The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Fiona Carnie

Building partnerships with parents

Parent engagement expert Fiona Carnie offers strategies to engage and work effectively with parents. 

It’s well known that parental engagement has a significant impact on a child’s education, not just academically but emotionally and in terms of building confidence too. So, how can you ensure a successful, trusting relationship with the parents of your students?

Developing an effective partnership

It is important to engage parents early and have a school culture which helps parents feel part of the school. Having a welcoming and inclusive ethos is key to success. Parental engagement is the most powerful school improvement lever and depends on the involvement of all staff, starting with those on reception.

Partnerships are based on trust and a whole school approach is needed. Parents need to know who the key members of staff are, from the class teacher to head of year, SLT and headteacher.

Making positive initial contact

The ideal time to engage parents is at transition and the best way to do this is to gain as much information as possible from the previous setting. Arrange a meeting for parents prior to the child starting school and be clear about the school’s expectations of both the parents and the child. Listen to what parents say about their aspirations for their children.

The school should follow up with any non-attenders of this initial meeting. Find out the reason for absence and rearrange. If a parent found the time to be inconvenient, try to be flexible and offer a more convenient time. But be firm that this is not a meeting that parents can afford to miss.

By making it clear from the start what you expect of parents and also what they can expect from the school, you create the basis for a collaborative and positive relationship.

The ideal time to engage parents is at transition

Ensure that parents can access routine information they’ll need from the school, such as contact details, names of staff and dates of parents evenings and other events. Making this information easily accessible is important for busy parents.

You might consider an agenda at the initial meeting with parents such as the following.

  • How parents can support their child’s learning.
  • The importance of a healthy diet, regular exercise and e-safety.
  • Developing a shared approach to encouraging good behaviour.

The school can offer suggestions and discuss how home and school can work together regarding these and other issues.

Make meetings and events informal and participative. Offer refreshments and provide ample opportunities for questions, discussion and feedback. Consider how you organise the room so that it does not feel too formal.

Ongoing dialogue

There is little point in making positive initial contact if the school does not continue to keep in contact and encourage parents to do the same. Ongoing dialogue is central to an effective partnership.

Make it easy for parents to communicate with the school and for teachers to communicate with parents so that you can keep in touch and address issues as they arise. Parents need to know how their children are doing and what they can do to support them.

For busy working parents, you may need to communicate by phone

Barriers to communication

Common barriers which may decrease parental engagement include:

  • negative experience of their own schooling
  • low basic literacy skills
  • cultural differences
  • lack of time
  • low aspirations
  • health issues.

If you are dealing with a parent who is difficult to engage, it is crucial that you are able to identify what the barriers are so that you can plan how to address them. A one size fits all approach won’t work.

There are different strategies the school can use to reach parents. If the parent states that time is an issue, offer to arrange meetings at a time which suits them. If you really struggle to get parents to come in, you may need to organise a home visit. In cases where parents have poor literacy skills,

it will be important to sensitively signpost them to outside support so that they can get help, otherwise how will they be able to support their child’s education? For busy working parents, you may need to communicate by phone. 

Showing that your school is flexible and can meet the needs of different parents is important in building trust and confidence, particularly with those parents who are disengaged from school life.

Follow up where there are concerns

Just as it is important to engage parents early, it is also crucial to identify and deal with any problems quickly before they escalate. Make contact with parents as soon as you become concerned about a child; offer support to parents and make it clear that you are there to work with them and not judge them.

Build relationships with outside agencies that can support parents if necessary. Above all, keep the lines of communication open.

Maintaining a culture of trust

It is important to have a whole school parental engagement strategy and to be clear about what works well in collaborating with parents. Involve the parent body in discussions about issues that affect them. By listening and responding to parents’ views, and reflecting their views in school decisions, you are more likely to build a successful partnership.

The relationship between parents and the school should be a collaborative one. Ensure parents know why their involvement is vital and how the school will support them to support their child’s learning.

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