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Perspectives of parents and school staff on parental engagement with education: a foucauldian informed analysis

Dr Katie Wood
University of East London


This research explored parental engagement with education in the UK. It used an exploratory paradigm to investigate what schools and parents understand by the term parental engagement, what the perceived purpose of parental engagement with schools is (from the perspective of both parents and school staff) and the Foucauldian themes that emerge from the parents’ and schools’ constructs.

The research was conducted from a critical realist perspective and explored realities through a Foucauldian lens. Ten participants were recruited, and findings were gathered using semi structured interviews conducted on an online platform. Data were analysed using thematic analysis with a deductive, theoretical and semantic Foucauldian perspective. Research questions 1, 2 and 3 used a semantic thematic analysis, and research question 4 was approached using a semantic and latent analysis. Themes and subthemes were identified for each of the four research questions.

Participants constructed a range of meanings and understanding for the term parental engagement, and purposes for engagement, including perceived outcomes for children and parents. Parents and schools identified ways that parents engage with school, many of which are centred around the sharing and receiving of information. Children’s academic attainment was identified by both groups as the key purpose of parental engagement with education, and all acknowledged that parents engage because they seek to ‘do the right thing’ for their child.

Power, and how it operates between people and institutions, was at the heart of the analysis. Two overarching Foucauldian themes were identified: governmentality of parents and Panoptic society. From a broad, societal perspective, parents experience school and the education system as a technology of power which uses divisive practices and governmentality to maintain order and shape governable subjects.

The researcher proposes the use of these findings to influence local policy and practice around parental engagement, removing barriers, and furthering considerations around power and knowledge between parents and schools.

Contact Dr Katie Wood