Why parental engagement is as important as ever!

From posters around the school to bacon butties – schools are trying to find new ways to bring parents on board and encourage them to engage with the school.

Research has shown that, when parents get involved with what their children are doing in school, academic results improve as well as pupil attendance.

New research has revealed that 3 in 10 teachers have suffered abuse from parents in the past, with 28.1 percent of primary teachers reporting that they have experienced abuse and negative behaviour from parents on school premises at least once a month.

Teachers and teaching assistants reported suffering from a variety of abusive behaviour from parents, ranging from online messaging to confrontation on school premises.

During a time of fluctuating educational reforms, and increasing budget restraints, it is key to encourage parental engagement as much as possible.

To maximise parental engagement, it is important to have several methods of communication in order to reach all parents/carers and make a strong connection. The following are suggestions of how this can be achieved:

  • Parent councils
  • Sending a questionnaire to find out what parents want to be involved in
  • Creating a parent-school forum (such as Parents2u)
  • Parent-class meetings
  • Focus groups
  • Appointing parent representatives
  • Parent-teacher associations
  • Parent action groups
  • Providing parent volunteer opportunities

Online communication methods

Helen Jeffrey, Director of Parents2u, a company which aims to build bridges of communication through the power of social media, said: “As the future progresses, so does the way in which schools communicate with parents. Striking a fine balance between school-led communication and parental-led communication provides a completely new way in which schools and parents can interact.”

Having an “online, parent-led forum” can be a great approach to help schools with parents. An online forum allows parents to openly reply or suggest ideas – as the forums are integrated into the school, parents are more likely to communicate.

Ms Jeffrey said: “For parents to have an informal, easy, accessible, school-related resource is massively beneficial to parental engagement – it enables parents to feel like they are involved in school life. This is a useful way to allow parents to voice their opinions in a controlled, respectful manner – which enriches parents’ experience with schools.”

It is key for school leaders and teachers to remember some key points when using social media:

  • Be professional online
  • Avoid posting inappropriate material, including comments, photos, and replies to other posts, which could embarrass yourself or the school
  • Avoid interacting with current pupils on your personal profile, including ‘friending’ or ‘following’
  • Avoid posting school-related content that deviates from the focus of the school
  • Ensure you have the rights to the content and you are not posting copyrighted material
  • Brief parents if you intend to use social media as part of your teaching, and explain how this will work
  • Avoid the ‘post now, think later’ attitude that can often be associated with the immediacy of social media

It is important to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to prevent teachers from becoming the victims of online abuse from either parents or pupils. Once this behaviour has spread from the classroom to the internet, schools may not feel equipped to deal with the issue.

Adopting a whole-school approach to social media and informing parents of their expected online behaviour is a good way to ensure everybody is aware of, and understands, what is expected of them.

Our Social Media Code of Conduct for Parents Policy can be utilised alongside our Acceptable Social Media Use Letter to Parents to inform parents, and remind them to be aware of and respect, the school’s policies surrounding social media.

Health and lifestyle development

As there is strong evidence supporting the positive impact that parental engagement and involvement has on pupils’ achievements – encouraging parents to take a more active role in creating a healthy lifestyle for their child can be a great way to start boosting achievement.

Here are a few useful tips:

  • Holding an annual group meeting with parents to discuss what their child will be learning in regards to sex education can ensure parents are informed of the topics before they are discussed – preventing any backlash.
  • Organising a parent-pupil cooking class or after-school club is a useful way to education educate children about obesity and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Establishing competitions for children to enter and complete at home with their parents – this is a very flexible idea and can be adapted to cover a number of topic areas.

Creative ideas

We asked the Facebook and Twitter teaching community about their experience with parental engagement – what worked, and what didn’t?

A special educational needs teacher said: “As many parents are sometimes unable to attend the school to get involved, we decided to create a school blog. This allows parents to be involved with pupils’ teaching experiences in a virtual capacity. This blog is contributed to by both pupils and parents, through the introduction of a family computer club. An evening club such as this tends to be very rewarding for both pupils and parents as new skills are developed.”

