Getting it right from the start for schools and parents
Parenting expert, author and TV presenter, Sue Atkins, has 22 years experience in the teaching profession making her an expert on all things parental engagement! In this blog, Sue discusses the importance of starting the year off right in terms of school communications and building a relationship between the school and parents from day one of the new school term…
Well that’s it – the long hot Summer holidays are officially over and September has seen thousands of young children stepping through the school gates, many for the first time, in their pristine shiny new shoes, slightly oversized new school uniforms and clutching their brand-new pencil cases.
It is an exciting day for some children, looking forward to seeing their old friends after a long summer and starting the new academic year with all it’s exciting new possibilities and experiences.
For parents, it can be a time of mixed emotions and concerns; these cover a wide range, for example, wondering how their child will cope in their new environment if they are starting a new school, will their child make friends, how they will get on with the school work, who are their new teachers, how will they find out how their child is progressing etc. Establishing an open and informative line of communication between the school and home is essential at this stage and it will be the foundation of a strong relationship for the rest of the year.
Evidence supports that the more involved parents are in their child’s education, the better the pupil performs at school. Parents are the first teachers and role models that a child has and there have been many papers written by academics about the way a child’s classroom performance and academic achievements are significantly influenced by the extent to which parents become involved in school life and the interest they take in their child’s education.
So right from the start of the academic year, it is the role of the office staff to establish a regular and reliable stream of communication and sharing of information. It is a busy time in the office, as all of the personal data of the pupils, their families and also staff must be collated accurately to form the confidential records that will support the essential and varied administrative tasks throughout the year. With the introduction of GDPR in May 2018, there is also the added pressures that the collection and storing of this data is compliant and only available to those who need access in order to carry out their role.
Strategies and Policies
The Government first set out a strategy for securing parental engagement in a White Paper, ‘Excellence in Schools’ which was published in 1997. This paper suggested that there are three key aspects to improving a school-home relationship:
- Providing parents with information
- Giving parents a voice
- Encouraging parental partnerships with schools
The publication of the annual Ofsted Report in 2016 saw a great deal of importance placed on effective communication between the school and home, with examples of poor and good communication, and while the following excerpt may not relate to the age group in your school, the keyword is partnerships – it is a clear implication that the best schools communicate regularly with parents…
“Highly effective partnerships with parents mean that the parents are clear about their child’s strengths, next steps and progress towards being ready for school.”
There have been a number of strategies and policies devised over the years since the publishing of ‘Excellence in Schools’ to bridge the gap between schools and pupil’s families to create an inclusive community to share information, but there is no doubt that the real success of any relationship is down to regular communications and updates.
What type of communication?
It would be easy to fall into the trap of sending out information on school initiatives, up and coming dates and events, but in order to engage with families, it is essential that clear and concise information is provided in relation to how and who to communicate with in regard to the individual child; parents want to know that their child is important to the school and they are therefore more interested in news relating to specific individuals, accompanied by the more general notices.
Start of the school year
At the start of the school year, it is essential that the first communications layout in detail how the school will be communicating with the parent throughout the year – i.e. how often this will be, what form it will take and stressing that information and questions from the parents to the school will be valued.
Many parents, especially as a child moves into secondary education, have real concerns that they will not be aware of what is happening in the school and what their child is encountering; according to a recent claim by Scottish Tory Leader, Ruth Davidson that only seven per cent of schools provide parents with the required information and parents are being left ‘in the dark’ about what happens inside their children’s schools
If you can get it right from the start, plan your communications to the parents and the form that they will take, then you are on the right road to building the essential bridge and supporting the teachers, staff, pupils and families within your school.