Although parental and community engagement is one of the key improvement drivers set within the National Improvement Framework (Scottish Government, 2019), its strategy primarily shows a reusing of prior policy aspirations concerning parental engagement, that have not so far been fully applied in Scottish schools and communities.
Education Scotland (2019) found the most successful challenge authorities in Scotland to narrow the poverty-related attainment gap, put in place effective partnership initiatives working with family engagement strategies. Shared learning activities that engage both parents and children has provided quality support for children, young people and families through a partnership that offers access to an extensive range of professional expertise.
Parent attitudes are considered to be a significant attribute to a child’s behaviour and performance in school. A review given by Jensen (2009) found parents that did poorly at school themselves, often shown negative attitude towards their children’s schools and these parents are often unwilling to get involved in any school activities, make any interaction with the school, or attend parent-teacher meetings. Similarly, Gutman and McLoyd (2000) found parents of high achievers were not only more involved in their children’s school life, they were also involved in different ways from low achiever’s parents. Parents of high achievers maintained regular contact with their children’s schools for updates on progress whereas, any contact with parents of low achievers would mostly be by request from teachers as a result of poor performance and behaviour issues.
Although Gorard and See (2013) argues that there is not enough high-quality evidence to show that parental involvement results in enhanced educational achievement, there is a strong indication that parental and community engagement massively benefit the achievements of children in schools. Yet, it seems this intervention strategy is not being fully exploited within all of the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland. Assessment is needed to ensure that this is not the direct effect of a downplay of parental autonomy with the learning of their children and their actions are undervalued or ignored.
While the intentions of current policy addressing parental engagement are good, it is important that these aims are further acted on to provide support in tackling poverty-related attainment. The role of parental involvement in their children’s educational development is critical and there is a need for greater intervention by schools and communities within challenged authorities in Scotland. In order for educational policy to conform with an integrated support system for children at school, schools need to form a constructive partnership with parents and develop joint responsibility for children’s achievement in the educational system. This approach would increase parental engagement amd promote positive attitude to supporting schools.
Research has consistently reinforced the importance of teacher-student relationships in schools. These relationships can provide the foundations needed for young people to grow and develop in both, a personal and social context. This is especially critical within areas of deprivation, as children who are raised in poverty are more likely to not have a caring, reliable adult in their life.
Teacher-student relationships contribute positively to the degree of student participation, as mentioned above. Poysa et al. (2019) found the more emotional support that was provided by the teacher, correlated with enhanced student engagement in the classroom.
In order for teacher-student relationships to flourish within schools, teachers need to have a healthy and realistic perception of the complexities of poverty in education. As previously established, a child’s behaviour in school can often be a reflection of their upbringing and home-life. Considering this and the positive effects of an all-inclusive education, it is crucial that teachers don’t follow the pervasive idea of a ‘culture of poverty’ and assume deficit stereotypes, but develop a deeper comprehension of both the material and social effects of child poverty and educational achievement (Thompson, McNicholl and Menter, 2016). Epinsosa and Laffey’s (2003) findings reinforce this importance of this within teacher-student relationships as children who display challenging behaviours in the classroom, that do not align with teacher expectations, are more likely to be underestimated with their capabilities and not establish positive relationships with their teachers.
Across Scotland, the last decade has seen a substantial decline in the rates of exclusion in schools (Scottish Government, 2019), an increase in teacher confidence to promote positive behaviour in their classrooms, and a positive impact on teacher’s perceptions (Munn et al., 2011). However, a higher exclusion rate was found to correlate with children and young people living in areas of more deprivation. The rate of exclusions were approximately four times greater for pupils living in the 20% of areas associated with most deprivation, than with pupils living in the 20% of areas associated with least deprivation, as defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD, 2020; Scottish Government 2019). This validates the degree to which poverty negatively impacts not only school performance and attainment, but teacher-student relationships and later-life outcomes.
Considering the growing prominence of this issue, it is now necessary that current policy makes a reorganizational shift with its focus on attainment outcomes to support schools to enrich their understanding of in-school behaviour and relationships as an avenue to tackling the poverty-related gap in Scotland. Research by Sosu and Ellis (2014) emphasises that a focus on professional development and effective pedagogy strategies, which takes into account all of the aspects and complexities of poverty, is crucial to closing the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland. However, McCluskey (2017) suggests there is still a gap between national policy on pedagogy and the policy in place for emotional support, and there should be closer examination of the connection between poverty-related attainment and in-school relationships.
It is clear that the current Scottish policy aiming to close the poverty-related attainment gap, has not shown enough impact so far and progress is variable at a national level. This paper acknowledges that the relationship between poverty and education is very complex with a range of aspects to consider. There is evidently a need for a more research-informed restructuring of supporting policy to address not just attainment differences in schools but strengthen in-school relationships between students and teachers to enrich the educational experiences for all.
However, as outlined in this paper current policy has perhaps focused too extensively on purely attainment outcomes and consequently placed an excessive accountability on teachers to address the problems with poverty themselves.
Reviewing my own paper, I believe that there could be more done at a national and local level to support schools to be more inclusive and can support the poverty-related gap, encourage and integrate parental engagement within their programme, and enrich the teacher-student relationship by challenging unsupportive perceptions to the implications of poverty in education.
These areas could offer further support to current policies such as the Scottish Attainment Challenge by consideration and deeper understanding of the different barriers to successful performativity in school. Likewise, there is much to be gained from rights-based practice to raise attainment and achievement. An education where pupils are provided rights to participate within and through meeting their rights would support them to reach their full academic potential and create their own success.
As the Scottish education system struggles to narrow the attainment gap, more attention to educational aspects such as student participation, parental engagement and teacher-student relationships may just be the solution to pushing Scotland’s progress forward in closing the poverty-related attainment gap.