Come and Join the Dance

This weekend I will be doing something – I am so nervous I can’t really talk it up, although the event itself will be marvellous – at the Oxford Reading Spree about reading in the EYFS. I could

  • fulminate about phonics
  • chide people on child-initiated learning
  • do other things on how to share books in group time that could have an alliterative title, but I can’t be bothered.

but in fact what I’m going to talk about is parental partnership and particularly about books.

Gillian Morrow and Nigel Malin, in the heady days of reasonably funded Early Years, proposed a model of parents and professionals working together. They suggested that partnership “which is often depicted in terms of a hierarchy of levels, for example from non-participation to partnership and control” can sometimes be seen by professionals “as a matter of ‘giving’” – and I wonder whether this means a giving but with the right to take back. Power really remains with the setting, and the role of the educator is to make up for parental deficiencies.  In Morrow and Malin’s more dynamic model, we see this undergoing changes. Most teachers will, I think, recognise that  changes in relationship between parent and professional are not necessarily easy, but their research is primarily into parents’ decision-making through committees, and one of the workers’ responses to the increased empowerment is telling:

…one of the good things has been becoming a lot less precious about your professional status. People on the Parents’ Committee respect you not because of your job role but because of their relationship with you

I return to this as I think about reading.

How well do we act as advocates for reading? How easy is it to fall back on institutional lines of power?

I have recently heard (but now cannot trace) the story of the school that threatened a child with detention if the parents didn’t read with the child three times in a week; I remember a parent’s anger at reading in the child’s reading record a telling-off for not keeping the reading record up-to-date…  These are indicative of a power relationship in which a home-school agreement is for the parents to agree to comply. They/we comply with what the school deems fitting. This is, I think assumed in the legislation, which states that a home-school agreement must contain “the responsibilities which the parents of such pupils are expected to discharge in connection with the education of their children” – assumed, I think, that it is the school that sets those expectations. This seems to me a far cry from the EYFS statement that

[c]hildren learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers…

So what is this strong partnership – and especially when we are talking about fostering literacy in EYFS – what does the professional have to do? Assume or require compliance? Or become the dancer, inviting parent and child to join? And if the latter, how much does the professional need to understand that long story from the first, cuddly book-sharing to the child making their own choices in a library?

This is what I will be exploring, all in 20 mins, on Saturday. No pressure, then.



Gillian Morrow  & Nigel Malin, (2004) Parents and professionals working together: turning the rhetoric into reality  Early Years Volume 24, 2004 – Issue 2, Pages 163-177






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