One teacher said: “Controversially, we encourage parents to get involved on social media – we tweet about class activities and events we have going on.”

Lots of ideas around craft sessions came to light, with one teacher saying her school set up “craft-ernoons” where they would encourage parents and children to come in and work on a project together – these were held just before Christmas and Easter and proved very popular!

Other ideas included:

  • Weekly updates and emails congratulating children on their successes of the week.
  • Encouraging grandparents to get involved.
  • A Summer house in the school grounds – which houses books and allows parents and children to socialise before the start of school.
  • Fun activities, such as archery.
  • Engaging with the local community – one school arranged for three local cricket coaches to come to the school and coach pupils and male family members.

Our Parental Behaviour Posters outline the expected behaviour of parents and visitors whilst on the school premises. Schools can display these posters around the school property in order to ensure that parents are aware of the school policies which they must adhere to, such as the Code of Conduct, as well as reinforce the importance of acting in a respectful manner whilst on school property.

Here you can see them in action:

Information and incentives for parents

Offering incentives to parents may be a great way to encourage them to interact with the school – a lot of the time, these can be simple, but effective steps. Below are a few suggestions from TheSchoolBus’ Facebook community:

  • Offering incentives to parents who consistently fail to engage with the school may be appropriate in some circumstances; it should be noted that these should not be financial benefits.
  • Providing childcare to parents, allowing them to attend school-related meetings.
  • Producing ‘quick reads’ and ‘fact sheets’ aimed at parents regarding the curriculum, class activities, information shared at meetings, etc.
  • Using connections within the local area and surrounding community, offer prizes which have been donated by community sponsors to parents annually.
  • Creating a phone number with a 24-hour voicemail which is accessible to parents to use for requesting information and in emergencies.
  • Establishing a ‘suggestion box’; this can be physical or a digital version via social media, email, etc.
  • Providing continuing education opportunities for parents.
  • Providing extra support and information for parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Our Parent Code of Conduct sets out the school’s expectations with regard to parent behaviour – ensuring a welcoming and safe learning environment.

Language barriers

On social media, it became apparent that language barriers can create an unhealthy environment for parental engagement.

One teacher said: “Teaching at a school where the majority of parents don’t speak the language makes it hard to engage.”

In a time of financial unrest, having interpreters can be expensive! One useful tip could be to encourage parent volunteers within the school.

Creating posters and asking if parents would get involved with translations could be a great place to start. Asking parents to create leaflets and posters in different languages, and having these displayed around the school, would demonstrate the school’s willingness to engage and incorporate different cultures.

Creating different evenings based around different cultures is a useful tip – maybe ask some of the parents to teach a cooking lesson based on foods from their home countries.

Zero-abuse attitude

Ms Jeffrey said: “A zero-abuse attitude needs to be adopted within the school and any incidents of abuse should be reported and investigated. Staff should be supported by the school and conflict and resolution training should be integrated into teaching training. We have found that if parents have a place to voice their opinions and have the option to discuss their concerns in an appropriate time frame – this avoids escalation of abuse. A preventative approach of providing parents with an opportunity to discuss issues is often effective. In our school forums, all posts are approved prior to publishing – this enables a safeguarding method for the school and teachers.

“Having an online, neutral environment, where parents can speak with teachers and each other, encourages a school family and builds school spirit. This allows respect to be shown from parents to teachers and vice-versa. Set rules should be in place, such as that profiles should be made private and no direct messaging is allowed. Teachers should adhere to their school’s social media policies. This informal community reflects that there is no divide between parents and teachers and that they work together as a team. If you correctly provide a communication channel with a positive social influence then this will be used as a powerful preventative tool against online abuse.”

For more information on online school-led forums, visit Ms Jeffrey’s website: http://www.parents2u.co.uk/.

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