There is a well-established body of evidence that illustrates the powerful impact parent* engagement has on a child’s education, aspirations and, ultimately, on their outcomes. In fact, there are very few factors that have more impact and that are open to schools’ influence1.
Parental engagement, however, can be a misunderstood term. Too often is it interpreted as involvement with and at the school and the time parents spend there is often used as the barometer by which we measure how much they care about their child’s education. What really makes the difference though is the encouragement and support parents give their children and the aspirations they have for them, most of which happens in the home2.
Simple involvement with the school is most noticeable through attendance at school events, parents’ evenings, and engaging with school correspondence, including reading written formal reports, all of which are usually exclusively school instigated, led and controlled activities. Too often these activities provide very little scope for parents to share information back with the school and to engage as an equal partner. The research is definitive in its findings that these types of activities – those played out in the school – have little to no impact on student outcomes3. They can also have the unintended consequence of creating additional barriers to the establishment of an equal partnership between teachers and parents. This is perhaps most pronounced for families who do not, or are not able to, involve themselves in school life for a range of reasons, including language barriers, the timing of events, or a reticence towards education due to their own negative experiences at school.
Whilst the transfer of information at parents’ evenings and through written reports is undoubtedly an important pillar of the relationship between the home and the school, these activities, particularly in their most traditional forms, should by no means be treated as the end point in a school’s effort to improve parental engagement.
Given the amount of combined time and effort put into these activities we at United Learning want to question their value, their current format, and whether there are alternatives for how we might further develop ‘engagement’ rather than just ‘involvement’.
Over the next few weeks we are asking ourselves a series of questions:
- Whether there are more meaningful ways to deliver parents’ evenings that effectively build partnership and support engagement;
- Whether there are better and more time effective ways to share information with parents than traditional written reports; and
- How are schools innovating to grow parental partnership and break down barriers?
* Parents and parenting should be read as indicating all forms of parental responsibility, including that of carers.
1 Charles Desforges and Alberto Abouchaar (2003). The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: a literature review. Department for Education and Skills.
2 Janet Goodall and Charlotte Montgomery (2014). Parental involvement to parental engagement: a continuum. Education Review, 66:4, 399-401.
3 Desforges and Abouchaar (2003).