Doc. 8915

22 December 2000

Parents’ and teachers’ responsibilities in children’s education

Report

Committee on Culture and Education

Rapporteur: Mr Josep Varela i Serra, Spain, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers' Group

Summary

Amongst the many factors that influence the education of children from birth to adulthood, the family and the school play a pre-eminent role. However, given the far-reaching upheavals in both traditional families and schools, there is growing confusion concerning their respective responsibilities. Often both of them lack reference points, especially when it comes to confronting such challenges as the alternative models supplied by the media, or serious social problems, such as exclusion, marginalisation and violence.

The report calls for improving communication between children, parents and schools, with participation by voluntary associations and non-formal educational bodies, and forging a genuine partnership between them.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Assembly stresses that education is at the root of the development of every human being and of society. Because of its importance for the future of Europe, it should have priority in the Assembly’s debates and the Committee of Ministers’ action.

2.       Education is, from birth to adulthood, a mixture of factors and influences. Two institutions, however, play a pre-eminent role and have formal educational responsibilities before the law and society: the family and the school.

3.       Parents have always been and always will be the first educators of a child. They have the right and the duty to lay the intellectual and emotional bases for their children’s lives and to help develop their system of values and attitudes, particularly since a child’s future is strongly conditioned during the pre-school period. They must also exercise their responsibilities as parents of schoolchildren. For its part, the state must run an educational system training young people to be good citizens and sound professionals, providing them with the bases for life-long learning and personal development.

4.       For all the clarity of this general division of responsibilities, its practical implementation is becoming increasingly difficult in a contemporary society faced with far-reaching upheavals in both families and schools, and equally in the links between the two institutions. Changing family structures are modifying the traditional distribution of roles, tasks and responsibilities within the family unit. Furthermore, the advent of the information society is raising unprecedented challenges for the education system. Families and schools are also constantly exposed to outside factors, such as the media (especially television and Internet), friends, the community at large, etc.

5.       In the current state of affairs, neither parents nor teachers can transmit in isolation all the knowledge, skills and values that young people need for proper integration into society. “Parenthood” is still the only “profession” that is not taught formally, whereas the school, with its educational knowledge and experience, often lacks motivation and resources. When it comes to confronting such challenges as over-information and the alternative models supplied by the media, or serious social problems, such as exclusion, marginalisation and violence, both the family and the school are beginning to lack reference points.

6.       In this multitude of complex situations, there is growing confusion concerning the role which parents and schools should play in educating young people. There is thus a risk that they may start blaming each other, with each side disregarding and shirking responsibility for the really serious problems.

7.       Without wishing to draw up an exhaustive list, but convinced of the need for increased awareness of the respective responsibilities of parents and schools, the Assembly nevertheless considers that instead of investigating what each of these two institutions can do on its own, we should consider how they might join forces and combine their responsibilities with a view to an effective concerted effort. To that extent, improving communication between children, parents and schools, with participation by voluntary associations and non-formal educational bodies, and forging a genuine partnership between them are proving absolutely necessary if we are to meet our society’s educational needs.

8.       Even though the public authorities have gradually realised this need over the past few years, the current extent of partnership between schools and parents must be deemed insufficient, although the situation varies considerably from country to country and between different lifestyles, cultures and religions within each country. Young people feel that they are not sufficiently involved in the taking of decisions which concern them. The community at large (political authorities, economic operators, public and private organisations and associations, and the media) should also be more actively involved.

9.       Consequently, the Assembly requests that the Committee of Ministers:

      i. consider the matter of the respective responsibilities of parents and teachers in children’s education and the legislative, educational and practical measures that could be taken to improve communication and strengthen partnership between them, and report to the Assembly;

      ii. organise an international conference in 2002 on partnership between parents and schools, with the participation of the European Union and UNESCO;

