How parental engagement and transformative leadership can reduce suspension rates for pupil premium students.
Kira Madison Jupe
Associate Assistant Principal and Head of Year
In 2016, Theresa May delivered a speech in which she outlined the importance of education in building a meritocratic society and how "policy had been skewed by the focus only on those in receipt of free school meals". However, the intervening years show us how instead of becoming more meritocratic, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds continue to face a high degree of educational inequality. Evidence from the predicted grades scandal to the fact that according to the Education Select Committee the impact of the Covid pandemic, has meant disadvantaged pupils could be “five, six, seven – in the worst-case scenarios – eight months behind” in their learning. If government policy has been skewed in favour of disadvantaged pupils it has at best been ineffective, and at worst simply untrue. Our pupil premium students continue to face inequalities compared to their peers regarding their mental health, attainment, and persistent absence from school. Furthermore, pupil premium students are experiencing a disproportionate rate of suspensions nationally. In 2021/22 they experienced a rate of 16.02% suspensions compared to 4.26% for non-pupil premium students. These experiences of inequality combined with the harsh reality of the cost-of-living crisis and budget cuts will have a further negative impact on our pupil premium students, their parents, and our schools. We can no longer rely on government policies to build a meritocratic society. Schools, teachers, and leaders must be at the forefront of change, we must seek new ways to build our communities and reduce inequality.
One keyway to reduce educational inequality is to focus on reducing suspension rates for pupil premium students. To achieve this aim, I believe we need to build new communities of learning in which schools do not simply act as an arm of the state apparatus but instead empower students, parents, and staff alike. Key to this is shifting from parental/carers’ involvement to parental/carers’ engagement, in other words moving from a transactional to an interactional relationship between parents and education. Parents/carers have a moral duty to play their part in the educational journey from the home to the classroom. Ideally, parents must engage in their child’s learning from the home and thus, they will actively play their part in working with the school through the completion of homework, revising for exams, and selecting activities with an educational purpose. For example, this means that parents/ carers need to know why this is important and what must be done to develop the necessary skill set to ensure all these tasks are done effectively to do this. Mathematics can be a challenge for many adults! Our schools need to set these expectations and aspirations and foster a relationship with parents in which they feel not only motivated but supported in doing so. If children see how much their parents are invested in their education and development, they too will likely become more invested. This in turn should lead to an improvement in behaviour, and therefore a reduction in suspension rates.
Furthermore, I believe parents/carers should be given accessible materials in writing or videos in the language of the home which educates them on the benefits of a collaborative parenting style - one which praises or sanctions when necessary and fosters a sense of autonomy in the child. Supporting parenting/caring is vital in supporting the child, and if there is consistency in how a child is treated at home and at school then expectations will be better understood once in school, behaviour might well improve, and suspension rates will drop. Improving parents'/carers’ relationship with their child's education, and their ability to mirror their school's expectations will help bridge the gap pupil premium students can face and can be a key step to reducing educational inequalities and thereby increasing both their attainment and life chances. It also has the benefit of developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be switched onto their own learning.
I believe school leaders should be figureheads and transformative in inspiring change in their local communities and have a duty to do so to build a more meritocratic society. Transformative leadership entails bringing about change that extends beyond the classroom. In the case of reducing suspension rates amongst pupil premium students, school leaders need to facilitate and drive the shift to parental/carers’ engagement and assist them in improving their ability to effectively support their children. Doing so would improve the livelihoods and life chances of their communities, whilst helping create a sense of ownership and belonging which would help individuals become positive actors within society. However, to be a transformative leader in the community, school leaders must recognise their own biases and misconceptions which may impact their ability to create real change.
Suspension rates for pupil premium students will not fall if school leaders lack the compassion to truly understand the experiences of their community or inability to meet expectations. School leaders do not exist to abuse their position of privilege nor to make parents/carers feel inferior. The relationship must not be one of rigid top-down hierarchy, but instead more symbiotic and capable of educating each other. Transformative leadership should create new communities of learning in which all are empowered, cooperation is encouraged, and society can progress. Doing so should give pupil premium students and their parents/carers a renewed sense of autonomy which should help reduce suspension rates but also, and perhaps more importantly, it should help them feel they have a greater stake in and impact on society.
To conclude, school leaders should consider the following solutions in order to reduce suspension rates for pupil premium students and thereby reduce inequality, improve attainment, and help foster a more meritocratic society:
School Leaders must abandon the term parental/carer involvement, to discourage parents from solely focusing on a transactional relationship with the school. Instead, parental/carer engagement should be adopted as part of a new community of learning, where parents/carers are invested in and interacting with their child’s learning.
Senior leadership teams (SLT) should adopt a transformative leadership model which inspires change that extends beyond the classroom. This should form part of a new community of learning in which parental/carer engagement is encouraged and supported, and members of the community are empowered as individuals within society.
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