Bridging the gap between parents, pupils and schools

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It’s widely recognised that the more involved parents are in their child’s education, the better the pupil performs at school. Over the years, many papers have been written about the way a child’s classroom performance and academic achievements are significantly influenced by the extent to which its parents become involved in school life, and the interest they take in their child’s education.

Students respond very well to parents participating in their schooling – whether that’s just being aware of their progress and understanding their achievements, or whether its when parents decide to take a more active role and become involved in the school itself. Either way, greater parental engagement often motivates the child to do well.

But in order to establish and maintain this interest, there needs to be regular and reliable communication and sharing of information between the school and pupils’ families. Schools must create an effective partnership by providing an open and communicative environment with its wider community, forming a link between the classroom and the home, and the school and the family.

Full visibility of a child’s interests, strengths and commitments – as well as information about school events and developments – will put parents in a stronger position to help their child's learning, and will ensure children get the most out of the education system.

Establishing an effective partnership

The Government first set out its strategy for securing parental engagement in a White Paper published in 1997, entitled ‘Excellence in Schools’. The Paper suggested that there were three key points to improving the school-home partnership: providing parents with information; giving parents a voice; and encouraging parental partnerships with schools.

Since then, there have been a number of strategies, policies and programmes designed to bridge the gap between schools and pupils’ families, creating an inclusive community where information is communicated and exchanged regularly, and personally. Home-School Agreements were introduced to formalise the partnership, but the real success of the relationship is down to regular communication and updates.

However, it’s not just a case of sending out leaflets advertising school initiatives and events; parents want to know that their child matters and is therefore more interested in news relating to specific individuals.

The benefits of this approach are wide-ranging. Communicating on matters relating to homework and passing on details of achievements and rewards can generate positive relationships between home and school and helps combat the negative image of schools contacting parents only when things go wrong. Sharing information about a child’s progress can also mean parents develop a clearer appreciation of their children's true strengths and weaknesses, while an open communication channel will mean parents can be notified early on should their child be experiencing difficulties or problems.

Ultimately, allowing parents to monitor and take part in their child’s education means they can reinforce the standards set by the school, helping raise standards of overall attainment.

The evidence

This thinking is not just based on theory alone. In March, Becta warned that a communication breakdown between schools, parents and pupils could have a damaging impact on students’ educational performance.

Becta surveyed 1,000 schoolchildren aged seven to 14 and 1,000 parents to find out the level of communication that existed between adults and children when it comes to talking about school. It found more than a third of pupils had difficulty speaking to their parents about their education, while 43 per cent of parents questioned admitted they struggled to get information from their child about their school day.

Three in ten parents admitted they felt ‘excluded’ from their children’s day-to-day education, pointing to the fact parents become concerned when they feel they have not been given the information they need. In fact, the report revealed 82 per cent of parents want schools to do more when it comes to keeping them informed about their children’s progress, showing that there is a real appetite for active participation and greater engagement.

Tapping into technology

In the past, messages from the school to the home relied heavily upon ‘pupil post.’ But this was often frustrating to both schools and parents as letters rarely arrived home in one piece, with many not showing up at all. This method of communication provided a natural barrier to developing any sort of relationship between the school and the home, while the alternative face-to-face meetings were a logistical nightmare to arrange, and as such, were only held to mark important events.

In recent years, technology has played an increasingly key role in bridging the gap. Parents need to be able to both receive information from and pass information to the school in a range of ways convenient to their circumstances. Schools and colleges have been harnessing the power of technology to open up a simple, effective channel of communication. Through various technology-enabled initiatives, contact can be established with parents, irrespective of location – so parents living apart, or even parents living abroad, can be kept up to date with their child’s progress or achievements.

One example of the way technology is being used to establish a better school-home partnership is at Lodge Primary School in West Bromwich. The school has been using Schoolcomms, an automated electronic messaging system, to improve communication with parents. Schoolcomms uses texts and emails to communicate important information to the wider school community, whether that’s pupils, parents governors or teachers.

Schoolcomms has made the school more approachable to parents, and seen families become more involved in their children’s education. The school uses the system to contact parents of children who have received praise, inviting them to attend the school’s weekly praise meeting, where pupil’s work is showcased to other students.

The system is used to inform parents about SATs revision, to send details of after school clubs, or to distribute information about parents meetings. It’s also used to report missing homework, or to remind parents about approaching deadlines for library books and any overdue fines.

Similarly, John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford uses Schoolcomms to send out weekly updates of what is happening in school to parents, staff, governors and community representatives. The school has even begun a fortnightly maths quiz via email, with entries received from both pupils and their parents – demonstrating the move towards a more collaborative approach to education and learning.

A brighter future

Most schools want to have a good relationship with parents and families. Their co-operation and support can make a real difference to how children see themselves as learners and engage in learning. Regular communication about the child’s individual development and achievements is a key component of successful partnership work, and an area in which schools can either invite compliments or leave themselves open to criticism. Schools that get it right build communication step by step, stage by stage, year by year – engaging families in the learning process from the very beginning.

By David Burgess, senior director at Schoolcomms

Digital Learning