think – I think schools need to be more welcoming.  They need to set up better channels of communication.  I think also schools could set up forums – and some schools have done this – but within that forum they’ve got to make them conducive to debate and not just lecturing at parents.  And – and to think creatively about how you structure that forum.  A lot of working class parents and – that I’ve interviewed, um, feel a lack of self confidence actually in going to the school and participating in these kinds of forums.  I think another thing schools can do is to really – is to encourage parents at the classroom level or the year group level in a secondary school.  So rather then invite them to a whole school forum they – they might have a smaller parental group based upon the year group of the classroom.  And something I said a moment ago about specific, um, initiatives, um, that the – that they might – the teachers might want to involve the parents in to actually be specific about these and about the role that the parents can play.

Well I think what – what prompted my research initially was, um, my – uh, this study that I did for my doctorate for my PhD, which was the implementation of race indication policies in schools and I felt – in completing that project I felt both the teachers and the children, actually, needed additional support in trying to engage with these particular issues and – and it – and they needed support from parents.  So I wanted to look at what was going on between the parents in the schools and – and – and what kind of role parents might play.  And I was specifically – I was specifically interested in race and education issue, but actually, um, my work has – has looked at white parents of different social classes, as well as black parents, and then actually now going on to look at parents from Asian groups too.

Well, I – if I talked specifically from my own work, the black parents I’ve interviewed, they are very committed to their children’s education and they are very active and involved in their children’s education.  They’re very active in the – the sort of what you might call the normative ways.  The supporting the homework, the getting the children to school on time, providing resources, um, to – to the level that they can afford to, but they’re also very active in advocating on behalf of their children because they – they have to be because the children – the children of African Caribbean origin in the U.K. are seriously under achieving and they are disproportionately being excluded from schools.  So these parents have – they – they – they’re going to the schools, they are what I call “rescuing their children, protecting their children,” and so on.  Mo – in most cases the kind of responses they are met with are these.  They’re not kept informed about their children’s progress.  They’re not forewarned if their child is – is not doing very well or misbehaving.  Schools in many instances do not seem to be following their own procedures so they are excluding their – these children without giving advanced warning to the parents.  When the parents ask for information or – or try to get some improvement for their child they’re often what I called “flubbed off,” they’re brushed – they’re concerns are brushed aside.  Now I don’t think that’s specific to black parents actually, um, but this is – this is very much a part of these parents experience.  Many of the parents often talk of being treated themselves like – like a child and one of the things they recounted about their children’s experience, particularly the boys, but also girls in some instances, is that they’re very negatively, um, stereotyped and that the teachers see their children as threatening.  And that was – some parents reported that – that they were told by teachers that they were being threatening to the teachers too.  And – and so there was often this response where the – the parent was comparing their own experience to their child’s experience. And another very disturbing, uh, experience that the parents reported was being humiliated.  And again they talked about their children being humiliated in front of their peers, um, but just to give you perhaps 2 examples, there was one instance where this mother’s son had done something silly, she – something wrong – the inclusion with a white boy.  I’ll tell you what it was.  The white boy had stolen a bike and the – how – this – this black mother’s son, her black son, had agreed to take the bike home for the white boy.  The parent wasn’t informed about this and, uh, initially.  The police were called.  The boy was taken in the police car, handcuffed, taken to the home and the mother wasn’t there.  She was at work.  And then they drove to the mother’s place of work, so they drove up to the place of work in the police car with the boy in handcuffs and really showed her son and her up in from of her colleagues.  And something similar happen, not quite as dramatic, but another parent talked about – she – she took her children on holiday and they overstayed, and she admitted she shouldn’t have done that so the – the holiday finished and they didn’t return to school straight away, but she sent a note apologizing.  However, when she returned to work she found that the Education Welfare Officer had phoned her place of work and it’s a like a naming and shaming really, so again she returned to ridicule. 

I think I – I referred to this a moment ago in some respects, but I think a school can – has to address it’s – it’s op – it’s openness, it’s welcomingness to parents in a number of ways, and there are some very basic ways which some schools do, but lots of schools still don’t.  Putting signage around the building is actually quite a good idea and putting signage in multiple languages, even if those languages aren’t necessarily represented in the school.  I mean – now in Britain and in the States we – we have – we live in cultural diverse societies, so it’s a – it’s a recognition.  It’s a respect for that.  Um, I think a lot of what’s got to be done on attitude nor change, so again recognizing the diversity of the parent group and developing respect for those parents.  Respect in terms of understanding that teachers have got something to learn from these parents and that it’s a two-way process.  You see there’s a lot of rhetoric about parental involvement and that teachers want parents to support them, but it seems to be all one way and developing a welcoming school shows that it’s actually two-way and that the school values the input of the parents.  So again, it’s about developing the channels of communication.  Um, and showing parents how they might be involved and how what they’ve got to offer is actually valued and being receptive to that.

