With research showing that parental involvement positively supports children’s education and their achievement, the importance of the teacher-parent relationship is widely acknowledged and understood. Publications such as ‘The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children’s Education’ and ‘Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement’ highlight the benefits of forging good relationships with parents, and ways in which teachers can achieve this.
Building a relationship with parents who want to be involved in their child’s education is comparatively easy to parents who, for one reason or another, are disengaged and uninvolved. In this article we’ll also look at ways teachers can encourage parents who are not as involved as they could be, some of the challenges teachers face when working with parents, while also looking at schools’ successful approaches and best practice.
Research into parental involvement and engagement
The Department for Education’s publication ‘The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children’s Education states that parental involvement in children’s education from an early age has a significant effect on educational achievement, and continues to do so into adolescence and adulthood. Research also found that family learning can provide a range of benefits for parents and children, including improvements in reading, writing and numeracy, as well as greater parental confidence in helping their child at home.
‘Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement’ found that schools that successfully engage parents in learning, consistently reinforce the fact that parents matter. Interestingly, parents who are viewed as hard to reach often see the school as hard to reach. This suggests a shared perception between parents and schools who have yet to establish a positive relationship.
At a whole-school level, all schools should ensure that staff and parents are familiar with and understand the school’s home-school agreement, with the agreement being revisited as necessary.
Why are some parents uninvolved or disengaged?
Parents who aren’t as involved in their children’s education cite various reasons. The biggest issues named in ‘Parental Involvement’ amongst those surveyed include work commitments, general lack of time and childcare demands.
Difficulties with basic literacy and numeracy skills can also be a barrier to parents involvement in their child’s education. Parents who lack positive school-hood experiences, or those without confidence in their ability to communicate effectively, are also less likely to be engaged or involved with their child’s school, according to ‘Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement’ and ‘Improving Behaviour and Attendance at School’.
While parents’ evening presents an opportunity for teachers and parents to engage and strengthen their relationship, research by Power and Clark highlights that parents can sometimes find parents’ evenings frustrating and unproductive. They further point out that parents feel that teacher-parent meetings are more effective when there is enough time to develop a real dialogue, meetings take place with a clear framework, meetings refer to evidence of their child’s progress, behaviour and achievement, and everyone goes away knowing what targets have been agreed.
Teachers’ perspective on working with parents
Many teachers have forged strong relationships with parents, and these relationships have had positive implications for pupil performance. But what about those who haven’t? Anecdotally, some teachers have remarked on their experience as one where parental engagement is learnt on the job, which is obviously not the best way to instil confidence in teachers in this important area.
The ‘Review of best practice in parental engagement’ publication suggests that in order for teachers to engage effectively with parents, teachers and staff should undertake training and coaching, particularly when they are working with parents whose backgrounds are very different to theirs. Drawing on an effective parental-engagement strategy, the advice is to shape a strategy to include; planning, leadership, collaboration and engagement, and sustained improvement.
Schools that take a planned approach to working with parents, as the TES article on ‘Building Good Working Relationships with Parents’ points out, adopt numerous approaches. Strategies such as appointing a member of staff as a parent support worker, asking new teachers and NQTs to write to each child in their class by way of an introduction, and using social media to engage with parents are just some of the ways schools use a consistent and planned approach to working with parents.
Working with parents: Best practice
Best practice research highlights a number of shared approaches by schools where parental engagement is considered successful. A group of schools in Swindon lets teaching assistants take pupils into class each morning, so parents and teachers have a window of time to chat alone and informally every day.
Those same schools have a dedicated email which parents and pupils can use to discuss concerns or issues. Many schools now also use social media to engage with parents successfully.
To counter the perception of being hard to reach, as mentioned earlier, many teachers ensure they are visible and available when parents come to drop off and pick-up their children. One school in Oxfordshire has their NQTs wear name badges so parents can easily identify who they are, also helping to make introductions easier.
Lots of schools use various methods, including postcards home, to notify parents of their child’s positive achievements, and this reinforces the idea that good behaviour and effort are acknowledged.
This section includes links to publications and articles referenced in the article, on the subject of working and engaging with parents.
- DfE – Working with parents: encouraging good behaviour
- DfE – Engaging parents in raising achievement – do parents know they matter?
- DfE – The impact of parental involvement on children’s education
- DfE – Review of best practice into parental engagement