Tag Archives: communication

Critical lessons from practices for improving the quality of communication between parents and schools


Paper 9th ERNAPE International Conference. Families, Schools and Communities: Learn from the past, review the present, prepare for a future with equity University of Lisboa, Portugal, 4th-6th September, 2013.

Theme B. Critical lessons from implementation of practices

Frederik Smit & Geert Driessen

At the request of Better Performing, the collaboration programme of school boards and the municipality of Rotterdam, research institute ITS of the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands conducted a study into the functioning of the parental involvement policies in primary and secondary schools in Rotterdam.

In Rotterdam, a city with 600,000 inhabitants and some 180 nationalities, two-thirds of the youth grows up in immigrant families. In many homes of these second- and third-generation immigrants Dutch is not the language normally spoken among parents and children. One in three children grow up in a family with low educated parents. These youngsters rarely go to higher forms of education and many of them acquire only a basic qualification for the labour market. The socioethnic composition of the city’s population thus poses a particular challenge for policymakers and school staff.

One of the objectives of the Better Performing programme is that every school in Rotterdam should demonstrate progress in parental support of their children’s learning process. Parents should exhibit more effective teaching supportive behaviour at home and more parents should be actively involved in the school career and job choices of their children. Basic ingredients of the Rotterdam approach are partnership and two-way communication, with an emphasis on intake interviews and discussion of the role of parents in choosing a school and school career.


Research questions
To what degree does teaching supportive behaviour of parents at home involve the school career of their children in primary and secondary education? What are the views of head teachers and parents on parental involvement in Rotterdam and in the rest of the Netherlands? Does the policy of school boards and the municipality of Rotterdam to stimulate parental involvement result in more attention to this subject in schools? What are the results of this Rotterdam policy for the learning process of pupils? What are experienced problems and desired solutions? What aspects of the Rotterdam policy need improvement?

Research design

Review of the literature

An international literature review focused on research findings regarding the relationship between parents and primary and secondary schools in Western Europe, Canada and the United States. This review was an update of earlier ITS studies of the functioning of parental participation and involvement in Rotterdam (Smit & Driessen, 2005; 2006). The present study focused on developments during the last two decades. Themes in the review of the literature were ‘educational supportive behaviour’, ‘educational partnership in a multicultural, metropolitan context’ and ‘learning outcomes of pupils’. The review included the Netherlands, Belgium (Flanders), England, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada and the United States. The reasons underlying this choice were: the similarity of the situation in these countries; the countries have a long tradition regarding parental involvement; and, in the case of the USA, the amount of research done. For the selection of studies two criteria were used: they should report on empirical scientific research and the research must meet current methodological standards with clear definitions. The function of the review was to provide a framework for interpreting the results of the survey among head teachers and parents.

Survey among head teachers and parents
All head teachers in primary education (n=190) and secondary education (n=75) in Rotterdam were approached. In addition, head teachers in the rest of the Netherlands were approached (n=1,500). Parents with children in primary and secondary education were asked to participate in the ITS Parent Councils Panel (n=2,500) and the Linkedin groups Parents, School and Neighbourhood and Active Parenting (n= 1,500).

Main results
In the literature parental involvement is regarded as one of the major components or characteristics of effective schools. Partnership between parents and school is not an end in itself, but a means to serve the common interests: creating optimal conditions for the development and learning of children.The results of research into the correlation between parental involvement and academic performance are (mostly) positive in primary and secondary education. In the strategy of schools to work with parents to improve educational outcomes, the vision on parent involvement, creating support for an integrated planned an tailor-made approach play an important role.

The survey among head teachers and parents show that in Rotterdam teachers in primary schools conduct home visit more often than their colleagues in the rest of the Netherlands. In Rotterdam, parents with children in primary education are more likely to consult the school with regard to helping their children at home than in the rest of the country. Parents in Rotterdam are slightly more positive about the contacts with school than parents in the rest of the country.
Nearly half of the head teachers of primary and secondary schools in Rotterdam state that their teachers were encouraged in the past two years by the Better Performing programme to pay more attention to contact with parents, to undertake training and to formulate ambitions regarding educational partnership, to conduct extensive introductory talks to provide parents with more detailed information about the school, the class and what children learn in school so they can better assist their children at home. Schools in the city of Rotterdam were also stimulated to express and discuss the mutual expectations of school and parents, to encourage education supportive behaviours of parents at home, to invest in home visits and to make use of consultants who can inform and advise parents about education supportive behaviour and the involvement of parents in the choice of continuing education and professional orientation.
According to parents in Rotterdam with children in primary and secondary education the communication with the school is not always spotless. One problem parents frequently mention is head teachers and teachers are often not accessible by telephone an de-mail. In addition, parents complain about the poor quality of communication (vague letters, no or late responses to emails, no feedback after ‘incidents’, no initiative to contact). Parents see as solutions to such communication problems: the head teacher establishes a consultation hour, the teachers can be reached via e-mail, the school takes a greater account of working parents, and teachers conduct more home visits to keep in touch.
According to the head teachers in Rotterdam the following are the bottlenecks in the contacts with parents: the low turnout at parents’ evenings; the difficulty of making appointments with parents; the absence of the right attitude (no shared responsibility for education) and skills (the parents are illiterate, do not master the Dutch language, do not understand the assignments for the pupil support at home); and the lack of time (single parent families, both parents have a job). Parents are sometimes in a power struggle with the teacher about the approach and parents sometimes use a pedagogy that they know from their own time at school.
Head teachers see as solutions to the problems: more space in schools for consultants; more group meetings with parents about educational supportive behaviour; cooperation with other educational and welfare institutions; and making the parents co-responsible at the policy level.
More than half of the head teachers in Rotterdam say that they have no idea what the effects are of the focus of parental involvement in the Better Performing programme on their pupils’ academic performance.


