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Is parental engagement top of your to-do list?

Getting parents involved in school life is not traditionally a governor's remit, but Naureen Khalid explains why it should be all hands on deck

Posted by Lucinda Reid | July 30, 2017 | People, policy, politics

As a governor, part of the job description is to monitor the performance of our school and ensure that students are being afforded the best opportunities to realise their potential. We all know that getting parents involved is key to a pupil’s progress and success at school. We also all know that it can be challenging to build a relationship with some parents and all too often the onus falls on our already busy teaching staff.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this issue with some inspirational teachers and educational bloggers at an event hosted by Capita SIMS. As a group, we deliberated over the barriers we faced and the strategies that were working. I found the group’s practical ideas for improving communication with parents invaluable and I’d like to share them here.

1.     Start the conversation from day one

To build a strong relationship with parents, it’s really important to share the type of information they are interested in from the beginning of each school year.

For example, at primary schools, whether or not their child is happy and confident in class tends to be top of parental concerns. However, in the absence of obvious problems, a teacher may not get in touch with parents to report all is going well.

So, in those early weeks of a new academic year, focus on providing positive pastoral information to parents via a brief email, or a quick word in the playground. It means trust is built and the foundations of a strong school-home relationship are formed.

2.     Make sure it’s a two-way street

It goes without saying that giving regular academic updates to parents in a timely way is essential. When parents are up to speed with what their child is studying at school, they can continue the conversation at home, helping to cement their child’s knowledge of a new topic and ironing out any difficulties in grasping an unfamiliar concept.

In fact, most schools are very good at giving regular updates to parents but what they perhaps pay less attention to is the reverse – listening to parents. It could be as simple as checking parents know who can help them in various situations, it could be providing flexible ways and times to catch up with teaching or pastoral staff, especially if many parents work, or it could be a more focused effort to seek out the opinions of those who prefer not to speak up. Also, make sure that the school adopts a policy of being genuinely interested to hear about concerns – again, it strengthens trust.

3.     Think outside the box

Effectively engaging parents in school life requires some creative thinking. Once a parent is on school grounds, it is quite straightforward to have a conversation about their child’s education and attendance. The battle can be actually getting parents to the school in the first place.

One school tackled a low turn-out at open afternoons by getting pupils to write handwritten notes to their parents, personally inviting them to the school. This simple tactic was extremely successful; not only did more parents attend but the feedback was extremely positive too.

Other schools have started to run free fitness classes and ICT courses, again to get parents on the premises. ‘Good work’ assemblies are another great idea – what parent doesn’t want to hear about the wonderful work their child has been doing?  And if at all possible, remove any barriers to parents attending by making sure there is parking somewhere close by.

4.     Simplify with technology

Workload is a key issue in all UK schools. Whilst governors want to improve parental communications, we certainly don’t want to increase teachers’ workload so it’s important to get the balance right. One way of doing this is using technology to help with communicating pupil progress to parents as well as more holistic information on whether a child is happy, helpful and enjoying school.  Using parental communication apps like the SIMS Parent app can help that process by automatically communicating information which is already recorded in the classroom on behaviour, achievement or attendance – saving time and making life easier for schools.

I came away from these conversations with a reinforced belief that governors need to carefully consider how parent-school relationships are developed. Apart from anything else, their support is pivotal when it comes to reaching school targets in attendance and achievement. Parental engagement is now at the top of my priority list. Is it on yours?

Naureen Khalid (@5N_Afzal) is the co-founder of the blog Governing Matters and an experienced academy and school governor. With thanks to @mrlockyer @RachelOrr @thescarfedone  @Girle_Jane  @UKEdChat @Raff31 for their input. 


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