This paper reports on an investigation of collaboration between schools and adult education providers in relation to some case-study examples of ‘parent education’ and ‘family literacy’ programmes. It examines how these organizations' different conceptions of their purposes and their under-pinning values can lead to different outcomes particularly in relation to their conceptualization of the role of the ‘parent’. It argues that schoolteachers and adult education staff come from distinct cultures and have different ideas about education and learning. They have, however, distinctive and complementary roles to play in promoting learning and education and creating a fairer social order. Using a parent centred, dialogic approach positions parents as people with an important contribution to make rather than as ‘problems’ that need to change to the school's way of seeing things. The paper suggests that whilst learning alone cannot abolish inequality and social divisions it can make a real contribution to combating them, not least by tackling the ways in which social exclusion is reinforced through the very processes and outcomes of education and training. If parents can be helped to challenge deficit views of the culture of their homes and communities then a small step has been taken in enabling their voices to be heard in the learning of their children and in their own educational development. For this to happen, however, some of the control that professionals have imposed on schooling for so long will have to be released and parents would need to be regarded as people with important contributions to make as collaborating educational partners.