The focus of the Better Performing programme could be more explicitly focus on the head teachers in primary and secondary education who have no idea regarding the effects of policies aiming at raising educational achievement. They should receive (more) information about the role that educational supportive parental behaviour may have on the learning outcomes of the pupils. In developing policies, schools could focus on increasing the contact options, especially by listening to the concerns of parents and their specific questions and needs in order to improve the two-way communication. The cooperation between schools and parents could be more deepened by showing that parents, as important role models and co-partners, can contribute to the desired ‘results-oriented culture’ of the school. The mutual parent contacts could be strengthened by the use of knowledge, experience and networks of parents in an integrated planned approach.


Smit, F. & Driessen, G. (2005). Parent-school-community relations in a changing society: Bottlenecks, pitfalls and solutions. In R.-A. Martínez-Gonzáles, Ma. del Henar Pérez-Herrero & B. Rodríguez-Ruiz (Eds.), Family-school-community partnerships merging into social development (pp. 171-190). Oviedo: Grubao SM.
Smit, F., & Driessen, G. (2006). Ouders en scholen als partners in een multiculturele en multireligieuze samenleving. In C. Hermans (Ed.), Partnerschap als waardegemeenschap (pp. 103-122). Budel: Uitgeverij Damon.
Smit, F., Wester, M., & Kuijk, J. van (2012). Beter presteren in Rotterdam. School en ouders samen. ITS, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.
Smit, F., Driessen, G., Sleegers, P., & Teelken, C. (2008). Scrutinizing the balance: Parental care versus educational responsibilities in a changing society. Early Child Development and Care, 178, (1), 65-80.

dr. Frederik Smit

Dealing with street culture in schools: are families, schools and communities able to work together to improve the quality of the daily interactions and communication?


Paper 9th ERNAPE International Conference. Families, Schools and Communities: Learn from the past, review the present, prepare for a future with equity University of Lisboa, Portugal, 4th-6th September, 2013.

Theme G. Bullying: can families, schools and communities work together to raise confident teenagers?

Frederik Smit & Geert Driessen

During the last decade, the quality of Dutch primary and secondary education has been decreasing compared to other countries. The Netherlands is no longer part of the international top ten. Shanghai leads the rankings, while in Europe Finland is the frontrunner. Especially with regard to the level of reading, mathematics and science, the Netherlands is lagging behind. At the request of NTR, the independent Dutch public broadcast service specialized in information, education and culture, the research institute ITS of the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands and OIG, the education innovation group, conducted an investigation into the quality of Dutch education for the TV show ´The Evening of Education´. The research question of NTR was: What are the views of teachers, parents and pupils on the quality of education?

Main questions
Do teachers interact in a professional manner with parents and pupils? Do teachers provide pupils a safe learning environment that supports the pupils’ social-emotional and moral development? Can teachers help pupils to create their own cultural baggage that every citizen needs in today’s society? Do teachers provide a clear, orderly, and task-oriented atmosphere in the classroom?

Method and sample
For this quantitative study data were collected in a web survey. In this survey 2,072 teachers and 2,372 parents in primary, secondary and vocational education and 740 pupils in secondary and vocational education participated. The study was conducted in the period June – September 2011.

