When I see a teacher or head (often anonymously) give a list of all the ways that parents are badly behaved or such like, I wince. Frankly, I’m tired of seeing all the same old stereotypes being wheeled out. As the majority of school staff are also parents or carers, can I presume that you may be a bit tired of this mud-slinging too?
Parents and teachers want the same thing: every child thriving and reaching their potential in our schools. However, with our relative pressures and concerns, we don’t always sing from the same hymn sheet.
The research is clear – parents really matter in how well our kids do. Educators who fail to harness this resource do so at their peril. Also, once you get to know your parents better, you will be able to address their needs, and possibly head any destructive and time-consuming behaviour off at the pass. You may be surprised that it’s not necessarily an understanding of how you are teaching long-division or Spanish that parents are looking for, but rather reassurance and confidence.
I believe if schools can be truly parent-friendly, they will see a big return on this investment in terms of support, goodwill and pupil attainment. Of course, engaging parents from all walks of life is not easy. There are no short cuts. But below is what I’ve gathered from parents, teachers, commentators and research that will hopefully inspire you to do even better in this area:
1. Plan your parent engagement for the year ahead
Draw up a 2017-18 parent engagement plan including the steps given here (eg, consultations, surveys, communications and face-to-face opportunities). Why not get a lead on the SLT or governor champion to make sure it happens?
2. Give a warm welcome
Starting a new school is a rite of passage for child and parent alike. Whether it’s a letter or parent meeting, this is a powerful opportunity to convey to parents how important what they say and do around learning and your school is to their child. And crucially, you need to show that it’s about parents, teachers and pupils working together. Let them know that if they have a concern or want to provide feedback, your proverbial door is open (and make sure it is).
3. Have a parent group
Support your PTA or parent forum or help to set one up. These groups are great for reaching out to all parents, building a sense of community, raising funds or other resources and coordinating parent volunteers.
4. Communicate better
Embrace the technology at your disposal, including social media, to keep parents fully informed and engaged. Put yourself in the shoes of a busy working parent and help by giving more notice of changes that affect them as well as providing ways to engage with the school online and at the time of their choosing. Work with parents from different parts of the community to translate and convey important information.
5. Listen to parents
Don’t assume you already know what parents think and want. Remember that your parent community is made up of a whole variety of people with different needs. Set up a parent council or forum to get views on matters that will affect them, alongside consultations and surveys. Make your engagement genuine by acting on what you have heard and communicating it. See our parent voice guidance.
6. Get more bang for your buck
Why not hold sessions on online safety or supporting literacy during a parent-teacher consultation evening? Have parent feedback surveys available during the school play. Could you hold a careers and learning event at the weekend in the local shopping centre?
7. Encourage parent volunteering in your school
I don’t need to tell you about the talent and skills your parent body possesses. Make sure parents are aware of all the opportunities to volunteer, from being a governor to supporting reading or being active in the PTA or parent council, to helping out at a sports club, supporting the school website and Facebook page or telling a class about the job they do. As well as being enjoyable and life-affirming for the parents, this sends a powerful message to children that their parents value their education and their school.
8. Build skills through CPD
Teachers and other staff are not necessarily trained on how to communicate and work with parents. Why not hold a session on this as part of an Inset day, or go on a course?
9. Celebrate achievements
Don’t forget to acknowledge and thank parents for their support and what has been achieved together. Reach out to other schools to share and seek best practice too.
10. Don’t ever make parents sit on chairs meant for your pupils
Michelle Doyle Wildman is policy director for PTA UK. PTA UK is the leading parent teacher association membership organisation and a registered charity. It represents the biggest network of parent associations in schools right across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.