My – my interviews with working class parents, um, also showed, um, a very strong commitment to their children and to their – their supporting their children – children’s education.  They want their children to do well, whatever that meant for them, and they wanted their children to – to be happy in school.  In general, the teachers that I interviewed tended to have rather disparaging views of the working class parents.  They tended to feel that they, um, were – were not very articulate, uh, that they weren’t motivated and – in supporting their child.  And part of this stemmed from the fact, I believed and I, um, developed the analysis of this, um, from my data, that working class parents weren’t as visible as middle class parents.  Middle class parents were often in the school, they were often phoning the school whereas working class parents weren’t.  And teachers tended to deduce that they weren’t interested.  And actual fact, the working class parents – they said that they deferred to the teacher because the teacher was the professional.  The teacher had the education and the training and they themselves (unintelligible) they weren’t very well educated formally, but none of that means that they didn’t care and they weren’t supportive and they didn’t – it doesn’t – well, it did suggest to the teachers, but in reality it wasn’t the case that – that the parents didn’t want their children to do better then them.  But these working class parents, they said – they were actually very considerate towards their teachers in many ways because they said that they didn’t agree with all this going out to the school and nagging and questioning all the time.  They actually talked about the pushy parent and they did not see themselves in that row.  And I’ve developed an argument about the – about working class parents’ behavior as a form of resistance.  They’ve resisted taking on the role of the pushy parent, that in a kind of paradisiacal way, um, schools seem to impose or want parents to – to adopt.  Of course, they’re not that happy when parents are pushy and forever questioning.  Um, the other thing to say is that, um, working class parents, uh, they’ve – they’ve sort of resisted also the competitiveness that now exist amongst parents and certainly between schools because of the marketization of education.  The resistance partly also stems from the fact that, um, working class parents recognize that being pushy and being competitive in – in that kind of way has never worked for them in fact.  Have I answered your question?

Well, I mean you said parents don’t – working class parents don’t care.  Working class parents (unintelligible) connected really, working class parents aren’t supportive.  Um, teachers do say and working class parents aren’t supportive and I think that comes back to what I was just saying.  It’s because they don’t – they don’t see working – what working class parents do because they’re not visible, they’re not in the school.  And also, I mean, if a child doesn’t turn up with the equipment, you know, the pens, and the books, and what have you, teachers often say, “Well it’s because the parent’s aren’t supportive.”  But there could be lots of other reasons.  It could be that they can’t afford it and that is a reality.  It could be that the child had the equipment stolen.  It could be that the child is under peer pressure not to turn up with equipment.  It could be lots of reasons.  Um, working class parents, um, aren’t interested in education is another miss.  Um, teachers did say to me they felt like – you know, working class parents they didn’t get on at school – at school themselves, and they (unintelligible).  I didn’t find any evidence for this amongst the parents I, um, interviewed.  They did want their children to get on.  They wanted them to do better than themselves.  Um, they wanted them to do better than themselves.  Um, they wanted to get – them to get the exam results.  However, they often said, you know, they – there are differences between the primary, the elementary school child, and the secondary school child.  It’s easier to help your elementary child, although for some parents it’s not.  If you’re not very literate then it’s actually quite difficult hearing your child read, um or you can hear the child read but to intervene – with this, as the child gets older and older the knowledge kind of starts to pass you by and parents – working class parents certainly said that.  That – I can think of 1 father actually and he – his daughter was, um, studying for her GCSC’s, which is like the, uh, the end of your high school sort of exams, and she was reading “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” the Shakespearean play, and the father said, “I’ve tried to help her, but I can’t.  I can’t quite understand it myself.  I need help with this myself,” and you know, that sort of thing was quite – quite common.  But the other thing to say is that talking to the par – the working class parents about their children’s education, they art – they articulated their understanding of educational issues in a very different way from the middle class parents, but nevertheless it demonstrated their – their insights into issues and what was necessary, but they couldn’t always support it themselves.  I think that’s 2 missed subjects.

