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8 ways to engage with disadvantaged families

Lucy Flower explains how to connect with hard-to-reach parents and strengthen your school’s community links...

  • 8 ways to engage with disadvantaged families

1 | Offer meals

Parents’ evenings are often scheduled across teatime and it’s easy to forget the negative impact this can have on a parent trying to feed their family. A bowl of chilli and rice is cheap to provide and could potentially make the difference between a family attending or staying at home.

Consider advertising that you will provide refreshments for individual meetings – a breakfast sandwich, or at least a cup of tea and a biscuit, will certainly make meetings more attractive and practical to attend.

2 | Think about timings

When asking a parent to come in for a meeting, make sure you make it clear that it can be rescheduled for a more suitable time if necessary.

As a head of year, I’m embarrassed to say that I’d feel frustrated when parents didn’t turn up to a 9.15am meeting, little realising that this coincided with juggling the logistics of multiple primary school and nursery drop-offs.

3 | Familiar face

For some families, it can be intimidating or confusing to be contacted by several different people from school. Consider having one point of contact for those families; a face they know well and feel positively towards.

This will make conversations, whether positive or negative in nature, more effective. Enable that person to be present at parents’ evenings or meetings as a welcoming and reassuring presence.

4 | Make positive links

Ensure that as well as contacting parents about negatives, you regularly contact them about positives, be this via phone call, text, postcard or a note home. Removing the dread of the “What’s he done now?” conversation is really powerful, and will unequivocally show the parent that you are there to support them.

5 | Create a community

Some parents will have had negative experiences of school when they were younger so may feel intimidated coming back into that environment.

Creating a positive community via regular coffee mornings with refreshments and childcare support means that parents can share their concerns in a non-judgemental environment, and eventually even grow in confidence to support each other.

Add sessions about supporting children with homework, signing up for adult education classes, job application and benefit form support and how to access food banks.

During these informal sessions you may hear about issues that you can support with, such as sourcing laptops or computers or providing quiet spaces for children to complete their homework.

6 | Language help

Tap into your local authorities’ resources and see if it’s possible to source a translator for meetings with parents with EAL. Alternatively, mention to parents that they are very welcome to bring someone they trust with them to support with translation and understanding (it’s best if this isn’t a child).

7 | Keep it simple

Consider the language and format of your communications with parents. The average reading age of an adult in the UK is 11.

Think about how best to get your message across to your target families: a flyer or postcard with minimal wording and a simple layout or a quick personal phone call may get your message across more meaningfully.

8 | Go to them

Take away the issue of transport – go and meet parents in their home or, if preferred, more neutral ground such as a local community centre.

Yes, it’s far more convenient for them to come to you – but attendance is far more likely to be guaranteed if you remove the costs and logistics of transport.

Lucy Flower is a secondary music teacher and former assistant headteacher based in Leeds. Find her on her website at thehappyleader.wordpress.com and follow on Twitter at @mrslflower.

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