In this guide to parental engagement in primary schools, you’ll learn about different areas and ways a school may wish to both engage with and involve parents to benefit pupil and family outcomes.
“Parental involvement in the form of ‘at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation. In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups” – (Desforges 2003).
There is a wealth of evidence showing the positive impact of parental involvement on children’s achievements. You may also hear the phrase parental engagement used synonymously, although there are debates to be had about what falls into each definition. A parent may be very much involved in their child’s education and wellbeing at home, yet the school may not see that the parent is engaged with them. Parental engagement in primary school usually means parents and school working as a team. They’re working towards the same end goals for the child, although schools may also seek to involve parents more in school life as a whole. Parental involvement revolves around a sense of “doing’ something, either at home or in school. Parental engagement in primary schools revolves around the partnership of school and parent working together. This may look, simply, like good, two-way communication.
Why are parents not involved in and with school?
Parent engagement in primary schools, and involvement, often links back to a communication issue. That is not to say the issue lies on one side, or that no-one is trying. Communication barriers take many forms. There may be an obvious one, such as a language barrier when parents all come from very different backgrounds to the school staff. There may be more subtle barriers, such as a working parent lacking time to read all of the emails sent by school. There may even be a physical barrier which stops a parent being able to visit the school grounds.
It is very rare for a parent, or school, to not want some sort of communication, but fixing the barriers is rarely a one-size-fits all scenario.
How to involve parents with school
There are many ways to involve parents, and many ways you may have tried already. The main objective is to keep evaluating what works and do more of it, and to find what is having no impact, so you can change tack.
There are a range of levels of parental engagement or parental involvement, also. Parents who read every communication and follow the rules or advice within them can be said to be engaged with the school. However, this is very much a one-way communication. This is not necessarily giving them the support or involvement they need, enabling them to better support their child’s academic success.
The parent who attends every bake sale, helps with PTA events, and chats with the teachers can also be said to be very involved in school life. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into impact for the pupil.
What are the different elements of good parental engagement or involvement?
The goal is to engage with parents in a way which benefits lifelong outcomes for the family. There are three main ways to involve them:
- Communication – engaging parents with the learning that happens in school. This creates strong school-home links which involve two-way communication
- Parental Support – helping them to help their children by offering training and support for them too
- Community links – providing links at a family and community level to encourage more involvement with school life and improve family outcomes
Parent Engagement Strategies
For each of the areas we have laid out some ideas, with examples, to help schools find ideas for engaging parents. What is really important about these ideas is tracking the development and impact too. There will be some anecdotal evidence which is very worthwhile – an event that was successful, for example. More widely you may also see some ‘hard data’ evidence showing that, where families are more engaged, the attainment and progress of children improves. For each of the ideas we have added a target and some evidence you may consider gathering. These are to assess the effectiveness of the strategy.
Idea 1: Translation Services – getting rid of language barriers
Great for: Communication
How does it work? There are many ways to action this, and you may need more than one way to make it accessible to all. You could ask engaged parents to help to translate newsletters into their home languages. You may choose for the translations to be available on the school website or physically distribute them. The information is then available in a number of your community languages. If that is too much work, try inputting sections into Google Translate. Asking parents to simply check them over may be more manageable. This may not be done in advance of the newsletter going out. Parents working through these at their own is still worthwhile. You will at least have a bank of newsletters in multiple languages. Some documents such as school policies only have to be redone once a year or so, which would make them really accessible for prospective parents too.
You could also ask parents to read out letters in their home language while you video them. By adding these to your website or learning platform others will have access. This makes it accessible for parents and children who cannot read or in a certain language but can speak it. Some education technology platforms also build in translation into their platforms. Anything you add can be translated to the parent’s preferred language instantly.
Target: To have more parental engagement with communications
Evidence: More parents responding to letters without needing to go via their children. They may also be able to show more interest in what is happening at school. Talk to their child about it, and the child may become more engaged with school too.
Idea 2: Parent training for supporting their child academically
Great for: Parental Support
How does it work? Training can take a variety of forms. You may already do one or two twilight sessions a year on specific topics such as e-safety or phonics. You may want to also record some sessions to be watched by parents whenever suits them. This could involve a teacher teaching the parents as they would do in class. Using the whiteboard or recording on an iPad using an app such as Explain Everything. These could build up over time to be a bank of resources which parents can refer to. This could be useful when they are trying to support homework to help with a specific maths methods or English grammar they may not remember.
In Learning Ladders, we have curriculum-linked articles written by teachers. These help explain concepts to parents for any targets their child may have. These are translated into 100 languages. They provide training any time, without a parent feeling they have to come and ask school.
