C&S SIGN lunchtime seminar series

Governing through Trust: community-based link workers and parental engagement in education (Dr Nathan Fretwell)

Date & time: 21st February 2018, 1-2pm

Location: C107, College Building, Middlesex University, London


Key words: parental engagement, governmentality, trust, link workers, family policy

Educational (under)achievement amongst white British working-class pupils has been a key concern for policy makers in recent years, and has become commonplace in public debates around education in the mass media (House of Commons Education Committee, 2014; Harris, 2016; Weale & Adams, 2016). In this paper, I report on the evaluation of a pilot programme aiming to improve attainment by encouraging “hard to reach” parents from white working-class backgrounds to engage more directly with their children’s education.

The distinctive feature of the pilot programme was that it employed community link workers to serve as a bridge between home and school. These link workers were strategically selected on the grounds that they came from the local white British working-class community and hence would be able, it was anticipated, to forge close working relationships with parents. The evaluation consisted of a mixed-method longitudinal approach using qualitative methods of data collection and was conducted between summer 2014 and summer 2015. A final report detailing the effectiveness of the pilot was delivered to the funders in early 2016.

Drawing on data from parents, teachers and link workers, I employ an “analytics of government” (Rose, 1999; Dean, 2010; Foucault, 2009) to foreground the ways in which the conduct of parents involved in the programme was subject to specific forms of regulation, management and control. Conceptualising the link workers as a governmental technology, the data, I suggest, gives us an insight into the emergence of a novel mode of governing parents; one that functions less through coercion and the production of compliance (as in punitive models of government) as it does through the instrumental use of trust to facilitate cooperation and commitment. What we have here then is a model of governing through trust. It is an approach that follows the path of least resistance and allows access to the very subjectivities of parents in order to accomplish strategic ends. The ultimate aim being to produce responsible, self-disciplined agency in which parents act freely in accordance with the normative expectations and technical guidance as to what constitutes “good” parenting and effective parental support.