10.       The Assembly also requests that the Committee of Ministers advise member states to adopt special measures, as appropriate, to:

i. improve communication and interaction between parents and educational authorities at all educational levels (national, regional and local), and encourage the establishment of partnerships, while also ensuring the requisite legal, financial and organisational conditions for practical implementation of these objectives;

ii. involve non–governmental organisations, and particularly associations providing non-formal education, more closely;

iii. promote and develop further training for parents, in order to help them play their educational role in a constantly changing world, make them more aware of their responsibilities, and also harmonise the messages received by children at home and at school;

iv. make teacher-parent relations a part, or a bigger part, of teacher training, and particularly further training;

v. introduce policies to improve the status of the teaching profession;

vi. find ways of making it easier for parents to discharge their parental responsibilities in cases where reconciling family and working life is difficult, and children have to remain at home on their own;

vii. encourage educational authorities to give more consideration to young people’s needs and concerns, especially by setting up or strengthening student councils and other local, regional and national forms of participation, involving students more closely in educational decision-making and in settling such problems as violence at school;

viii. pay very particular attention to education for children from underprivileged social and family backgrounds and promote specific and, if necessary, out-of-school partnerships with parents from these backgrounds; train teachers in intercultural relations and provide the resources needed to overcome language and cultural barriers in relations with immigrant families;

ix. give the public a clearer picture of what schools are doing, in order to promote dialogue and so encourage parent participation; make timetables and procedures more flexible to facilitate this participation;

x. foster co-operation between schools and local authorities, for example, by using schools to promote community spirit and accommodate social, sports and cultural structures;

xi. increase the autonomy of schools so that each one can more easily adapt to its specific local realities.

11.       The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers advise member states to promote wide-ranging public dialogue and an increased awareness of the need for co-operation between families and schools, for instance by:

i. developing participation by local authorities, employers and the relevant non–governmental organisations in discussion of school/educational issues;

ii. promoting televised debates on education, and emphasising the educational responsibilities of both parents, and of teachers;

iii. taking advantage of the new information technologies to develop dialogue between families and schools.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Varela i Serra

1.       Introduction

Education is, from birth to adulthood, a mixture of factors and influences. Two institutions, however, play a pre-eminent role and have formal educational responsibilities before the law and society: the family and the school.

Parents are their children’s first and most important educators, not only because they assume that role from the moment a child is born, but also and above all because they are responsible for bringing them up. It is up to them to lay the intellectual and emotional foundations of their children’s life in society and to foster the attitudes and values needed for that purpose. Their role is decisive, since children’s future is powerfully conditioned by their first few years. To enable schools to play their part, parents also have a (statutory) duty to ensure that their children attend school and participate actively in school life. In other words, they must educate their children, while the state must train them properly for work and citizenship.

The radical changes which have taken place in modern society have hugely affected traditional family structures in recent decades – and are also transforming the education system. It is certain that, at present, neither families nor schools are able, on their own, to give young people all the knowledge, skills and values they need to integrate successfully into society.

Parents and schools are also confronted by increasingly complex situations for which neither seems adequately prepared. Some of these have to do with social phenomena such as marginalisation, exclusion and violence. At the same time, the rapid growth of human knowledge and the changing nature of the skills needed in the world of work are presenting the education system with unprecedented challenges.

As a result, there is growing confusion concerning the roles of parents and teachers. Each side tends to blame the other for not doing what is necessary to educate children. No one denies that both have responsibilities, but as the social, economic and cultural context undergoes a process of change, the division of tasks is also affected and the mutual perception of those responsibilities is altered. The respective influences of parents and schools also vary from one society to another, and differ according to cultural, traditional and religious backgrounds.

It is therefore vital to define the respective responsibilities of parents and teachers more clearly, and, above all, to make them more aware of those responsibilities. However, in this complex situation, where the influences of family, school and society intermesh, trying to produce a hard-and-fast list of each side’s responsibilities would be pointless and futile. Increased dialogue and the forging of a genuine partnership hold the best key to progress.

Currently there is not enough co-operation even at primary school level, and still less as children move through the further stages of schooling.

Yet education enriches society inestimably and plays a primary role in the functioning of democracy. The public authorities should therefore pay more attention to the problems in this area.

2.       The changes in the traditional family

In recent decades, the so-called nuclear family has disintegrated and types of union that were formerly the exception have become so widespread that we now need to think in terms of a range of family models. In some countries there are as many children of divorced parents, children living with a single parents or in second or subsequent families, and children with no permanent home as there are children of “conventional” families. Some European countries have even gone so far as to recognise the families of homosexual couples.

