A new research project on parent-teacher partnerships

The opening lines of A Framework for Character Education in Schools state that, while parents/guardians are the primary educators of their children’s character, they want all adults who have contact with their children to contribute to that education, especially their children’s teachers. Motivating a new stream of research at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues is the idea that, instead of pursuing this work of character education in isolation from each other, character and virtue is most effectively cultivated in children and young people when parents/guardians and teachers form partnerships and collaborate together. As such, at the heart of this research is the claim:

If parents/guardians and teachers forge successful partnerships on character education, it will increase the likelihood of children and young people developing positive virtues constitutive of individual and societal flourishing.

Recent Department for Education research supports this idea, pointing to parental engagement as a feature of structured approaches to character education; while also describing lack of parental engagement as a barrier to character education. That said, not all engagement is perceived by parents/guardians and teachers as positive. For example, a recent poll run by PTA UK found that, while 84% of parents/guardians want to be engaged with their child’s school, nearly half (46%) are unsure that their feedback is taken into account; worryingly 17% cited feeling intimidated as a barrier to getting involved. Moreover, the same survey found that many school leaders believe they are doing all they can to engage parents/guardians, but feel it is hard work and doesn’t always pay off. It would seem that, although parent-teacher partnership can be a positive, barriers may exist to capitalizing on these partnerships.

It is clear that parents/guardians support the idea of character education in schools. A poll carried out by Populus for The Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, found that 84% of parents/guardians felt that teachers should encourage good morals and values in students. Furthermore, it would seem teachers and parents/guardians agree on the benefits of collaboration. A further poll, conducted by PTA UK, showed that teachers believe parental engagement has many positive effects, including improved behaviour (59%) and developing a shared school ethos (53%). The aim of this research is to put together two ideas; the support for character education and the call for collaboration between parents/guardians and teachers as an enabler of children and young people developing positive virtues.

In order to dig deeper into these issues, a survey will be conducted to investigate what common ground exists between parents/guardians and teachers, while also examining differences in their approach to character and virtue. Questions will be posed to parents/guardians and teachers in order to uncover how they view character and how much importance they place on it. The survey will be exploratory in nature, and the findings will inform a practical intervention that will be produced and trailed in UK schools. It is hoped that this intervention may address some of the barriers mentioned above and enable teachers and parents/guardians to fully utilize their relationships to cultivate character and virtue among the children they care for and teach. The project began formally in December 2017 and is due to end in October 2020.

We hope that this research will break new ground. Although many experts agree on the importance of parental engagement for effective character education, there is a relative lack of research into parent/teacher collaboration on the issue, especially in a UK context (notable exceptions to this include Marvin Berkowitz and Thomas Lickona in the USA). It is widely conceived that research into how parents/guardians and teachers might best cooperate on character education is one of the biggest lacunas in the field in both Britain and internationally.

Katy Dineen is a Research Fellow in the Jubilee Centre, working on the parent-teacher partnership project.

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