Tips on Engaging Hard-to-Reach Parents to Get Them More Involved

Parents walking with children holding hands.
Parents walking with children holding hands.

Tips on Engaging Hard-to-Reach Parents to Get Them More Involved

It’s been well established that engaging parents or guardians more in their child’s education and school life can help every child achieve greater academic success. However, you might find that it’s difficult to engage some parents with your school’s events and day-to-day activities. 

Focussing on good communication can really help build those bonds between families and your school. In this blog, we look at some ways that might help you engage those hard-to-reach parents.

This advice is suitable for headteachers and senior leadership team members wanting to give general guidance to their staff, and also for teachers who want some actionable ideas to try right away.

What is Meant by Hard-to-Reach Parents?

Here are some examples that we can use to define hard-to-reach parents:

  • They do not often engage with your school.
  • They don’t often attend school meetings.
  • They don’t often respond to communications from your school.

Why Might Some Parents Be Hard-to-Reach?

It’s important to remember that those parents identified as ‘hard-to-reach’ may actually consider your school itself as ‘hard-to-reach.’ This could be because; they don’t know the best way to communicate with your school, they have negative associations from their own time at school, or they struggle due to language barriers, for example. 

You may want to consider some of the following and try to combat any of these potential issues: 

  • Accessibility – some parents may struggle with your school’s chosen method of communication and outreach programme. If only one method is available or there is only one language option, some parents may feel overlooked.
  • Multiple Points of Contact – with a larger support network for each child, including SLT, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, some parents may be unsure who to contact about different issues. Receiving communications from different staff members through different formats could also add to the confusion.
  • Jargon – Many parents may not be used to certain educational terms that members of SLT and teaching staff use every day. Communications that contain these and are difficult for parents to understand may be off-putting.
  • The Volume of Communication – too much can be overwhelming and sometimes a bit stressful, whereas too little could potentially leave parents feeling in the dark about their child’s education.

You may just need to take more time with these hard-to-reach parents to help ensure they have the support and understanding that they need. Emphasise to parents how important they are and how valuable their engagement can be. 

By working together as a team, you can all provide the best educational experience for their child. This sort of positive collaboration is beneficial to everyone, so don’t give up on these hard-to-reach parents! 

If they feel valued and supported, this can help give them the confidence to support their child’s learning. Building these relationships is beneficial to the child, the parent, the school and the community as a whole.

Some Tips for Engaging Hard-to-Reach Parents

Remember that, just as every child is different, so is every parent and their situation. Be flexible in your approach to engaging hard-to-reach parents and be encouraging. Be open in your communications and encourage parents to be the same way with you. 

Here are some first steps for engaging hard-to-reach parents:

Make a Plan and Set Some Goals

  • Be Clear – set out your school’s expectations, but encourage parents to share insights into their child and the ways in which they would like their education to progress. This way, you can gain their valuable input, rather than just telling them your educational policy.
  • Collaborate – understanding more about each child’s home life will help teachers with their provision. Get teachers and support staff to contribute to your plan too, as they will have a good insight into the parents who are hard-to-reach and some good ideas on how to engage them.
  • Set Reasonable Goals and Timeframes – be clear about the interactions you would like to take place between parents and your school. Let parents know in plenty of time about any upcoming school events so that there’s a better chance that they can make themselves available. 

Make Any Events Accessible to All

Although this may not always be easy to do, you should aim for maximum attendance at every event. Encourage parents to get in touch with any concerns they might have prior to any school events in order to maximise attendance. 

Whether attendance to a particular event was high or low – analyse what might have made it so. You could then try and combine events that may have been less successful in the past with those that have had a more enthusiastic response or greater attendance. This could help to engage those hard-to-reach parents.

Try a More Informal Approach

Some parents may feel a little intimidated approaching or communicating with your school. If they are not attending any organised events, then you could try chatting with them at the school gates during drop-off and pick up times. 

A more informal setting might help explain why some parents do not always engage with activities you have organised in the past. It can also help you build relationships and break down any barriers there may be with hard-to-reach parents.

Utilise Your School Website

Use your website as a communications and support hub. Some parents may prefer being able to access all the communications there at a time that is suitable for them, rather than an in-person approach. It’s also a great way for them to check in on their child’s work via a secure portal and share any work that they have done at home.

Provide access and a place for parents to ask questions or raise any concerns they might have. An online forum could be a good way for parents to connect with the school and each other.

Communicating Effectively with Hard-to-Reach Parents

When making a plan for how to engage hard-to-reach parents, consider when, how and in what form you will communicate with them. Good communication is a chance to build and strengthen your school’s relationship with parents, which in turn will help you all to support pupil learning. 

Make honest and open communication one of the goals in your parental engagement plan. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

Create a Communications Policy

A clear policy will let parents know who to contact, when and how. Making it simple and easy for staff and parents to communicate with each other could help facilitate better engagement.

Have a consistent whole-school policy for improved communications for everyone.

Determine the Best Way to Communicate with Parents

Some methods of communication you might be using already include: 

  • Notice boards
  • Letters
  • Newsletters
  • Apps
  • Your school website
  • Text messages
  • Social media
  • Phone calls
  • Face to face meetings

When thinking about how best to communicate with hard-to-reach parents, you might want to ask yourself if the messages you are sending or posting are clear and easy to understand. Does everyone have easy access to and understand the system you are using? Are teachers able to access responses easily? 

If you are using different forms of communication, you might want to analyse the ones that get the greatest response to try and understand why. You can then tailor your communications to make sure all parents are being reached and feel informed.

Encourage Continual Feedback

Sending out surveys and collating responses can be a good way to understand the needs and wishes of parents when it comes to their child’s education. They are also great for finding out how parents wish to communicate with your school. 

Try engaging hard-to-reach parents by keeping surveys simple, using open-ended questions and giving plenty of room for additional feedback. You can then adjust your communication strategies by collating and analysing the responses.

Parents are very invested in their child’s education and want to feel that they are listened to and that their input is valued. Provide opportunities for teachers and parents to meet when possible. Having the option for face to face time can be beneficial in helping both parent and teacher fully support each child. 

Be Positive and Supportive

  • Give Positive Feedback – hearing about the little things a child has done well can help parents feel more secure in how their child is progressing and contribute towards establishing good two-way communication.
  • Provide Access to Homework Help – some parents may feel overwhelmed or struggle to support their child’s homework requirements. Having a forum, drop-in sessions or providing links to helpful websites could make parents feel more confident and comfortable.
  • Utilise Social Media – use social media or write blogs to let parents know about things happening in school. That way, they can access the information whenever they like and are well-informed about the day-to-day life of your school.

Using digital tools is great and can be invaluable for reaching a wide audience more easily and in a short space of time. However, make sure parents know what response is required of them and that they can easily and effectively respond when required. 

It’s also important for you as a school to know that your messages have been received and understood. So, consider strategies for this that aren’t intrusive but keep everyone well-informed.

Make Engaging Hard-to-Reach Parents an Ongoing Process

Review, reflect on and revise any strategies you implement to make sure they always stay current, relevant and up to date. Be ready to try something different if the approach you adopt doesn’t meet your requirements.

Be persistent! Ultimately, finding ways of engaging hard-to-reach parents can and will be very rewarding for you, your school, the parents and your pupils.

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