Without passing judgement on these different types of family, it should be stressed that the family remains the social entity that plays the most decisive role in the development and personal balance of every human being.

At the same time, we have to recognise that parenting today means facing much more complex situations than in the past. Relations between children and grown-ups are no longer based on the strict rules which regulated them for centuries. In the past, parental authority was embodied in the father; if he died, it passed to the mother or another relative. In the second half of the twentieth century, the roles of mothers and fathers have tended to become far more balanced, even if there are still substantial differences between families, and also between cultures, religions and countries. The division of responsibilities becomes increasingly vague in the case of divorced parents or reconstituted families. Parent-child relationships are also far less hierarchical than they used to be.

Moreover, parenting is possibly the only “job” in the world for which there is no training. Knowledge used to be passed down from one generation to the next, but today families in which grandparents live with the younger generations, and can thus share their experience, are in the minority.

Economic pressures also do much to prevent parents from playing their traditional role. Unemployment can have a devastating effect on the home atmosphere, and leave young people in a state of total uncertainty concerning the aims of education. But their education suffers quite as much when their parents are too busy at work, or otherwise, and either have, or choose, to let the TV and computer “look after” them. The concept of "microwave children" illustrates this rushed lifestyle, which no longer leaves room for the ongoing, permanent contacts with children so vital to a good education. More and more people are moving to new regions or countries in search of work, while the traditional ties - of large families, churches, communities - are unravelling.

The post-industrial development boom has not eradicated poverty, but has sometimes intensified it by aggravating the problems of marginalisation and exclusion. Entire housing estates in some outer-city zones are a prey to vandalism, crime and drug-abuse. In some under-privileged areas, the school may be the only institution which still embodies the values of society.

Thanks to the media and Internet, many young people today receive far more information than their parents, but their value systems and critical faculties are not sufficiently developed to give them any real depth of understanding. Young people are also exposed to a powerful mass culture which often purveys standardised commercial “values” (the “McDonalds culture” is one example).

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu says that, the more parents share the values of schools, the more they can help their children to succeed.

On the other hand, American researchers have found that “family disadvantage translates into educational disadvantage at the very start of children’s formal schooling”, and that the gap widens over the years. Even if schools take steps to compensate, their influence is relatively minor, compared with the powerful outside forces which influence the lives of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.1

These children have to bridge a much wider gap between home and what they learn at school, particularly with regard to more abstract ideas and arguments, informal rules of behaviour and use of language. Sometimes, they are less readily accepted by teachers and find it harder to develop personal relationships with them. As a result, they become less motivated, gradually realise that they are falling behind, and develop a negative self-image. They have less to lose by failing to respect school discipline.

A Council of Europe symposium on “Violence in Schools” identified various family-related factors which may explain such violence: “disturbed relations within the home (lack of affection), disputes between parents, the separation of parents, being an only child, poverty and hardship, overcrowded housing, an unstable, aggressive, extreme, or excessively or insufficiently strict upbringing by the parents, lack of supervision, the fact that both parents work or that one of the parents is having to cope with bringing up the children single-handed and so forth.”2

Another difference between children from different socio-economic backgrounds is that parents at the bottom of the social scale, with children at so-called “sink schools”, have to concentrate on protecting them from violence, while better-off parents have more chances of fostering their children’s individual talents.

This must not be taken to mean, however, that children from families in difficult situations (unemployment, immigration, etc.) are doomed to fail at school.

Finally, the socio-cultural environment is another factor which influences child-parent relations. Research also shows that the quality of the relationship between family and school affects children’s and young people’s performance.

3.       New challenges for schools

For centuries, children’s education was the responsibility of parents, communities and churches. Later, the state began to assume certain responsibilities and introduced compulsory education. After World War II, this became the norm, bringing with it a fairly clear division of tasks: schools were responsible for education, while parents were essentially responsible for socialisation, moral training and leisure activities. The churches started to withdraw from education, or went into partnership with states. Next, schools took charge of their pupils’ social and moral education, and also their pupils’ physical health. This widened the gap between the education provided by schools and that provided by families. Only recently has it been recognised that parents should be seen as working in partnership with teachers.

