Bingo! Estyn gambles to lure parents

24th April 2009 at 01:00
Inspectorate suggests several sociable ploys to get parents involved in their children's education

The British love of bingo could help involve more parents in school life, a new report said this week.

Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, suggested schools should hold bingo evenings with free refreshments to bring parents who are hard to reach into schools.

The Assembly government wants all primaries to have more contact with parents as part of their attainment-raising school effectiveness framework. Officials believe schools with open-door policies could attract more parental involvement and help improve pupils' behaviour and attendance.

But the report, undertaken on behalf of the government, said schools had some way to go to smash the traditional "British, white and female" model of the parent most likely to get involved in their children's education.

The inspectorate called on schools to provide more incentives to attract parents, especially fathers, parents of ethnic minority pupils, and parents who were low-achievers at school. Social events such as bingo and cheese and wine evenings could be the answer, it suggested.

But teachers' opinions were mixed on how successful events such as coffee mornings had been. Where there had been poor turnout, schools were unsure why.

The report, Good Practice in Parental Involvement in Primary Schools, said that while schools were making progress in contacting parents, many believed they already had enough contact with parents and not all teachers recognised its impact on raising attainment and attendance.

The inspectors visited 17 primaries in seven local authorities and found that some schools were the "hub of the community", but they also found one where very few parents were involved in anything other than a few formal events.

The report found that schools with the most parents involved were the ones with enthusiastic heads who stood in the playground at the beginning and end of each day.

The inspectorate said more needed to be done to bring parents on board, especially those who had left school with few qualifications. Providing refreshments was often enough incentive, the report said.

"Some (parents) may have a history of personal failure at school. This can create a barrier to their involvement and also their ability to support their children," it said.

Estyn said schools needed to find ways to reach out to fathers who work long hours or do not live with their children after a separation.

But the inspectorate also reported some instances of good practice. Many schools had organised curriculum evenings to explain to parents what their children were learning and how to help them with their homework.

A few had appointed "entertainment managers" to work on social events and to help with the staging of school plays.

Most were also good at producing clear information for parents, either in newsletters or reports. The inspectorate said parents particularly liked newsletters and websites written by pupils.

Teachers were also making themselves more available to parents at the beginning and end of the day, the inspectors found.

Margaret Morrissey, who runs ParentsOutloud, a parenting website from her home in England, praised Wales's efforts to involve more parents - in particular, schemes such as flying start for under-threes, which encourages parents in deprived areas to get involved in their child's activities from the moment they are born.

"They won't initially be involved in the education side, but they'll come into settings for a coffee and a relationship develops with the teacher," said Ms Morrissey.

"In some instances these types of parents become more committed than other parents when they suddenly realise teachers are human beings with children of their own."

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