This article investigates parental and community influence on school management. In many OECD countries, decentralisation is bringing decision-making closer to the local and school levels, but if decentralisation is not accompanied with greater parental participation at the school level, there is a possibility for a “democratic gap” to occur. Countries differ in the extent to which parents are regarded as partners to the school. The country evidence shows that the number of opportunities for parental involvement does not mean parents have influence; many parents complain that schools only ask their opinions about practical issues.
Parental involvement declines as children age, and even some countries with high reported parental interest are finding declining involvement over time. This chapter discusses a possible “vicious circle”, where low parental involvement reinforces negative views from the education system that parents and the community should have only a limited influence. This is clearly a subject that could usefully be illuminated through further research. It would be useful to more accurately understand the extent of parental involvement in decision-making, on which issues, and how much they could increase involvement if they were aware of opportunities. Similarly, it would be useful to clarify how much schools will allow parental involvement and to identify the costs, and not only the benefits, that come with wider participation.
As in many organisations, the active parents are not necessarily representative of the parent body as a whole, with the less well-educated and disadvantaged under-represented. Since the parents who participate do not necessarily represent all parents, there may be a lack of equality in the initiatives they favor. Parents who voice their dissatisfaction are statistically likely to be more educated than the silent or uninvolved parents. Vocal parents are not necessarily going to work to benefit all the students; the active parents may preferentially campaign for programs which might benefit their children more than other children. Thus, this chapter raises the problem whether increasing voice can increase inequality as well.
There are practical questions concerning how to create more effective parental participation. Removing barriers is important: at the most basic level this means that all parents are informed about their rights and opportunities to participate. School leader and teacher professional development may be needed. It may be possible to find alternative ways to consult parental opinions. Organising regular surveys at the national, regional or local level in which parents are asked about a number of major issues is another possibility of increasing equality and parental involvement in schools.
Published in Demand-Sensitive Schooling, OECD, 2006