Now schools have re-opened, it is time to review and build upon relationships with parents. Matt Bromley provides his advice on how schools might focus on four key principles to ensure effective engagement.
- Communication with parents must be maintained and regular, setting out expectations clearly.
- The principle of starting early will be even more important this year for those pupils who are transferring between schools.
- Your parental engagement policy is a key document to help ensure effective and consistent practice.
All pupils in England returned to school during the week commencing 8 March 2021 following a third national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although, in the months ahead, some pupils will have to self-isolate following positive Covid-19 tests, it is anticipated that, thanks to a successful programme of vaccination, schools will now remain open. Ensuring full attendance in the months ahead will therefore be a challenge for many schools.
Whilst many pupils have expressed excitement and relief at being allowed back into school for face-to-face lessons and to socialise with their friends, it is inevitable that some pupils, particularly the most vulnerable, will be reluctant to attend. Pupils who were persistent absentees pre-pandemic are likely to find attending school even more challenging following a prolonged period of home-schooling.
It is crucial, therefore, that in the coming months and into the next academic year, schools work in close partnership with parents and carers to encourage full attendance and punctuality.
The government earmarked £1 billion of funding to support pupils to catch up following Covid-19. This figure was divided into two as follows:
1. A one-off universal £650 million catch-up premium for the 2020/2021 academic year to ensure that schools have the support they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time.
2. A £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to provide additional, targeted support for those children and young people who need the most help.
The catch-up premium element is calculated on a per pupil basis, providing each mainstream school with a total of £80 for each pupil in Reception through to Year 11. By way of illustration, a typical primary school of 200 pupils will receive £16,000, while a typical secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £80,000.
The catch-up premium is being paid in three tranches. Schools should have received the first of these payments in the Autumn, the second in early 2021, with the third and final grant due in the Summer term.
Keeping to the principles
The government says schools should use the funding in line with the guidance on curriculum expectations for the 2020/21 academic year and to do this, as a starting point, I’d suggest schools consider how they are observing the key principles that underpin that advice, namely that:
- education is not optional: all pupils receive a high-quality education that promotes their development and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life, and
- the curriculum remains broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.
It is the first of these principles, of course, that talks specifically to attendance and punctuality.
“ Parental communication needs to start early and continue throughout a pupil’s journey through school ”
Spending on parents
It is crucial that schools work closely with parents and carers to ensure pupils attend school regularly and on time. In some cases, this might mean reassuring parents that schools are safe and that attending in person is important both to a pupil’s learning and to their mental health and well-being.
In other cases, it might mean ensuring home-school communications are effective – and perhaps more regular than they were previously – so that parents are kept informed about expectations, including around the wearing of masks and the taking of lateral flow tests, as well as about preparedness for learning.
Putting all this together, then, I’d contend that an effective use of some of the catch-up fund, as well as other school funds and in addition to running targeted interventions and support, is to:
- bolster home-school communications
- ramp up pastoral support for vulnerable pupils and their families, including on attendance
- ensure that parents can support with home-schooling when pupils have to self-isolate.
So, what does effective parental engagement look like in practice?
Making it work
Evidence suggests that, when schools work effectively with parents and carers, pupils benefit from higher academic achievement, good attendance and punctuality, and better behaviours and attitudes to learning.
There are four key principles you may wish to bear in mind:
1. Starting early.
2. Creating a two-way process.
3. Good timing.
Firstly, parental communication needs to start early and continue throughout a pupil’s journey through school. This will be particularly crucial for pupils transferring after the Summer. The parents of pupils moving from nursery to primary school, or from primary to secondary, will not want to receive information halfway through the Summer holiday, at which point it will be deemed too late. Schools need to engage with parents early and clearly set out their expectations and requirements for September 2021.
Creating a two-way process
Secondly, parental communication needs to be a two-way process. As well as the school staying in touch with parents, parents also need a means of keeping in contact with the school, now more than ever. One way to do this is to create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, as well as a Q&A facility and a parents’ forum on the school’s website.
This will need to be monitored carefully, of course, or perhaps pass through a ‘gatekeeper’ in order to be vetted before comments are made ‘live’. In order for it to be viewed as worthwhile, the school will also need to communicate its response to parental comments and suggestions, perhaps through a ‘You said, we did’ page.
Thirdly, parental communications need to be appropriately timed, relevant and useful. One way to do this is to utilise the experience and expertise of pupils and their parents. For example, the parents of current Reception or Year 7 pupils will be able to share their thoughts on what information they needed when they went through the transition process with their child not so long ago, as well as when they needed it most.
Current Reception or Year 7 pupils will be able to offer their advice about how to prepare for primary or secondary school by, to give but two examples, providing a reading list for the Summer and sharing their advice on how to get ready for the first day of school.
Fourthly, parental communication should take many forms and embrace new and emerging technologies. The use of technologies such as email, texting, websites, electronic portfolios and online assessment and reporting tools make communication between parents and teachers more timely, efficient, productive and satisfying.
Parental engagement policy
An effective – and clearly understood – parental engagement policy should set out what you expect parents to do. It might be advisable to revisit your school’s existing policy and tweak it in light of the current circumstances. Here’s an example policy statement to get you started.
We encourage parents to:
- be supportive
- be informed
- maintain a direct involvement in their child’s progress
- understand what the school is trying to achieve for their child
- take a positive position – contribute to initiatives like home visits and information-gathering events such as online parents’ consultation evenings
- visit school when it is safe to do so and be informed about issues and initiatives
- support events that promote the school’s efforts
- be aware of and support any home-school agreements, including on attendance and punctuality, and on washing hands and the wearing of masks.
A parental engagement policy should also outline how your school intends to communicate with parents and how it will consult with parents on key decisions. It may be useful to start with a statement of intent such as this:
Our school, in order to be effective, must acknowledge, appreciate and respond to the views of parents. It needs to take informed decisions following consultation.
Methods of communication
Your school will communicate with parents in a variety of ways, including:
- online parents’ consultation evenings
- open evenings
- information meetings
- parents’ workshops and discussion forums
- parents’ associations or committees
- formal questionnaires and market research
- regular newsletters
- the school website
- online reporting and the parents’ portal
- text messaging
Your school will need a clear strategy for communicating effectively and expediently in each of these circumstances.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice: