How do we engage more parents in school?
Engaging parents in school life to drive their children’s experience and growth is a constant challenge.
Now, before you read this, this is NOT a definitive, fool-proof list of how to improve parental responses on Ofsted surveys or strategies for hitting those hard to reach parents (those who never come to school even though you really need them to).
Having spoken to colleagues, read around the subject and through my experiences, it is widely acknowledged that involving parents in the education and achievements of their children brings about greater success. How to actually achieve this, remains something of a mystery to many school leaders.
It’s worth noting that many schools up and down the country work wonders when it comes to parental school engagement and interaction. These schools are not ripping up trees or doing new, bold and different things, yet (and I’ve experienced this first hand) many schools forget the basics.
Firstly, it feels important to distinguish between parent engagement and parent involvement. Both are important and something every school should strive for in order to create the most healthy school community for all its stakeholders.
But involvement can mean volunteering and spending time in the school and classroom – building those schools that have an instant sense of positive energy you feel the minute you walk into the school. A whole-school approach to parental engagement will be more likely to produce positive results.
10 Tips For Engaging Parents
Encouraging parents to be more involved in their child’s education shouldn’t be just one person’s responsibility, as parents and pupils have many different touchpoints with their schools.
So what works and how do you maintain it? Here are some key things to consider when driving positive school/parental engagement.
1. Communication, communication, communication!
It sounds obvious yet so many schools fall at this hurdle. It is easy to trip ourselves up with so many ways of communicating with parents. Do we send a newsletter, an email or a text? Do we do all three? What do we put in our newsletters? What do we put on the website? Regardless of what you decide, make sure it is accurate, clear and concise, and please … check the grammar and spelling. You’re a school!
2. Be transparent and honest
No parents should find out about negative behaviour or concerns regarding progress for the first time during a parental consultation. This will make them angry. It should never be a surprise. It’s never easy to have difficult conversations but avoiding them until the last moment, or until it has been passed to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), is never best practice.
3. Get yourself on the playground (be visible)
There’s nothing more ‘fake news’ than an SLT out on the playground during an Ofsted inspection when they are never out there normally. Get yourself out there every morning and at the end of the day (where possible). Get to know the community, face issues head-on and build relationships.
4. Open the doors and let them in
If you’re not getting parents in at all opportunities, you need to ask yourself why?
They are your biggest promoters, yet how can they do this if they’re never in the building. Plan key engagement events (whole school and year groups). Share the learning taking place through express events. Involve them in sports days. Bring them in to read during ‘stay and play/read’ sessions.
Allow parents within the classroom to see the learning taking place. Get them reading to the children, support after school clubs, and utilise their skills to develop areas of the school – it’s amazing the changes a few volunteers can make.
6. Drivers within the school
Governors should be key drivers within the school. They should not merely appear at meetings and be interviewed by Ofsted. They should know the school inside out. Get them in, and partner them with key areas of the school. Encourage them to challenge and support, but most importantly, make them part of the fixture and fittings of the school.
7. Build social capital
Difficult conversations are unavoidable, yet these are easier to have if you are not merely speaking to the parents about negative issues. Use several of the suggestions above to build relationships with ‘difficult’ parents – make them a priority for positive interactions. It will be worth it in the long run.
8. Invest time in social media
Apps, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… whichever your school uses, make sure it is not just a token.
From personal experience, Twitter can be a wonderful tool in sharing what is happening within your school. A simple image and tweet can reach a huge audience in a very quick time. Celebrate what is happening in your school and open up interactions with parents, teachers and pupils.
9. Be available
10. Get out in the community (and get parents in)
Your community extends beyond the school gates. Whether you realise it or not, you will be surrounded by wonderful resources and people who can enrich learning. Research who and what is out there within the local community.
Scholar Howard Zinn once said, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” As Zinn highlighted, the smallest change or action repeated by numerous people can have an enormously positive impact.
Now imagine if we could get our schools and parents working together, pulling in the same direction – what impact this would have on development and growth of our children.
The EEF reported an additional 2/3 months progress for very small costs. Surely, it’s a no-brainer.