There is a generally ‘agreed’ understanding among school-leaders of the importance parental engagement plays in school, from attainment outcomes to attendance and pupil wellbeing. However, a challenge many schools face today is understanding the difference between parental engagement and parental involvement.
Engagement is typically school-led and can be a little one-sided. It boils down mainly to your school’s communication strategies and how you keep parents informed and updated about school-life. Involvement by comparison, means that parents hold a role in school-life too. Maybe they support their child with homework, in non-COVID times would attend school-events or chat to parents at the school-gate. Involvement can come in many forms, but the key difference is involved parents reciprocate, and partake in school-life.
My preferred way to find out which stage a school is at, is to look at the three parental engagement indicators. Being able to answer yes to the five questions is a good signifier that parents are involved in school-life, and also has the benefit, of being able to highlight any areas that perhaps need some additional attention.
Certainly, in the last year, it’s been a lot harder for schools to achieve all three positive indicators. Behaviorally especially, we just haven’t had a year where it’s been possible for parents to interact with one another at school or participate in events at school. This doesn’t mean that achieving involving parents is impossible, instead, here are some strategies that I suggest and can be done right now:
• Make use of Forums or Open-Discussions: Creating open spaces for parents to share their voice and interact openly is a way of supplementing parental interaction when it can’t occur in person. We often encourage schools to use their app’s forum or news pages to promote discussion.
• Set Aside Some Time: Sometimes we fall into habits of only contacting parents when there is something negative or positive to say, but actually just checking in and saying hello can go a long way in building parent-teacher relationships.
• Run a Survey: You don’t need to do this every month, but a few times a year does a couple of things. It will validate parent feelings and ensure their voices are heard, it can be used as supporting evidence in school inspections and helps you to keep track of progression through your parental indicators.
Successful parental involvement is continuous. Starting before children begin school with things like reading bedtime stories and should be continued throughout childhood. Although the nature of parental involvement will change, the level of commitment from parents needs to be consistent over time.