Target: To engage parents in the academic learning of their children
Evidence: The academic attainment improves of children whose parents are able to access training.
Idea 3: Family projects
Great for: Community Links
How does it work? There are a number of ways you could involve parents in activities. These help them and also serve the school community. One we know of involved ‘harder-to-reach’ parents in creating a video ‘advert’ for the school. They would come into school once a week and were taught how to use digital cameras. Accompanied by a teacher, they took videos around the school. Then they were taught to edit these videos. They made adverts to encourage prospective students to join the school. This gave them a deeper understanding of their child’s school and what was on offer. Two participants went on to become very involved school governors.
Other ideas include inviting disadvantaged families together on special school trips. The school pays transport. Families might go fruit picking, or a beach trip, or some other leisure activity. It may feel like just a fun day out, but it can be pivotal in building relationships with the whole family, as well as giving the child an opportunity for a fun day out with parents.
If you want to take it a step further you could attempt a whole school trip including parents and children together with school staff, like this school did.
Target: To engage hard-to-reach parents and families
Evidence: Ongoing parental engagement with targeted families Better life chances for all involved in the projects
Idea 4: Creating community interest in your messaging system
Great for: Communication, Community links
How does it work? Using a learning platform or home-school communication platform for community information. You could add useful links for outside of school as well as academic notices. Parents may be engaged with their child’s progress through such platforms. They are likely to check regular notices if they have a vested interest in the wider information. This means dedicating time to update the platform with weekly/monthly local events. Does the local library have a free evening class on? Is there a museum putting on a craft activity during the holidays? Can you team up with the cinema to offer a ticket discount on a certain day? Let them know what is going on locally, and even include how to get there if it is not in walking distance.
Often children will not be taken out if parents do not know the travel information. Include the bus timetables or prices too. Add on those things for parents as well as children (parent support coffee morning at the community centre, or free English lessons). They will see the school as supporting them as a family. This builds loyalty and parental engagement. They also get more au fait with the system/platform you are using and are less likely to forget login details when it comes to crucial reporting times!
Target: Ensure parents read key notices from school due to engagement with the system/platform
Evidence: The number of logons to online systems improve. This can have a knock-on effect with printing costs if more messaging can be digital.
Idea 5: Create a buddy system
Great for: Parental support, Community links
How does it work? We may think of the buddy system for children arriving at school, how often to ensure their parent has a buddy too? Ask for volunteers from your current engaged parents and set up a regular coffee morning. This maybe once a month or term. They can meet with any parents who are new to the school, and especially those new to the area or country. Pair new parents who may not have English as a first language with a parent who speaks the same language. Give them opportunities for chat. See how you can facilitate them also linking to speak outside of school. This could be via a messaging system you create with your current systems.
For the coffee mornings think about the kind of information you could include. Behave like you are a holiday rep for the school and area. You can tackle informal chats with them to ensure they know who in school to see if they have an issue. Have they got onto the assessment platform okay, and have they signed up to a GP in the area yet? Parents are more likely to happily join parent-created WhatsApp groups and similar if they have met at least a couple face-to-face. Maybe there could be a place for them to go at pick-up/drop-off to mingle and chat too, more informally.
Target: To help new parents to create social links and settle in quickly
Evidence: Positive engagement with school within the first term. Survey parents to find out what they liked about the process and take ideas for improvement
Idea 6: Story time in multiple languages
Great for: Communication, Parental support
How does it work? Creating videos of stories told in multiple languages, with subtitles where possible. Many parents want to support bedtime stories in English but may not feel they can do them justice. One way to encourage parents is to value their home languages. Providing bedtime stories in English read by teachers or other parents to use at home. They have the English language modelled without worrying about their own English level. Parental engagement will be even higher with stories if they also have parental involvement. Seeing their own home languages and cultures celebrated in the same way. Be wary of books copyright infringement if using a platform to host the recordings.
Ask parents to contribute their own videos of them telling traditional tales in their own language. English subtitles added later by them or another parent/staff member takes this to another level. It means they can play the videos at home for story time and enjoy the home language stories with their child. The child is also starting to read the subtitles and learn English on the way. Children higher up the school will often be able to help with translations too if parents cannot.
Target: To promote reading and the value of stories in many languages
Evidence: Assessment of reading and writing across the school. You can build in some class time for this too. Children can make videos as part of class and then teach parents how to do the same. Send them via your home-school communication platforms for all families to enjoy.
At Learning Ladders we know exactly how important Parental Engagement is. We built our whole platform around the knowledge that parents have a huge influence on the outcomes of pupils. Working as a team with school makes the impact even bigger. Take a look at what we do to help you engage and involve parents as stakeholders, and boost parental engagement in primary schools.