Harnessing schools’ relationships with parents

Schools should make the most of parents being more involved in their children’s education during lockdown

It’s no surprise that schools take the time to place so much emphasis on engaging parents and involving them in their child’s education. The research is clear – children with parents who support their learning from home tend to achieve more, as well as having higher levels of motivation and self-esteem. However, it can be a challenge for some parents to get the balance right when there are so many calls on their time. Work and other commitments can mean that coming into school is not always easy and for families living in different time zones, communicating with their child’s school regularly can be difficult.

In recent times though, many parents have become more closely involved in their child’s education. Lockdown has led many to pay much greater attention to what and how their children are learning. What then can schools do to make it easier for parents to stay involved in their child’s schooling as things go back to “normal”? Most schools are familiar with the different communication styles of parents they can come into contact with.

There are those who will frequently pick up the phone or come into school to talk about their child’s progress in maths or ask questions about how they can best support them if they’ve clinched a place on the school hockey or debating team. Then, there are those who are reluctant to contact their child’s school unless they have a specific concern, holding the view that they should “leave the school to do its job”. And finally, there will also be a handful of parents whose work and family commitments make it extremely hard to engage with the school community at all. I thought I’d share some great examples from schools I’ve visited that are successfully engaging parents in school life and strengthening those vitally important home/school links.

Firstly, the vast majority of heads I come into contact with champion an open door policy in school. This will be harder under covid considerations, but is still possible with careful planning. This policy can work extremely well for encouraging parents to get more involved in the school community. Having set times when key staff are visible in the playground, or days when the head can chat to parents at the school gate after the last bell, also works well – as long as social distancing is respected. It means parents can quickly and conveniently mention something they otherwise might not want to “waste your time” with.

When parents know they can approach the school with any concerns, they are less likely to wait until there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. Working together to provide support from school and at home is essential for ensuring that children make good progress in their learning. Many parents are keen to play a part in boosting their child’s achievement but do not feel confident about their current knowledge or their understanding of an increasingly sophisticated curriculum. Schools can help by taking the time to ensure that parents have the information they need to make a difference.

Schools are increasingly making details of the topics the class is currently working on available to parents and offering online advice about the key learning objectives. Whether it’s tips on effective ways to help children research a history project, or a reminder to help children learn their lines for a performance in assembly, most parents appreciate being pointed in the right direction about how they can best help. It’s a good idea to plan in advance how you can help parents to help their children at key points in the academic year. For instance, it won’t be long before parents of children approaching GCSE and A-levels will be thinking about how they can help them choose their subject options.

Families can lead busy lives and schools can help by making it as easy as possible to stay up to date. Many schools address this by offering a range of channels of communication to keep parents in the loop. Some give online access to real-time information on their website. Others “push” information directly to parents, either via text or email, or through an app on their mobile phone. For parents, seeing your child’s most recent test scores or their teachers’ comments can be a great way to encourage their progress. And being able to congratulate them for getting top marks in the geography quiz as theywalk through the door, or start a conversation about a falling out with a friend as soon as they get home, makes parents feel much more a part of what is going on in their child’s life.

Making it easier for parents to get involved in their child’s education brings many benefits. In one school I know, parents were kept so up to date with how their children were doing that the head was able to turn the traditional parents’ evening into an informal wine and cheese night. Instead of rushing around to see every teacher, parents spent time relaxing and getting to know their child’s teachers – and each other – in a much more social setting. This may still be a little way off after lockdown, but it is still something schools could aspire to over time.