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For Young People To Succeed, They Need Adults Who Support Their Education At Home

It’s a school’s job to build relationships that help that happen

  • For Young People To Succeed, They Need Adults Who Support Their Education At Home

Being a parent of a secondary aged child is not easy (please forgive me for using ‘parents’ as a catch-all throughout this article; I obviously would not wish to exclude any carers from the conversation); and I can tell you, as a dad and a headteacher, it isn’t easy for families or schools to get it right.

Classrooms have changed so much in recent years and the environments that most parents remember from their younger days don’t exist any more. However there are still far too many that simply won’t engage with their child’s education because of their own poor experiences at school.

I repeatedly say to our staff that we are creating a future generation of parents that will look back at their school experience with warmth, and therefore be much more engaged with their own child’s journey – although this is not always an easy sell when things are challenging!

We, like many schools I’m sure, have tried numerous things to try and engage those ‘hard to reach’ parents. We decided to try to get them through the door in an informal setting first. So tonight, we have our year 7 social evening.

Every young person in that cohort has written a letter to their parents, to be collected on the night, describing what has gone well since the start of the year and to outline their wishes for their future whilst with us and beyond. The students are tasked with introducing their parents to their teachers so they can put a face to a name; hopefully, this will help them realise that we are approachable and all want the same thing – a positive and child focused relationship.

The turnout for this event is always very high so we also ask the parents to tell us what has gone well during the first half term and what we could improve on; we give them the chance to feedback directly to SLT or to write their thoughts on a form and post it in the box as they leave. This has led to some major changes in our induction processes in the past, which have really improved what we do.

Empty seats

How many of us have said, following a subject based parents’ evening, ‘It’s such a shame that the parents I really need to see don’t turn up’? We decided to look into the turnout for these events and try to understand why it was hovering in the low to mid-fifty percentage points.

I asked two different sets of parents (and the relevant staff members) if they minded me following them from teacher to teacher to hear the conversations; one of the young people was a high achieving and very focused individual and the other, somewhat more challenging.

And what I heard was inherently the same message 13 times for each child; for one that ‘they are a pleasure to teach and to keep doing what they are doing’ and for the other, a constant message of ‘could do better’. 

Now you may say that this means that the staff are not giving them enough information about the content of their learning, and you may be right. However, 5/10 minutes is not much time and anyway, how much help can the average parent give with algebra?

So is it any wonder that the parents of the child with more challenging behaviour are much more likely to not bother by the time they get to Year 9?

Time to talk

In an attempt to counter this, we now have academic tutorials with the parent(s) of each child in the lower school, after their ‘full’ report is issued.

The tutor calls to arrange a convenient time for them to come in for a 45-minute discussion of the core messages from the report, and to agree – in partnership with the young person and their teacher – some overarching targets that will positively impact on their child’s progress. These could be linked to the completion of homework, or the young person packing their school bag at a certain time each evening to ensure they are fully equipped for the next day’s learning.

All of a sudden, these suggestions become joint targets, set with the parents, rather than just us repeating ourselves over and over. Alongside this, if a parent wants a specific conversation with a subject teacher the tutor will inform that teacher and they will contact the parent directly.

It helps that we have a vertical tutoring system so no one has more than five or six students from any one year. Yes, cover may be required; but the negative impact of this has proven to be less than the positive relationships that it has encouraged.

This piece may well have caused more questions than answers – but for me the simple truth is that if the way we have always done it only works for 55% of the parents, we must keep looking for strategies that get us ever closer to 100%.

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