There are many discussions, thoughts and ideas on improving Parental Engagement and I recently read with interest an article by Leanne Forde Nassey, headteacher of a pupil referral unit in Hampshire, ‘Seven ways we improved parental engagement’.
Leanne’s situation can be described as extreme compared to the issues that most schools face in connecting with parents as she is ‘working in a school where the majority of the pupils are either permanently excluded or at risk of exclusion from their mainstream school, we are already dealing with a lot of parents who have only dealt with their child’s schooling in a negative way. By the time the parents get to us they have (in the main) given up or are so used to hearing negative messages that they try everything possible to avoid engaging with us.’ Nevertheless, she recognizes that it is important that parents feel welcomed and important and not a nuisance when they reach out to the school.
In my experience, there are many ways that you can engage parents in a positive manner, meaning that they feel able to contact the school, know who they need to speak to and also understand the process of reaching the right person to discuss their concerns with and a lot of this is based around starting out with positive communications from the minute the child and their family join your school community.
Let’s start out with looking at some of the methods Leanne has employed that has provided improvement in communications.
Sharing news of even the smallest success – i.e. a telephone call or text with positive news.
Holding frequent and regular review meetings and ensuring Staff plan for them effectively
Sending out positive postcards to the home as a form of praise that require no response from the parent/career
Themed open evening to include parents/careers with an extended time to ‘drop in’
An ‘open-door’ policy to speak with a senior leader
Clear demonstration of the lines of communication within the school – i.e. how parents speak with if they have any concerns, ensuring that all parents know how the first point of contact is
Creating a time frame to work in for staff to respond to parents for a consistent approach
These are all great points and can be adapted in your own policies, but first, let’s recap on why parental engagement is so important –
Students respond very well to parents participating in their schooling – whether that’s just being aware of their progress and understanding their achievements, or whether it’s when parents decide to take a more active role and become involved in the school itself. Either way, greater parental engagement often motivates the child to do well.
For Parents, a full visibility of a child’s interests, strengths and commitments – as well as information about school events and developments – will put parents in a stronger position to help their child’s learning and will ensure children get the most out of the education system.
For the School, Teachers and staff become better placed to support the student
Personal contact including parent conferences, open nights can be effective, but there is no doubt that establishing of effective school-home communication has grown more complex as our society and communities have changed and evolved. Therefore, we need to ensure that we look at a variety of strategies adapted to meet the needs of particular families and their schedules need to be incorporated in to the plan – such as
Personal contact – telephone calls, arranging of parent / teacher meetings
Parent newsletters – also to focus on fathers as well as mothers, especially where the family unit may be broken down, same sex parents, absent parents etc.
School calendars – planning ahead and providing the information of all events, term dates, inset days, parent’s evenings etc
Parent workshops – consider arranging events for groups of parents to involve them further in learning more about the curriculum, how and what their child is learning and the support that they can provide
Also, in looking at our methods of communication with families we need to take into account the ethnically diverse range within our school communities and ensure that we are meeting their needs. ‘In the UK today, there are over 1 million children with English as an additional language who speak in excess of 360 languages between them’
Some simple ways of ensuring that this is the case is to include the ‘Welcome to the school’ notice in a range of the most popular languages and ensure that there are staff who are available to act as interpreters for parent meetings etc. Also, for the school to be aware when sending written communications home, that they are made available in the varying languages There are many tools and methods that schools can use to develop parental engagement let’s look at some of the basics that can be utilized with the development of technology that can enhance and support the strategies we put in place
School website: general information including school calendars can be published here – perhaps also looking at a secure parental area for more specific information about children’s achievements, celebrations and school events (photos) to be mindful of safeguarding and child protection issues
Emails: sending out of school newsletters by email – this also addresses any EAL issues as these can be adapted for the recipient family
Text messaging: Range of useful platforms to generate text reminders
Social Media – Facebook: with a wider use of Facebook, schools can create a ‘page’ and add in school calendars, plus the Messenger facility
Social Media – WhatsApp: seems more & more widely used between parent groups, generally with one or two of the parents taking the lead in sharing information etc
Bespoke School Software which provides all the features for sending out of communications, reminders, can be used to facilitate the ‘congratulations and positive messages’, contain the useful / correct contacts for parents to use in situations plus also provide online booking systems for school events etc.
Whatever methods we choose and however we try to improve the parental engagement, it is important that we regularly review who we are reaching and who we are not and how we can continually strive to improve and reach out to our school community, here are few more pointers to help develop this engagement
Looking at what is important to the children and their families at the different ages and stages such as oral language development in early years, basic reading, maths and sciences in primary, choosing subjects and preparing for exams in secondary
Providing guidance for staff and giving them clear expectations on their role in parental engagement and ensuring that they have the training and the time to undertake their part in the process
Providing clear instructions to parents on how they can support their child at home – i.e. how they can help with homework, providing tips to on how to interact with their children like linking stories and their own life experiences around the subjects that their child is learning
Offer support where needed and ensure this is tailored to the child and their family so you are meeting their needs
As more millennials become parents, they will expect schools to use technology to communicate with them and their children and I encourage you to think about your parents as partners, & work with them to build bridges not walls between you. Additional Resource: The successful teachers bouncing back toolkit(MP3 – downloadable from Sue’s Shop)
Sue Atkins is a television presenter, author, parenting and teaching specialist. Sue regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning programme where she presents on parenting issues. Atkins also regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2. Sue is on a mission to make parenting easy and has teamed up with Nexus Education to help teacher through her extensive experience.