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updated on 17 November 2021
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If poor parental engagement is a concern for your school, the board can play a role in driving improvement. Understand what you can do to improve ties with parents.

Why parental engagement matters

The Governance Handbook says that "parental engagement can have a large and positive impact on children’s learning" (page 21). 

It's the board's responsibility to be sure that your school has an effective strategy for engaging meaningfully with parents. This means parental engagement should be used to:

  • Inform strategic decisionmaking
  • Support parents to understand the structure of the school and how it operates
  • Help parents support their children's education

What the chair can do

If parental engagement is a concern at your school and you're the chair, you should kick things off by meeting with the headteacher. As chair, you should:

Terminology

We've referred to the 'headteacher' and the 'school' within the body of this article, but this is equally applicable to a trust. If you're a trustee, you'll likely have these conversations with the executive leader of your trust. That could be the CEO or executive headteacher.

Check what strategies are already in place

The point of this meeting is to find out what the school is already doing. Be clear with your headteacher and put parental engagement on the agenda.

Doing this will make sure that you're both on the same page, and that you don't suggest anything that has been tried already.

Ask the right questions

  • What has the school tried recently to improve links with parents?
  • How successful was the previous strategy?
  • What are the common issues facing the school's links with parents?

Once you've found out what strategies are in place, you can evaluate whether you need to suggest anything different.

Set it as an objective

To emphasise the importance of parental engagement and to keep track of how your school is improving connections with parents, set it as a focused objective. 

As the chair, it's your role to set "challenging development goals", as outlined on page 26 of the Competency Framework.

Make sure you have specific success criteria and regular review points to monitor progress.

Read more about setting objectives in this article

What the board can do

There are steps that the board can take to improve its own ties with parents. For example, you might:

Send out a governors' report

An annual governance report to parents is no longer a statutory requirement. However, it can keep parents informed about the work you and your board do. 

Our template will help you put this report together easily:

Raise the board's profile

  • Make yourselves more visible in the school to raise your profile
  • Attend school events, such as parents' evenings and open days, to improve links with parents face-to-face
  • Consider setting up parent/governor drop-in sessions

Make sure your website is up-to-date

Your website is a key tool in effective home-school communication, so make sure it:

  • Includes all the required information (see our lists for maintained schools and academies in this article)
  • Is clear and easy to navigate, so parents can find key information quickly
  • Includes guidance about common queries

Think about the kinds of questions you've had from parents recently and make sure that information's easy to find. For instance, if you've had a lot of questions about PE kit or lunch money, make sure you can find that information easily on your website.

What your school can do

Below are some practical things you can suggest to school leaders if they haven't already tried them:

Have a home-school communication policy

A well-considered policy for communicating with parents can serve several purposes:

  • Meets parents where they are by taking into account how the parents in your school prefer to get information, how much time they need to act on that information and the languages they speak
  • Protects staff wellbeing by clarifying how parents can communicate with staff and when they can expect staff to respond

Examples of home-school communication policies

Have a look at the examples below. Some schools call their policy a 'communication policy'.

Primary

Secondary

Special

If your school could benefit from a home-school communication policy, let your school leaders know they can find one on our sister site, The Key for School Leaders

 

Send out surveys

Use parent surveys to gather information and improve links with your school's parent community. 

Governors can help shape the questions in the survey, but the survey itself should be carried out by the senior leadership team.

You can ask parents for feedback on topics such as:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Behaviour
  • Bullying
  • Equality and diversity

Find out more about the right way for governors to be involved in parent and staff surveys

Establish a parent council 

Parent councils and parent representative groups increase parents' involvement in the school.

  • They're a framework for schools to listen to parents
  • They should have a link to the governing board to make sure parents' views can be reflected in the school improvement plan

You'll find more on parent councils on page 22 of the Governance Handbook, and a description of the role of a parent council on the Parentkind website.

Set up an informal parent forum – case study

Graham Cottle, the chair of governors at High Halstow Primary School in Medway, shares some of his tips around making parent forums more effective. 

He explained how their previous forums were too frequent, not well attended and more formal. This meant they were often dominated by 1 or 2 vocal attendees.

Here's what they did and what you can too:

  • Adopt a fast-moving 'cafe-style' format where parents sit in small groups around tables. Your board or the senior leadership team can then visit each table 
  • Arrange refreshments 
  • Get as many governors and leadership staff involved as possible
  • Take away a list of action points from the meeting and keep parents up to date on progress (e.g. using the newsletter)

He added that this setting encouraged more parents to attend and participate.

Set up a community cafe – special school case study

Spa School is a special school for pupils aged 11 to 19 with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. 

Sixth-form pupils can learn different skills by working in the The School House Cafe.

It's open to the general public during the school day. The school’s deputy headteacher, Steph Lea, told us that the cafe has helped the school to strengthen its links with the local community. 

Other quick wins

  • Invite parents to watch lessons
  • Have daily contact from senior leadership with parents through interaction in the school playground 
  • Employ a family worker who provides a range of support for parents, including help with immigration procedures and food vouchers
  • Run family learning courses in collaboration with an education charity, for example the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education
  • Run events; those based around the bringing and sharing of food can be a particularly effective way of engaging parents from all cultures

Surrey Square Primary School told us it uses these strategies to engage with its diverse community in Southwark.

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