Discussions around the widening achievement gap in this country have been predominantly about how best to support schools in helping disadvantaged pupils. However, research shows that the home learning environment is most important, and therefore we need to focus on supporting parents and carers.
To read more about this, and how we should be changing the discourse from achievement gap to ‘educational debt’ read a presentation by Janet Goodall at the Tapestry Education Conference: Reflecting on Parental Engagement, guest hosted by Tom Harbour from Learning with Parents.
Partnership with parents and effective parental engagement are central to the EYFS, and those play-based interactions that are so prevalent in the Early Year’s learning environment can be replicated at home. This, in combination with the many communication strategies Early Years settings put in place, means parents can feel supported to engage in their child’s education.
As children progress through the key stages, effective parental engagement can feel harder to achieve. There is more terminology and new methods for parents and carers to get their heads around and teachers do not always have the time or tools to communicate these with families. As a result, parents can start to feel they no longer have an important role in their child’s education.
However, effective parental engagement needs to be happening for every child in every key stage if all children are going to fulfil their potential.
Here are five easy to implement top tips for schools to consider:
1. Let parents know how important they are in supporting their child’s education
Parents and carers do not necessarily know how important their input at home is, but they are the adults who know their children the best. Letting parents know how valued they are and that you want to work with them in partnership can do so much to set the right tone at the beginning of the year.
2. Reassure parents and carers it is the simple, playful interactions that have the greatest impact
The real difference is going to happen at home in the small but valuable interactions between parent and child. It is these interactions which schools should be encouraging first and foremost. Parental engagement is not just about helping with homework; we need parents to be promoting education and supporting all learning every day. This could include playing number bond games on the bus, or playing ‘Simon Says’ using phonics sounds.
3. Think about the language you use when communicating with parents and carers
When talking to parents about the curriculum either in conversations or school reports don’t assume they know terminology such as ‘grapheme’ or ‘partitioning.’ Providing families with simple tools to understand these new terms can do a lot to empower them to support at home.
4. Be aware of the power dynamic
Parent Ping, a daily survey app for parents, reported that only 4% of primary parents are happy being called ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ by their child’s class teacher but a quarter of teachers use this when talking to parents. Learning parents' and carers’ names can do so much to shift the power dynamic from the teacher to an equal partnership between teacher and the parent. Similarly, if you are offering face to face parents’ evenings, you could sit side by side with the parent or carer rather than across the table from them.
5. Avoid the term ‘hard to reach’
No parent or carer walks around thinking of themselves as ‘hard to reach’ and schools should do the same. Think of the barriers that parents face as something which can be overcome. For example, a common barrier that parents experience is ‘I do not have the time to help my child at home.’ Think about the homework you are setting - are you giving families enough time to complete it? Do they have the tools to do it without having to come into the school building? Is it flexible enough to fit in with home-life?
And finally, remember all parents and carers want to support their child’s learning...they just need to be given the tools to do so.
By Amelia Ernest-Jones, School Partnerships Manager, Learning with Parents