Teachers and parents all want the same thing – for children to thrive in their care and reach their potential.
When they work together, therefore, the impact on any individual youngster can be extremely powerful.
The challenge is that, in too many cases, schools have no processes or staff training in place to deliver effective parental engagement strategies.
In 2017, Parentkind carried out research among teachers to understand to what extent they and their schools were embracing parental engagement.
Despite nearly all respondents telling us that parents have a positive impact on their school, barely one in five claimed their school had a formal parental engagement plan in place, with only a minority reporting there being any measures to track parental engagement at all.
And where there were measures in place, only half knew who within their school was responsible for this area of work.
When parents are engaged in school, children demonstrate better behaviour, improved academic achievement and less absenteeism; moreover, families can provide additional resources and support for teachers.
For example, many parents volunteer to read with children in class, support on school trips, help out on careers events, become school governors and trustees or run after-school clubs.
But for some parents and carers, getting involved in their child’s school life and education can be a challenge. Understanding and addressing the barriers to participation is critical, whether it’s because individuals feel they lack the time or skills; feel hindered because of cultural reasons or language barriers; or have health issues or caring responsibilities which which they struggle.
Getting to know your community and reaching out to them in a range of ways that meet their needs, is an important step in positive parental engagement.
Indeed, a third of teachers responding to our survey believed that when parent views are shared, it has a positive impact on school decision-making.
It’s clear, then, that there are many advantages to parental engagement, but teachers (and senior leaders) need to be supported to embrace it to the full.
Our research showed that fewer than one in 10 teachers had undertaken any CPD training on parental engagement, despite the fact that a positive approach to it could help schools deliver on their improvement plans.
For training to have an impact in this area, it’s vital that heads and senior leadership teams understand the importance of developing a whole school approach to parental participation, seek to address barriers to participation – and acknowledge the difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘engagement’.
Parentkind has worked with many schools running workshops designed to help senior leadership teams enhance their parental engagement efforts; at its most effective, training can assist teachers and schools in the development of a parent council, supporting them to build a framework for listening to parent voice, working through the stages of developing one, and establishing the means by which to successfully implement and monitor it.
“I really value our parent council, because I think the only way a school can be successful, and by that I mean, provide the best education for the students they serve, is by engaging with parents,” observes Isobel Linney-Drouet, headteacher at Cornwallis Academy.
“In our first year, parents have pointed out some very practical things we could do to improve communications with them and our community. I anticipate that in the future, the impact will be bigger, less practical, and much more about the strategic direction of the school… and I’m looking forward to that!”
Kerry-Jane Packman is development and membership director at Parentkind.