Decades of research confirms that involving families and the community contributes to children’s academic success - and this is easiest to achieve in primary.
However, there remain challenges that face primary school teams and parents. For example, it’s assumed that a parent understands what their children are studying, a myth that has been dispelled in the past 18 months of enforced home-schooling. There are language barriers in multi-cultural communities when children are often the interpreters.
Parents will also have different levels of engagement in their child’s education reinforced through their own school experience.
Understand where you are now
It’s easy to make assumptions about parental enagement with a school but what you see from within the school gates may not be how it feels on the outside.
Putting a mirror up to better understand the outside view can be a valuable exercise to ensure you understand what is going well (your strengths) and areas of concern or even frustration (where you need to improve).
Are you making the best use of your data? For example, do you look further than whether your pupil retention rate is higher or lower than last year? When pupils choose to move to another school, do you just check if it’s more or less than last year, or do you find out what has driven them away?
Have you looked into what parents and others are saying and hearing about your school online? What does your attendance rate at parent events tell you?
Think about whether the systems are in place to support strong parent-pupil-school relationships. For example, if parents are receiving messages from various sources in various ways, it will be overwhelming and confusing.
Listen to the views of your school team and, importantly, listen to parents through surveys and focus groups, or less formal drop in coffee type events. Have the same level of listening for pupils too. Some of the older pupils will be able to explain what support they need from their parents and how school could help.
Know where you want to get to
Consider what you want to achieve through your relationships with parents. What does active parental engagement mean for your school? How will these relationships help you achieve your business plan and ensure pupils are at their best?
We recommend that you:
- Focus on what you want pupils to achieve
- Consider what challenges you face as a school and a local community that are influenced by parents
- Understand what is and is not working right now for each party – parents, pupils and the school team
- With this in mind, what would active parental engagement look and feel like from your perspective?
Develop a plan to achieve your goals
Remember that in every new school year you gain a set of new parents and lose a set of parents who know what to expect. So, you need to keep doing the basics, such as explaining why parents make such a difference.
Once you know where you are and where you want to be, you should start to understand how to close any gaps. These will fall into the areas of Knowledge, Environment, Culture or Communication.
Actions to take:
- Knowledge: communicate regularly to parents about why their support is so critical and what minimum actions are expected. Recruit some ex-parents who are willing to share their experiences to help new parents to avoid making the same mistakes
- Environment: make sure your school is ‘parent friendly’ with appropriate signs to help them to find their way into school; that reception staff are trained in creating a great first impression and that you are on time for meetings
- Culture: build a trusted relationship by showing parents that you really appreciate their support. Find ways to formally and informally recognise and even showcase when they have done a great job. Sometimes a simple thank you is enough
- Communication: put yourself in parents’ shoes before sharing information with them. Use accessible language in speaking and writing, and make sure to regularly ask for their feedback
Karen Dempster and Justin Robbins are co-authors of The Four Pillars of Parental Engagement: Empowering schools to connect better with parents and pupils.