But in any case, the days when village life revolved around three people - the mayor, the priest and the schoolmaster - are gone forever.

With the media today offering unrestricted access to countless information sources, schools are finding it hard to preserve their once unquestioned authority in the education field. Increasingly, teachers are criticised by pupils and parents for failing to keep pace with the progress of knowledge, and for being out of step with social realities.

One of the most important educational policy shifts in recent years has been the growing tendency for schools to focus more on learning (the acquisition of knowledge) than teaching (the transmission of knowledge). Recommendation No. R (99) 2 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, on secondary education, refers to “teachers’ new role as a result of the many more information sources and the development of new information technologies, which is to assist proper assimilation of information and knowledge acquired outside school”.

This new role demands a wide range of teaching methods and a much greater degree of flexibility, in order to meet the needs of different groups (including those of children from marginalised and immigrant backgrounds). Education must reflect and keep pace with social change.

Unfortunately, social problems are casting doubt on the formal education system. Schools are unable to protect young people against violence and bullying, racism and intolerance, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, or abuse — or to prevent them from contributing to those problems. Worse, alarming incidents are increasingly occurring in schools themselves.

All this raises the question of whether the institutional framework governing teachers’ rights and responsibilities can cope with the new realities. Neglect of the profession and low pay have made teaching less attractive, thus increasing pressure on the remaining teachers, or leading schools to lower their recruitment standards - which in turn affects the quality of the education they provide. Overcrowded classes leave virtually no time for human contact, at the very time when this is most needed. Education budgets are too tight to permit high quality teacher training, provide modern classroom equipment or give schools a facelift.

It is vital to improve the teaching profession’s status. This is not just a question of more money. Young teachers must be made to understand that they play a role of major importance in the community, and the community itself must be made to realise this.

The Recommendation on secondary education includes an impressive list of aims for teachers:

“Even more than in the past, secondary education should play a decisive role within the education system in:

—       transmitting the common values of respect for human rights, democratic citizenship, mutual aid, tolerance, pluralism, combating racism and anti-Semitism, and mutual respect between individuals, the sexes, social groups and peoples;

—       making young people aware of their responsibilities and duties as citizens respectful of the rights of others;

—       equipping young people with the knowledge, abilities, applied skills and attitudes which they will need in order to face the major challenges of European and world society;

—       preparing young people for higher education and training on a lifelong basis, mobility, work and daily living in a tolerant, democratic, multilingual and multicultural Europe;

—       making young people aware of their shared cultural heritage and their shared responsibilities as European citizens.”

Schools cannot accomplish this enormous task unless they work in partnership with parents. This in turn depends upon the support of the community and the public authorities.

4.       Rights and responsibilities

Several countries are bringing in policies to increase parental involvement in education. What is needed is a more complex relationship — a real partnership, with each side contributing its own experience and ideas to a shared task. Each side must also be prepared to learn from the other.

The European Parents’ Association (EPA) and various researchers emphasise the fact that both parents and schools have rights and obligations. Some of the main rights and duties enumerated in the EPA Charter are as follows:

—       Parents have the right to recognition of their primacy as educators of their children.

—       Parents have the duty to raise children in a responsible way and not to neglect them.

—       Parents have the right to full access to the formal education system for their children on the basis of their needs, talents and merits.

—       Parents have the duty to commit themselves as partners in education to the school of their children.

—       Parents have the right of access to all information at educational institutions which concerns their children.

—       Parents have the duty to give to their children's schools all information relevant for the attainment of the educational goals on which they work together.

—       Parents have the right to choose for their children the education which is closest to their convictions and to the values they consider important in raising them.

—       Parents have the duty to make well-informed and conscientious choices about the education their children should receive. [...]

—       Parents have the right to exert influence on the policy which their children's school implements.

—       Parents have the duty to be personally committed to their children's school as a vital part of the local community.

—       Parents and their associations have the right to be consulted actively about the policy of public authorities in education at all levels.

—       Parents have the duty to maintain democratic representative organisations at all levels to represent themselves and their interests.

