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How schools can better engage with parents

Making sure that messages to parents are clear and consistent helps to forge positive relationships, says Emma Pass

How schools can build better relationships with parents

Although some students may tell you that they spend all their time at school, this is far from true.

Of the 6,000 waking hours in a year, the typical UK student spends just 1,500 at school. Because 75 per cent of a student’s potential learning time is spent at home, parents or guardians have a significant opportunity to influence young people’s education, making a school’s implementation of parental engagement critical for student success. 

In fact, a study by the Department for Education and Skills showed a direct correlation between a parent’s involvement in their child’s education and their academic success, even after accounting for family size, family background and parent education level. The same study also found that 72 per cent of parents wanted more involvement in their student’s education.

Parental involvement in a pupil’s education is a win-win-win. Teachers benefit from the additional support, both academically and behaviourally; parents feel more involved in their child’s academic life; and students can take advantage of an enhanced support system, which increases their chances of academic success. 

The key, however, to really benefiting from increased parental involvement is having an effective parent-teacher communication system.

Parental engagement: consistent communication

Of course, every teacher is different, and each will take their own approach when communicating with parents. Some are chatty and friendly, others are concise and formal. Some teachers prefer making phone calls, while some send emails. Some teachers still send notes home with their students, and some may use text-messaging reminder systems. 

However, such variety can be confusing for parents and a minefield for schools to monitor. Rather than relying on an ad hoc set-up with teachers providing potentially very different levels of communication and information, here are some best practices to adopt for a more consistent approach to effective parent communication.

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Consistency is key

We all know the importance of consistency when building new habits. If a parent is trying to become more involved in their child’s academic life, frequent updates and reminders will serve them best as they build a new routine. 

Schools can help with this by ensuring that their communications are clear and consistent, so parents can easily digest the information they’re presented with and know what action is required.

Templates 

It will also best serve parents to have consistent access to resources like homework, timetables, information on school events and tips for support.

Using templates to record and dispense this information is a great way to ensure that parents are always receiving the information they need, that it’s presented in a uniform manner each time and that no key information is left out of communications.

Leave an audit trail 

Inspectors are increasingly focused on how schools can improve parental engagement. Speaking directly to parents in person or on the phone is a great way to build relationships but sending information – and documenting those conversations digitally – provides evidence of communication that can be recorded and audited if needed.

This is useful not only for inspectors, but also to share with administrators, and even to pull up as a reference during parent-teacher meetings. 

Choose a single system 

Although there are plenty of communication methods to choose from, including new digital systems, having so many choices may be a double-edged sword.

If teachers adopt too many different methods, communication tends to become confusing and inconsistent. It is, therefore, helpful to use a single system to store all your information, templates and communications. 

Capita SIMS is a good example of this. SIMS is already widely used within schools, with its SIMS Parent App allowing parents to access information about their child, such as attendance, homework and reports, all through their smartphone and have it presented in a clear, concise format. Because this information is already stored within SIMS, all schools have to do is decide which information is shared with parents. [HN(1] 

Using such a system means parents can directly communicate with teachers, who, in turn, have access to customisable templates that make it easier to ensure that messages sent adhere to a clear format.

Ultimately, when teachers provide consistent, clear and relevant information to parents, they are making an effort to bring positive academic support to those 4,500 waking hours in which students can learn outside of the classroom.

Some parents will be quicker to adopt a supporting role than others, but by helping more and more parents to see themselves as educators at home and give them the tools that can help with this, we can tip the scales in everyone’s favour. Win-win-win!

Emma Pass is a secondary English teacher and educational technology consultant. She tweets @emmabpass and blogs at EdTechEmma.com