“Where parents have timely and accessible information about their children at school it has a significant effect in stimulating this engagement.” BECTA (2008)
Regular and reliable communication between schools and parents can often take a hit when students progress from Y6 to Y7 – Geoff Jones explores ways to maintain a healthy connection…
Students respond well to parental participation in their schooling, whether that’s being aware of their progress and achievements, or taking an active role in their child’s school life - assisting with afterschool clubs, fundraising for facilities and being involved in decision making on key school matters. In fact, decades of research have time and time again supported the simple fact that children whose parents are involved in their education have a much greater chance to develop into healthy, knowledgeable, responsible, and caring adults. In order to establish and maintain this engagement, there needs to be ongoing communication between schools and students’ families. “Schools need to keep parents as involved as possible and abreast of everything that happens within a school that will impact on their child - whether that’s changes to the curriculum, pastoral care, after school activities, upcoming school trips, and so on,” says Mary Ford, Year 7 coordinator at Bourne Grammar School in Lincolnshire. The benefits of this approach are wide-ranging; full visibility places parents in a stronger position to support their child’s learning and coordinate their efforts with teachers to ensure their child gets the most out of the education system.
However, as students make the transition from primary to secondary, parental engagement and school-home communications can change drastically. Parents often struggle with the fact that they don’t have the same day-to-day contact in the way they did when their child was at primary school, unsure as to whom they should speak about any concerns they may have. Jackie Kelly, whose two teenage daughters attend Rydens Enterprise School says, “At primary school, you’re very much involved. Mums and dads wait at the school gates to collect their kids and they’re able to speak directly to teachers and have a more open line of communication with them. At primary school you’re used to your child having one class with one teacher, but when they move on to secondary school your child suddenly has several subject teachers, making it difficult to keep tabs on which teacher you need for which subject, which does make you feel more removed.” In addition, from primary to secondary school, the nature of students’ work becomes increasingly specialised, and with hundreds of students in any given secondary school, it can be difficult for educators to relay this information to parents. Mary adds, “In many secondary schools, it can be a case of, ‘If we need to speak to you, we will’. I think a lot of parents can feel frustrated by this and concerned that they might not be kept fully informed.” Parental anxieties about their child’s welfare and progress at school are always present but as students enter adolescence, they have an increased desire for autonomy. “Students become less keen to communicate with their parents as they get older. They don’t necessarily feel they need to keep their parents up-to-date with everything that’s going on in their school lives”, says Mary.
Traditionally, the majority of information that a school shares with parents has been one way. Mary says, “Schools can no longer simply rely on messages which get left at the bottom of kit bags, only to resurface two months too late. They need to communicate directly with parents using effective channels.” Schools are therefore harnessing the power of technology – with school-home communication systems leading the way. “Having to rely on your children to pass on messages isn’t always ideal when they’re secondary school age,” confirms Jackie, “so being kept informed about academic progress, school news, information about upcoming events etc. via text alerts or email does make you feel like you’re constantly kept in the loop.” It’s also far more environmentally friendly, cost-effective and saves teachers’ precious time. In addition, teachers are able to send parents frequent, up-to-date student reports keeping them regularly informed in all subjects, so that they can see at a glance where their child is excelling (to congratulate and encourage them), and where they might be struggling (to support them at home). “We have six terms a year and we provide parents with termly Target Setting and Monitoring (TSM) reports. These detail student attainment, with comments from teachers. If necessary, parents can send a query to the TSM email address, which will then be dealt with by the appropriate staff member and subject head”, explains Mary. According to research carried out by ParentMail, more than 90 per cent of parents would prefer to pay for school items (dinner money, trips, events etc.) online. Some school-home communication systems use specialised online payment apps to make it easy for schools to manage and collect payments in a safe and secure way, allowing parents to give their digital consent for trips, enable payment to be made in instalments and send automated reminders via text or email when payment is overdue.
In addition to using school-home communication systems, there are of course a number of non-technical strategies that schools can employ. Welcome evenings for new parents are an excellent way of establishing a foundation for a relationship that’ll last the length of secondary school, Mary suggests. “We have a welcome evening for new parents to the school in September just before the children start, and our deputy head for curriculum explains to them how everything works within our school. Many parents report how helpful this is.” Schools could also make a real effort to encourage parents to get more heavily involved in school life. Parent volunteers offer a huge resource and support base for the school community while showing their children the importance of participating in the wider community. Moreover, by interacting with teachers, administrators, and other parents on a regular basis, they can gain a firsthand understanding of their child’s daily activities. “Joining things like the PTA, being a class volunteer or helping with school fetes, plays and trips, gives you a better understanding about the practices already in place and you’ll have a much better chance to connect with others who may also want to make positive change in the school.” says Jackie. Schools have a duty of care for students during school hours, so it’s imperative that parents feel confident their child/children will be nurtured both educationally and pastorally. Some secondary schools work alongside local primary schools to arrange ‘transition talks’. This is what Rydens Enterprise School did, explains Jackie, “When my daughters were in Year 6, one of the pastoral staff from Rydens came to their primary school and talked about the differences between primary and secondary and addressed any concerns that the children had. This same teacher was available to them when they started Year 7, so they knew a friendly face from day one and were able to go to them with any initial questions if necessary. As a parent, it helps you feel more at ease about your child moving on and growing up.” A positive, welcoming school climate, and consistently offering parents’ opportunities to become involved in school life, enables students to learn in a supportive way, achieve the best possible results they can, and demonstrate more positive attitudes towards themselves and their education. Research by British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) in 2011 confirmed schools are now far more likely to use email as a way of communicating with parents. Only 3 per cent of secondary schools and 13 percent of primary schools were not using email at all – figures that are likely to have fallen further by now. Text messaging was also used by almost two thirds of secondary schools.
5 ways to keep parents on board beyond KS2
- Send home a welcome letter to parents before the beginning of the academic year. This should contain contact information, a check list for class equipment/materials, the learning objectives for the year ahead etc.
- Encourage parents to read the school handbook so that if they need further information they can always ask.
- Send home a monthly class newsletter as well as a folder (paper or digital) containing in-class work, homework assignments and tests.
- Add comments to letters home (paper or digital) and leave space for parents to comment too.
- Send certificates displaying students’ academic achievements so parents are more encouraged to support their child’s learning at home.
About the author
Geoff Jones is marketing director at ParentMail (parentmail.co.uk)