There are many obstacles to parent-school co-operation, not the least being that it demands of both parents and teachers extra commitment – not to mention time, which neither feel they have to spare. In fact, establishing this kind of partnership is vital, but getting that message across will not be easy.

There are also key differences in the way that parents from different social backgrounds define their involvement in the life of schools, and in their perception of how responsibilities are shared.

As a rule, parents from disadvantaged backgrounds are less inclined to communicate with schools, or less used to doing so, whereas middle-class parents believe they have a right to question teachers and to take a critical attitude to the education process. This is largely due to the fact that middle-class parents have a bigger stake in the “cultural capital” which schools transmit to their pupils.

When seeking to attract parents, one must also remember that they are not a single, homogenous group, and that those who involve themselves most are not necessarily representative of all the others. All parents want the best for their children, but they rarely agree on what the best is.

The nature of parents’ involvement in their children’s schooling also changes over time. As lesson content becomes more complex, they are less able to help with preparation and homework. School curricula now change so quickly to allow for advances in knowledge that even the best-educated parents are often totally unable to keep up. And so they involve themselves in other ways — for example, by seeking out the school best suited to their child, paying for private lessons or educational trips, etc.

Young people, particularly at secondary level, are also embarrassed if their parents turn up often in the school, fearing that classmates will see this as a sign of parental control.

5.       Communication between schools and parents (including training for parents)

The need for co-operation between parents and schools is now recognised by the public authorities, and laws to cover this have usually been passed. It is in the realm of practice that the problems are sometimes greatest.

Communication is central to partnership, and this is the area where schools and parents’ associations need to step up their efforts and display imagination.

It is up to schools to find ways of breaking down the barriers between parents and schools. It is important that parents should be welcomed and made to feel at ease, and that parents and teachers should meet as equals, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and confidence.

According to some experts, fear of being judged on their children’s results is one of the reasons which make parents avoid schools. Contacting a parent and asking him or her to come and see a teacher is often taken as a sign that there is a problem or emergency. Discussion centres on the things that are going wrong, and this makes communication difficult. A more positive attitude on the part of teachers would encourage parents to involve themselves more in the life of schools.

Special efforts must be made to attract underprivileged and immigrant parents to schools. This is why intercultural relations must be part of teacher training. The approaches used by some schools have produced good results and deserve to be publicised: coffee mornings for mothers in kindergartens, meetings on subjects of interest to fathers, out-of-school meetings in immigrant neighbourhoods.

Another good idea is training “contact parents” to support other parents in the context of direct, personal parent-teacher dialogue. More generally, parents’ federations have a major role to play in devising communication and training strategies to help parents to put their views across and build up a full-scale network of relations with teachers.

Parent training should be both individual and collective (associations). Unfortunately, funding based on family contributions and government subsidies is uncertain and hard to come by – and is, in any case, insufficient to cover proper training.

It is also important to give mediators a bigger role - but without turning them into a cure-all substitute for dialogue.

Communication is also, and above all, necessary in connection with such problems as violence in schools. This is rarely the fault of schools or parents alone. This is why mutual recrimination is futile; dialogue, on the other hand, is vital.

In their relations with parents, schools must allow for the situation of working parents – meetings organised in school-hours only are not enough.

The computer revolution is opening up new possibilities of communication. The Internet can make parent-teacher interaction far easier, particularly since it offers a way of contacting parents who never visit schools in person. Parents can use it to learn more about school policies and curricula, check on their children’s progress and make suggestions. Having said that, electronic communication must not replace human contact.

6.       Forms of parental representation

Four types of parental involvement in education are normally distinguished: involvement at school; involvement in learning activities at home; involvement in relations between home, school and community; and involvement in school administration.

The last of these takes two main forms: parental representation on policy-making (or at least consultative) bodies at national, regional or local level; and involvement in the running of individual schools.

All countries have policies to encourage collective parental involvement, but types and levels of parental representation in educational administration or consultative bodies vary from one country to another.

A study by EURYDICE (the Information Network on Education in Europe), covering member states of the European Union (EU), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), shows that parent representatives in these countries are entitled to a say in at least general educational choices (concerning, for example, curricula, working methods, timetabling and pilot projects).3

Parents in all the EU countries are organised in associations. In some countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Spain), members of the national associations have the right to sit on key national education committees and give their opinions.