Main results
Pupils are keen to have a good education, personal attention, lots of contact with their teachers and fellow pupils, good guidance by professional role models and a clear structure. They are on the one hand looking for adventure and new experiences (‘born to be wild’) and on the other hand they seek guidance and a secure attachment to others (‘home sweet home’). This is a paradox that needs to be managed. The ideal school for pupils is the ‘balance school’, which provides a balance between classroom training and individual teaching methods; working at a computer and maintaining social contacts; keeping freedom and receiving guidance; having structure and getting flexibility; receiving a collective and an individual assessment; and between doing what is told to be done and having a say in the school’s policy. The ideal lessons convey no boring ready-made messages, but lessons where pupils are challenged in two-way communication, where they are at the same time both the receiver and transmitter regarding topics that are based on their experiences. Such lessons invite participation. Pupils in schools are increasingly expected to actively and independently engage in learning and contribute to the school as a community. Pupils in secondary education are no citizens in the formal political and legal sense of the word. Secondary schools generally have a pupils’ statute to clarify the legal position of pupils within the organization. For instance with regard to the right of getting a good education at school and the obligations pupils have to make this possible. Also with regard to how is being dealt with arriving too late at school and truancy, freedom of speech, freedom of appearance, sexual harassment and disciplinary measures are listed in the pupils’ statute.
Young people sometimes interact in a rough way, not only in the street, but also increasingly in classrooms. Teachers do not seem to get a grip on the street culture that has crept slowly into the classes. It is characterized by an indifferent, brutal, aggressive and unapproachable way, where pupils intimidate not only fellow pupils but also teachers. The language of the street is usually a mixture of Dutch, Moroccan, English and Papiamento. Features include: a strong in-group feeling, with an emphasis on tough masculine behaviour where fighting is seen as cool and where there is a strong hierarchy within the group, with an alpha male as a leader. They just do not tolerate that a teacher makes comments on their behaviour. A reproachful attitude of the teacher usually has the undesirable effect that pupils and the teacher seem to be at ‘war’ with each other. In the street culture, language is also an important means to share and strengthen your position within the group and in relation to other groups or gangs (‘language power’). This often leads to exaggerated language. A frightening aspect of street culture is threatening (‘I’ll kill you’, which often is only a sign of bravado or an honorable way to leave.
Head teacher: ‘Pupils need clarity and boundaries. They do not need limp educators. For them, they have no respect. Young people need to know that if they show undesirable behaviour, they are invited for an interview with their mentor and their parents are always informed’. Teachers often find it difficult how to deal with street culture and how to correct pupils if necessary. More and more teachers are faced with machismo that they have never learned to deal with and cannot handle. Teachers complain about the treatment of aggressive macho pupils with a short fuse and being permanently on edge. This brings added stress and tension in the classroom.
Almost all teachers say they are able to keep order in their class. In contrast, one third of the pupils and parents in secondary and vocational education say that the pupils are in charge in the classroom. Pupils say they lack structure in the classroom.
Half of the teachers say they have less and less time for simply teaching. Half of the teachers believe that because they have to pay a lot of attention to problem children (with learning and behavioral problems) this goes at the expense of the rest of the group. Almost three quarters of the pupils receive an individual educational plan. One third of the teachers do not consider themselves well-trained to help problem pupils who exhibit disruptive behaviour in the classroom. Half of the teachers are not convinced that pupils will perform better through testing.
The school board must develop policies based on the working conditions legislation aimed at preventing risks to the safety and health of personnel. Every school should have a school safety plan as part of the working conditions. The school as an employer is responsible for creating a safe working and living environment.
Both parents and teachers experience barriers in their contacts and communication with each other. Half of the teachers and parents prefer a separate room in the school to talk to each other informally about shared manners and procedures concerning school safety. A majority of teachers and parents think they need a psychologist or a remedial teacher in school to support them with their problems.

In Dutch education it is still not common at all schools that teachers are held accountable for their performance. In order to work professionally as a teacher it is necessary to learn from colleagues and above all to continue to learn by working together to prepare lessons and attend each other’s classes.
Parents and pupils elected in the school council may be involved in providing information about the school culture and thus also contribute to its implementation. The school council may make use of the right of initiative to present its views and proposals regarding the policy of the school. The school prospectus provides an entry point to the school with parents and pupils in dialogue regarding the school culture.
It is not only important that schools, pupils and parents work together to improve the quality of the daily interactions and communication. Also, pupils, community centre, community police, and support institutions can be involved in the formulation of shared manners and establishing procedures concerning school safety.

Smit, F., Driessen, G., Sluiter, R. & Brus, M. (2008). Ouders en innovatief onderwijs. Ouderbetrokkenheid en -participatie op scholen met vormen van ‘nieuw leren. Nijmegen: ITS, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.
Smit, F., Driessen, G., Sluiter, R. & Brus, M. (2007). Ouders, scholen en diversiteit. Ouderbetrokkenheid en -participatie op scholen met veel en weinig achterstandsleerlingen. Nijmegen: ITS, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.
Smit, F, Wester, M, Craenen, O. & Schut, K. (2011). De visie van leraren, ouders en leerlingen op de kwaliteit van het onderwijs, ITS, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen en OIG.

dr. Frederik Smit