Strengthening Parental Partnership

Angelina Idun, Director at SSAT provides a snapshot of conversations with colleagues about parental engagement with school, and introduces a resource to help you strengthen and celebrate your work in this area.

At a staff briefing in our SSAT offices a few months ago, as we readied ourselves to launch a resource that I’ll talk about later in this piece, we asked all of our staff to draw on their experiences as parents/carers, aunties, uncles, grandparents, older siblings, and former pupils to consider these questions:

  • What role should parents/carers play in their child’s school experience?
  • What contribution should parents/carers make to the life of their child’s school(s)?
  • How does parental involvement benefit the school and the students?

There was quite a buzz of excitement in the room (and from colleagues joining us remotely) as some talked animatedly about everything from contributing to bake sales, winning the three legged race on sports day, reading with Year 3 and day trips with year 6, to, helping with homework, revision and joining the PTA. Some took a moment to consider more sobering, though ultimately useful, ways in which their engagement with school or that of their own parents/carers has been prompted by a special invitation from a concerned Head of Year, Head of Department and in some instances, Headteacher. A few resolved to find out about opportunities to more purposefully and actively engage with the schools they connect with through the children in their lives.

How would the adults connected with your school respond to these questions? How might the experiences of the last few months influence their responses?

The terms parental engagement and parental involvement have both been used above. Professor Bill Lucas, author of the SSAT Redesigning Schooling pamphlet “Engaging parents: why and how” acknowledges that the two are often used interchangeably to describe the range of activities undertaken by parents to support their children both at home and at school. He defines parent engagement as a more active and personal level of participation in learning in the home and suggests that parent involvement is often associated with school generated requirements for example school trips, parent evenings and social events.

Unsurprisingly, SSAT staff involved in the discussions that morning, reflecting on personal experiences, were unanimous that when schools and parents work positively together and parents get involved in all aspects of their child’s learning and development, children do better and the benefits are lasting. There is a wealth of evidence from Professor Bill Lucas’ work with SSAT, from the OECD, EEF and other experts and practitioners in the field to back this up.

There were further observations from some of my colleagues on how the nature of parental engagement has changed and evolved since their school days. From our school facing work across all phases, many examples of genuine partnerships that have been developed, characterized by strong relationships, and rooted in real understanding of and care about the context, needs and aspirations of children and adults living in the communities schools serve, were available to share.

The creative and innovative ways in which schools partner and engage with parents and carers and the community are not limited to difficult, testing times. The last few months have, importantly, highlighted the key role that schools occupy at the heart of our communities and our society.

Members have told us how invaluable successfully embedded approaches to parental engagement have been as parents and carers grapple with the challenges of having school-age children at home during lockdown and as they do what they can to support home-learning in its different forms. The power of regular, clearly thought through communications and carefully nurtured relationships between home and school which instil trust and confidence should not be underestimated.

When you think about your school’s practice in terms of parental engagement, to what extent do these 5 elements feature?

  • Parents/carers help shape and support school ethos and culture. They know their views are valued.
  • Parents/carers actively support and celebrate the learning and development of their child.
  • Information about a parent or carers child and about the school is helpful, clear and accessible and enables parent/carers to support their child.
  • There is a consultative approach where parents and carers are concerned. Feedback is regularly sought from them and acted upon.
  • Parent/carer engagement has a positive impact on the achievement and development of pupils and the wider school community.

What would other members of your staff team say? What would parents or governors say? And where would you say your school is on its parental engagement journey?

Reference was made earlier to an SSAT resource. The resource referred to is the SSAT Parental Partnership Award framework. This self-evaluation tool can be used to identify strengths of practice or gaps in relation to each of the 5 elements listed above. You can also use the framework’s rubric to consider questions like those above and others you may have about this important aspect of your school’s work. As part of the self-evaluation process you’ll be able to identify areas of your work you want to celebrate, share with others or do differently so that you can do it better.

More immediately, use the tool to help plan for anything you want to improve or change in the way that you include, engage and partner with parent/carers as children return our school sites. Conversations focused on this framework will help to build constructively on whatever experiences parent/carers have had of home-schooling.

There’s an opportunity to gain an SSAT accreditation which recognises the inspirational work that your teams do, bringing home and school together to give all your children the best possible support for their learning and development.

SSAT member schools can download this resource from the Exchange, or get in touch to find out more.

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