In most of these countries, parents have participated in certain formal structures since the 1970s. Legislative and educational reforms in the 1990s gave parental participation a new statutory basis. Current debates and legislative initiatives centre on school autonomy and parental participation in school management.

At European level, various federations co-ordinate the national parents’ associations:

—       the European Parents’ Association (EPA;

—       the Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE);

—       the European Organisation of Parents’ Associations in Catholic Education (OE-GIAPEC).

In all the countries covered by the EURYDICE study, parents are primarily represented at school level. At national and regional or local levels, they are not always represented on consultative bodies - even where these exist. Some countries, on the other hand, have parent-only bodies, which are consulted by the Ministry of Education.

When it comes to participation bodies, parents are usually in a minority on all three levels - central, regional/local and school. They never have equal representation at national level, and this is also fairly rare at regional/local level. Only at some schools in Denmark and Scotland do they have majority representation.

Participation bodies have two types of power - consultative and decision-making. Consultation covers the right to receive information, as well as the right or duty to give opinions, either on request or spontaneously. Decision-making covers both the taking and the execution of decisions.

National level

At national and regional/local level, parents are usually involved (with a few minor exceptions) through consultative bodies.

An OECD study found that, in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Spain, parents were represented on the main national bodies responsible for educational policy.

In Denmark, Ireland and Spain, parents are represented on the national committees which prepare or review curricula. Every German Land has a parents’ council, which advises the Ministry of Education and Culture on educational issues. In England, Wales and France, however, parents have no say in curriculum content or structure at national level.

At regional/local and school level, the situation varies enormously from one country to another.

School level

Many participation bodies at school level have powers which extend to decision-making, particularly on questions of day-to-day school management, such as timetabling, extra-curricular activities, parent-teacher relations and expenditure. In some cases, parents also have a say on key aspects of the running of the education system, such as budgeting, staff policy (even the choice of head teachers), curricula and teaching methods.

The OECD study4 on parental participation in primary schools shows a very varied picture. Across the twelve countries surveyed, about 60% of primary pupils are thought to be in schools which involve parents in financial or organisational decisions, but fewer than one in four attends a school where parents have a say on staffing. According to the study, parental involvement is greatest in Italy and Spain, least in Greece, Belgium and France. Its extent also depends on schools’ degree of autonomy and on whether they have management bodies or simply school boards. The study found that autonomy went furthest in England and Wales, where individual governing bodies took all the important decisions.

In a Council of Europe study of secondary education,5 many countries stressed that setting up school boards or councils and increasing their powers were one important means of attaining schools’ goals. In recent years, almost all European countries have moved in this direction, although their boards and councils differ greatly in composition, powers and status.

In central and eastern Europe, in-school self-management bodies are obviously a very recent innovation, but most of the countries concerned have already adopted the necessary laws and regulations.

Even “little” things, such as timing parent-teacher meetings more flexibly (e.g. in the evening, after work) can sometimes make all the difference. In practice, however, these adjustments are harder to make than one expects, since they raise a whole series of problems, such as those connected with the law on teachers’ working hours.

7.       Student representation

This aspect of the home-school relationship is often neglected, but is vital to the education process. It plays an important part in young people’s democratic training (some countries believe that they should gradually take over certain responsibilities from their parents).

At a hearing with representatives of parents’, teachers’ and pupils’ associations, organised on 5 May 2000 by the Committee on Culture and Education, the OBESSU representative made it clear that school students wanted teachers to pay more attention to what they had to say. He also pointed out that more and more young people were losing all interest in school and refusing to attend. At the same time, he thought that human contact was still far more “interactive” and enriching than computers, however fascinating young people might find the new technologies.

All the participants at the hearing agreed that the students’ role should not simply be confined to acquiring knowledge. In fact, students often tried to help one another before approaching teachers – and in some cases helped the latter too. They could sometimes come up with the best solutions to serious problems, such as violence in schools. Student councils had a very important part to play here.