It – it’s interesting that when you said that there are, um, so many similarities because I was presenting a paper Monday, um, with – it was a whole day given over to parent, school, and community relations and there were so many um similarities actually between the – the work um on not just social class, but also um black parents.  There – there – I think the lessons that can be learned and I think have to be learned from – from our research for – for teachers is to understand – or to try to develop an understanding of institutional races and – and how this impacts on the children and the parents, and I’m not – I don’t want to just – I don’t want to, uh, suggest that I am blaming the teachers.  I won’t get away from this blame culture and I – I’d like teachers to engage with the parents, and I should also say the students too in – in discussions about needs and how the needs can be met, in a discussion about the manifestation of racism in the school, in the education system, and how together they can work to overcome this.  It’s not just down to a – to the individual, of course, it’s about the structures and the organization of the school and the education system as a whole.  But in a way it has to start with individuals and individual teachers have to reflect on what they’re doing and be open to engaging in the way that I’ve described.  It’s very difficult because it’s frightening and it means reappraising what you’ve been doing and it’s about bringing – about change.  Um, and all of that’s quite scary I think, but it – it has to be done otherwise nothing will get better.  I’m convinced that the less teachers are more reflective about what they’re doing um in relationship to um meeting the needs of black children and examining what they um – what the stumbling blocks are upon their achievement, and I think listening to parents and engaging in a discussion about these things with parents they can actually get some real insights.  Of course, again, that – that is difficult because one of the things that I found is they – is they – the power relationship and the imbalance of that power relationship between teachers and parents, and understandably, teachers want to maintain their powerful position.   

I don’t think there is a simple definition, of course.  Um racism – racism is a structural problem.  In education it manifests itself through stereotyping of children, particularly through low expectations of children.  I don’t believe teachers go to work in the morning thinking “I’m going to think less of this person.”  I think it’s very much part of the – the – the fabric really of the education system.  I think it’s – it’s manifested through the underachievement of black children.  Um, so it’s – its part – it’s – it’s to do with prejudice and discrimination, but it’s more complex then that really.  Sorry.

We need, uh, teacher education, so pre-service, uh, education programs for teachers, student teachers.  Um, we need programs to address issues of racism to raise consciousness and understanding, and also to provide strategies for teachers to develop anti-racist practice, and we need in-service programs to do likewise.  What’s happened in Britain, this – the – the multicultural and antiracist movement has gone in kind of waves.  And in the late 70’s and 80 – early 80’s – early to mid 80’s local education authorities had policies on these issues and schools who were expected to implement these issues and some of the better local authorities developed in-service training for teachers.  In the latter part of the 80’s and through the 90’s all of this went completely by the board for various reasons.  Now recently, um, race issues have come back on the agenda partly because um – well, it’s complex.  You don’t want to hear about the whole of – of British Education policy, but essentially because the underachievement of black children and the government recognizes that it has to stop and address that.  But teachers – we can (unintelligible) teachers and so you have to address these issues, but teachers can’t do it on their own.  They do need to be trained.  And I’ve interviewed teachers about these issues and many of them are committed to addressing them but they don’t know how to go about it, and actually, teachers often won’t address issues to do with race because they’re afraid of being accused of racist.  They’re afraid of putting their foot in it, to put it crudely, and so they need support.  They need – they need support in terms of education programs, but they also need support in the school setting, and they need support from their local authorities.  Although local authorities in Britain today have less influence on individual schools, so a lot of the in-service training is down to individual schools.

But I think I’ve given you some of the opposite stories actually.  This is – in a way this is not so much a – well, it’s a sort of story, it’s not such a dramatic story as the others, but I – I interviewed 1 black parent and I asked her if she felt she was able to act as an advocate on behalf of her child and her response was, “I’m tired of acting as an advocate on behalf of my children.”  She had 2 children both at whom at different points in their education had been excluded from school.  But then she went on to say that she was – she did act as an advocate.  And I asked her if she had felt that she’d been effective and, of course, it’s all relative as to how effective you’ve been, but she said that she felt she wasn’t just acting on behalf of her own children.  But when she went to the school as a black parent she felt she was acting on behalf of all black children because in her going to take out whatever the issue was – and even if it was just for one – for her own child, as a black parent she was making a statement that “I’m not just going to sit back and let this happen,” and she was engaging teachers in debate all be it reluctantly, but she was engaging them.  And that was very important to her and she did feel that, and she was really thinking long term.  She was thinking that it – it was an important thing to do in the long-term and that it could have wider repercussions – positive repercussions in the long-term too.

Well, I suppose I have implied this, but I feel passionate about improving the life chances of working class children and black children and essentially to that is raising their achievement in education.  And a part of that is raising the respect for those children and the expectations for those children.  And the research that I’m doing with parents is related very much to that.

Because it’s in just (unintelligible).  The situation that we have um in Britain, and in the U.S., and I think throughout the world probably, is we’re having – more then half of the population of our children are not getting a fair deal.  They’re being treated unjustly and that is wrong.  I – I just – I do feel very strongly that this is just totally unacceptable.