Tips to boost engagement with parents and other stakeholders
If your school or trust wants to strengthen stakeholder and parental engagement, your board can help to drive improvement in communications. Find strategies that your chair, board and school can use.
We've referred to the 'headteacher' and the 'school' within the body of this article, but the information is equally applicable to a trust. If you're a trustee, you'll likely have conversations about stakeholder engagement with the executive leader of your trust. That could be the CEO or executive headteacher.
We've also got some specific advice for multi-academy trusts (MATs) where appropriate.
Why stakeholder engagement matters
Good decision making is well informed by the views and needs of key stakeholders and particularly parents.
Your board should have mechanisms that enable you to listen, understand and respond to the voices of your stakeholders. This is according to pages 14 and 20 of the Governance Handbook.
Parental engagement is especially important
It can "have a large and positive impact" on children’s learning (see page 21 of the handbook, linked above).
It's the board's responsibility to be sure your school has an effective strategy for engaging meaningfully with parents. This means parental engagement should be used to:
- Inform strategic decision making
- Support parents to understand the structure of the school and how it operates
- Help parents support their children's education
If your school is struggling, get your chair involved
If stakeholder 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:
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 stakeholder engagement on the agenda.
Doing this will make sure 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:
- The local community?
- How successful was the previous strategy?
- What are the common issues facing the school's links with stakeholders, particularly 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 stakeholder engagement and to keep track of how your school is improving connections, set it as a focused objective. Make sure you have specific success criteria and regular review points to monitor progress.
As the chair, it's your role to set "challenging development goals", as outlined on page 26 of the competency framework.
Read more about setting objectives in this article.
Strategies for the board to use
There are steps the board can take to improve its own ties with parents and other stakeholders. For example, you might:
Send out a governors' report to parents
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 to pupils, staff and parents
- Attend school events, such as parents' evenings and open days, to improve links with everyone 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 communication for both parents and the wider community, including prospective parents. 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 everyone can find key information quickly
- Includes guidance about common queries, especially from parents
Think about the kinds of questions you've had from parents recently and make sure any information is 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.
Consider creating a communications committee
Some governing boards have a specific communications committee. It could focus on exploring the school's aims and strategies on communication, and support and challenge the school in meeting its objectives in this area.
Alternatively, you could add the functions of a communications committee to an existing committee. Our expert Jeremy Bird suggested this.
MATs: establish the role of trustees and local governing bodies (LGBs)
If you're in a MAT, you should know who has responsibility for monitoring engagement with stakeholders. This could be done at school-level if your trust has LGBs, as they'll have a better understanding of the needs of the stakeholders in the local community. Information on who's responsible will be in your scheme of delegation.
Strategies for the school to use
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 the needs of parents 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
See our article on how to review your home-school communication policy for questions for governors to scrutinise the policy, and real examples from schools.
If you're in a MAT, you could signpost when and how stakeholders can contact their school and the trust central team. You could also mention when they can expect to hear from the school vs. the trust. This is especially important for parents, who'll want to be updated on things like their child's progress and school events.
Send out surveys
Use surveys to gather information and improve links with your school's local and parent community.
Governors can help shape the questions in the survey, but the survey itself should be carried out by the senior leadership team (SLT).
You can ask different groups (staff, pupils, parents) for feedback on topics such as:
- Teaching and learning
- 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, as 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.
Set up an informal parent forum – case study
Graham Cottle, chair of governors at High Halstow Primary Academy in Medway, shares some of his tips around making parent forums more effective.
The school's previous forums were too frequent, not well attended and more formal. This meant they were often dominated by 1 or 2 vocal attendees.
Improvements they made included:
- Adopting a fast-moving 'cafe-style' format, where parents sit in small groups around tables. Your board or the SLT can then visit each table
- Arranging refreshments
- Getting as many governors and leadership staff involved as possible
- Taking away a list of action points from the meeting and keeping parents up to date on progress (e.g. using the newsletter)
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 learn different skills by working in the School House Cafe.
It's open to the general public during the school day. The school’s deputy headteacher, Steph Lea, believes the cafe has helped the school to strengthen its links with the local community.
Other quick wins for improving parental engagement
- 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 bringing and sharing food can be a particularly effective way of engaging parents from all cultures
Surrey Square Primary School uses these strategies to engage with its diverse community in Southwark.
Joanne Fay is an experienced governance consultant. She produces and delivers general and bespoke training to governing bodies and chairs.
Jeremy Bird has extensive experience of primary headship. He has also worked with local authorities and published guidance for new and aspiring headteachers and senior leaders.