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Are home visits the key to improving behaviour?

Home visits can be a good way to show that schools are committed to working together with parents, says Jarlath O’Brien

Home visit

Home visits can be a good way to show that schools are committed to working together with parents, says Jarlath O’Brien

Ever done a home visit to discuss behaviour? If you teach in a secondary school, the answer is most likely "no".

All the EYFS teachers I know do home visits as standard for all of their children before they join their school, but a home visit at secondary level is a different ball game altogether.

However, I’ve conducted a fair few in my time for the families of children whose behaviour has been a cause for concern and have found them to be very useful.

Here are some of my tips for getting the most out of them.

A home visit is an opportunity to discuss concerns about a child’s behaviour with parents or carers, but is not an end in itself. It should not be regarded as a punitive measure. I remember hearing, as an NQT, a colleague saying something like, “Right, that’s it! I’m coming round to see your parents!” to a teenager, and even then thinking that this was an unnecessary escalation.

The principal reason I’ve done home visits in the past has been because a parent or parents simply cannot get into school for childcare, work, health and/or transport reasons. Rather than delay things or miss parents out of the process altogether, I’ve found it best to make the effort to go to them.

Replace 'hard-to-reach' with 'easy-to-ignore'

Whilst much harder to establish, there may well have been times, too, when parents may have been reluctant to come into school for such a meeting and, in those cases, their home was a better venue. Parents can, of course, decide not to consent to a home visit at all. We have no right to compel them and if a parent does refuse, then we shouldn’t read anything untoward into that by deciding that they’re hiding something. They may regard it as too much of an imposition and we should respect that.  

The fact that we are in someone else’s home is not unimportant. No matter how friendly and approachable we may think we are, we may still come across as intimidating, especially as the nature of the discussion will be about concerns we have about their child.

With that in mind, parents need to know the precise purpose of the visit and this will help put them at ease. Simply saying that we want to visit to talk about their child’s behaviour is insufficient. For example, I’ve done a home visit in order to construct a behaviour improvement plan with a parent who simply couldn’t make it into school. I sent them some thoughts in advance that we could start from, but needed their input and this was a good way of garnering support.  

Home visits are a good way to show that we are committed to working together with parents or carers to improve behaviour. Over time I’ve become uncomfortable with the moniker “hard-to-reach parents”. A colleague helpfully suggested that I replace “hard-to-reach” with “easy-to-ignore” and this has helped me to permanently change the way I work with parents and made me commit to redoubling my efforts to establish good relationships.

Don't infer too much

Such visits are also a great incidental way to potentially meet pets, siblings and other family members and thereby strengthen our understanding of the child we’re working with to support them to improve their behaviour.

Be careful, though, as home visits should not be conducted with the unstated primary aim of eliciting information about the child’s living circumstances. We should guard against inferring too much from, for example, the tidiness of the living room in which we’re sat. As a police officer, I was in people’s houses at all times of the day or night and in all sorts of circumstances; there wasn’t a direct link between what happened inside and whether the front drive contained an abandoned sofa and fridge or a Bentley. Clearly, the exception to this is if you have any safeguarding and child protection concerns on your visit.

Lastly, refer to your school’s policy on lone working. If it mandates attendance with another colleague then please reflect on how this may look to the parent(s). You don’t want to appear as if you’re turning up with reinforcements, as any impression of this nature won’t help your visit get off to a good start. Simply calling ahead to explain the policy can make all the difference.

Jarlath O'Brien works in special education in London. Better Behaviour – a guide for teachers is out now, published by SAGE

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