Skip to main content

They're only trying to help, after all

Make use of parental support, writes Jill Parkin

A generation ago they hardly darkened the school door. These days they're all over the place-bristling with rights, ideas and questions: the parents.

But parents can be useful. All most of them want to do is help - and that, in turn, can help you to do your job better.

"There now exists a large body of evidence to indicate that school improvement and parentpartnerships go hand in hand," says Eithne Leming, parentpartnership officer for Suffolk. "The question is no longer whether we should involveparents but how we can use their contributions more effectively."

Quality of information toparents and parental involvement in children's learning are typically mediocre in inspection reports. According to the Advisory Centre for Education, the hot topics for parents are homework, uniform, discipline policies and behaviour.

Parents help children learn, but how do you harness their energy? It's a matter of communication, and there's more to that than a school letter festering under a three-day-old banana at the bottom of a child's book bag.

Does the school provide a friendly reception? Parents who have had to negotiate a security system, poor signposting and a frosty welcome are unlikely to be helpful partners. Reception staff also need good communication skills - a smile can be heard on the phone, too.

Letters home should be straightforward. Busy parents can't deal with all the details about how well the netball team is doing or how much you raised at the bun sale. It's worth putting Dates for Your Diary at the top of your letters, perhaps with a pen-in-hand symbol. Questionnaires and forms should be printed on coloured paper so they don't get confused with other sheets. Your return rate will soar. Handing them directly to parents at special events also tends to work better.

Every fly on every staffroom wall knows that you never see the parents you really need to see at consultation evenings. Phoning them at home is a good start. Sometimes a home visit may be the only way, but this takes time. Offer appointments at non-orthodox times for those who have problems with transport or working hours - and arrange some toys and supervision to help those with childcare problems.

Threats such as "no show, no report" don't work, especially if you are dealing with parents whose self-esteem is so low that they are daunted by a visit to a school. Invite such parents to bring a friend if they want to.

Parents can help enormously with ensuring that homework gets done, but they'll do it moreeffectively if there's a routine and if there's a proper exercise book, rather than loose sheets of paper.

Jargon is a killer for parents. It may be hard for teachers to believe, but many people out there don't know what KS1-4 stands for, so put the year groups in brackets. And explain terms such as "inclusiveness". If you don't, the only parents you'll see are the well-read, middle-class ones - and you can catch them any time running the parent-teacher association stalls.

For more ideas, read 'Working with Parents' by Eithne Leming (pound;12.50 from SHA; Tel 0116 299 1122)

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you