Parent participation: A brief review of theories and contexts
The participation of parents in the governance of schools has received an increasing amount of attention over the past decade as the state continues to devolve certain powers to schools as well as engaging in a rhetoric which calls for increasing 'democratic' involvement by members of the community. This study examines, within a regional focus, issues such as the socio-economic and political contexts of parent participation, as well as the roles of school governance, leadership and parents in participation in education. The problematics of this involvement are described in a short review of the literature which theorises specific contexts of participation: including power and democracy, socio-economic factors,, curriculum, 'parent politics' and the role of the principal. These perspectives focus on the three main players in the drama - parents, the state and principals within a regional environment. In this study the relationship between parents and school is a particularly significant one and is represented primarily by the work of Connell (1985). The focus on parents of Central Queensland also enables exploration of the different conceptions of parent participation developed in other parts of Australia and in the US and Great Britain.
The historical background of parent participation is then discussed within a 'genealogical perspective' which follows the development of parent participation in Australia through a number of important stages. These include: education's early religious inception, followed by secularisation, politicisation, corporatisation and finally to the model with which we have become increasingly familiar today - marketisation. The study then focuses on the way in which the transformation of education in Australia has important implications for the management of parent participation in the Central Queensland region -a particularly important site for study given the socio-economic framework adopted. The theoretical framework informs the methodology adopted in the study - an historical review of policy, a series of semi -structured interviews of some of the key stakeholders in parent participation and the review of the theoretical literature.
Within the restrictions of time and resources, the findings of the study confirmed the problematic nature of parent participation in relation to genuine philosophies of democracy and issues of power now 'disguised' within the rhetoric of the market place. The role of education as a perpetuator rather than a changer of existing inequalities was confirmed and the polarisation of parents into 'participating advantaged' and 'non participating disadvantaged' groups was demonstrated.
The study found that the scope for participation is a rather narrow one that tended to restrict the autonomy of the school, and did not extend to include concepts of citizenship and democracy which are essential components in true involvement. Another important factor in the success of parent participation was found to be the role of the principal and his style of leadership and the implications for a transformational style in a climate which encourages a formal transactional management style. In addition, the findings of the study indicated the absence generally both in the literature and in practice, of participation by indigenous parents.
The study concluded that the policy of participation at the school level has also been under -researched in relation to bringing parents together with the school. It also revealed some further issues of participation which highlight the findings of recent studies of family rates of participation in the USA drawn from the works of Chubb and Moe (1990), Levine et al., (1992). These could be further investigated within an Australian context.