The OECD study found that secondary schools in Denmark, France, Germany and Spain normally had student councils, and that students were also represented on school governing bodies. In Spain, for example, primary school boards have seven seats for parents; on secondary school boards, four seats go to parents, and three to students, who have full voting rights. These boards have real power, and elect head teachers.

The study also found that three countries — Denmark, Spain and Germany — had student representatives on national consultative bodies.

8.       Co-operation between school and community

Schools are often accused of having an inward-looking, “ivory-tower” mentality. But exchange with the outside world is a logical product of the drive towards decentralisation and school autonomy.

Schools can, in fact, improve their relationship with parents by forging stronger links with other groups in the community.

The Appendix to Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (99) 2 states: “It is increasingly clear that the basic educational unit is no longer the class, but the whole school and its environment. Thus teaching and learning and the life of the school community need to be organised around a multidisciplinary team (teachers, administrative staff, inspectors, librarians, the psychologist, the adviser, and so on).[...]

“This approach also calls for openness to the outside world and to the various members of the educational community (such as families, the education authorities, political authorities, business, and public or private organisations or associations, and so on) and requires that the school have at least some independence to develop an educational strategy of its own in an environment from which it draws help and support appropriate to its circumstances and results.”

Schools can help to foster community spirit by making their premises available for sport, adult education, etc. Many countries have agreements giving schools a role in community activities, and allowing communities to use school premises.

Unfortunately, good intentions are not often put into practice, and this is not always the fault of schools. Particularly in disadvantaged areas, where there is little community spirit, it is often the schools that make the greatest efforts.

One essential step is to forge closer ties with the business community, which can contribute professional experience and sometimes even provide jobs. Business people can also advise schools on the development of employment-geared courses.

At present, hardly any school boards include community representatives.

Finally, transparency of schools’ activities is vital to giving them their proper place in the community. Parents need to know what is happening to their children, and elected representatives need to know how public funds are being used. Information is also needed to make decision-making easier.

Committee for report: Committee on Culture and Education

Reference to committee: Doc. 8476 and Reference No. 2421 of 20 September 1999

Draft recommendation: unanimously adopted by the committee on 13 December 2000

Members of the Committee: MM. Roseta (Chairman), MM. de Puig, Ivanov (Vice-Chairmen), Arzilli, Bartumeu Cassany, Baumel, Billing, Mrs Castro (Alt. : Varela i Serra), Cherribi, Chiliman, Cubreacov, Dumitrescu (Alt. : Baciu), Fayot, Mrs Fehr, Mrs Granlund, MM. Hadjidemetriou, Haraldsson, Hegyi, Henry, Irmer, Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM. Jakic, Javelidze, Kalkan, Mrs Katseli, MM. Khripel, Kiely, Kofod-Svendsen, Kovacevic, Lachat, Mrs Laternser, MM. Legendre, Lemoine, Libicki, Mrs Lucyga, MM. McNamara, Melnikov, Mezeckis, Monfils, Mrs Moserova, Mr Nagy, Mrs Nemcova, MM. O’Hara, Pinggera, Mrs Poptodorova, MM. Pullicino Orlando, Ragno (Alt.: Rigo), Risari, Mrs Saele, Mr Sağlam, Mrs Schicker, MM. Schweitzer, Shaklein, Siebert, Mrs Stefani, MM. Svec (Alt. Mrs Keltosova), Symonenko, Taliadouris, Mrs Troncho, MM. Urbanczyk, Vahtre, Valk, Wilshire, Xhaferi, ZZ (Ukraine) (Alt. : Manchulenko)

NB: The names of those present at the meeting are in italics

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Ms Kostenko


1        Karl L. Alexander and Doris R. Entwisle, “Schools and Children at Risk” in Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes?”, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1996, Mahwah, New Jersey.

2        Violence in schools: awareness-raising, prevention, penalties, report of a symposium held in Brussels (Belgium) from 26 to 28 November 1998, by Nicole Vettenberg, general rapporteur.

3        The Role of Parents in the Educational Systems of the European Union, EURYDICE.

4        Parents as Partners in Schooling, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, OECD.

5        Denis Kallen, Secondary Education in Europe: Problems and Prospects, Council of Europe Publishing, 1997.