It is clear that parents play the dominant role in their children’s lives. Although their role as primary educator diminishes during teenage years, it continues to be very significant. Crucially, parental influence extends far beyond formal education and into behaviour and attitudes, expectations and aspirations – and schools can provide a range of support, advice and practical help to enable parents to fulfil this challenging role.
- Formal engagement through governing bodies and parents/carers associations is well established; parents are often invited to parents’ evenings, awards and celebration events, consultation and discussion.
- Increasingly organisations with expertise with specific groups and communities are working with schools. For example, programmes to engage fathers such as ‘bring your dad to school day’ help to develop positive adult male role models. Or, understanding the home life of those caring for a child with special needs helps to ease progression through the school system. Ensuring positive engagement is extended throughout the rich cultural mix in many school communities often requires a particular approach and the development of new local networks.
- For some parents, their own experience of school was negative, making it difficult to really engage with their children’s education. Supporting even these parents to have a positive engagement with the school has benefits in helping each child to reach their potential. So there is no single way to connect with the diverse range of families represented in any institution. Innovative approaches to extending engagement have been developed, from curriculum events to informal coffee mornings, from parent and children breakfast clubs to online information and discussion.
- Whilst most parental engagement focuses on helping parents to support their children’s learning, some schools have developed programmes to help parents directly, including adult education classes for parents to further their own learning, advice and support to help families access services, and formal or informal parenting courses.
All parents want the best for their children and a positive partnership with school can ensure that young people fulfil their potential during their education.
Here are some organisations that can provide information and assistance to help with parental engagement.
The Family and Parenting Institute is a research and policy centre which has pioneered parent information sessions in schools and new ways of voluntary organisations working together to provide parenting support. FPI has identified models for building effective partnerships between parents and schools and has produced fact sheets for schools about consulting with parents as well as information for parents about engaging with schools. www.familyandparenting.org
Parentline Plus is a national charity working to provide support and information to the UK’s 24 million parents. A range of services are available for those caring for children, including online discussion boards and a network of local groups enabling supportive discussion of parenting issues. www.parentlineplus.org.uk
The organisation also provides research data, background information and a range of training and consultancy support programmes to staff working with families through their dedicated professionals website www.parentlineplusforprofessionals.org.uk
Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) is a national charity that provides independent advice for parents and carers of children aged 5-16 in state-funded education. ACE has a focus on parents and provides information through publications, a website, telephone support lines and an innovative text/SMS system. As well as representation and advocacy for parents, ACE also offers information and training to assist schools to engage effectively with parents.
Specialist engagement: In addition to the broad-based national organisations listed above, other specialist organisations are emerging to respond to specific groups which can provide helpful insights and ensure engagement with all types of families can be supported at school. Examples include:
- Gingerbread is a charity which works nationally and locally to improve the lives of single parent families through advocacy and support services. www.gingerbread.org.uk
- The Single Parent Action Network (SPAN UK) acts as a voice for lone parents and facilitates local groups across the country. www.spanuk.org.uk
- The Grandparents Association provides an advice and information line and online information. They also convene a number of support groups. www.grandparents-association.org.uk
Much of the policy relating to parents’ engagement with schools is collated in the 2007 report ‘Every Child Matters’ available online.
In addition, the government website contains a section for parents with accessible information on relevant policy and may be helpful when thinking about ways to work with parents. www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents