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Is it a requirement to appoint staff for Parental Engagement?   

Sep 17, 2021

 Good parental engagement is invaluable for any school wanting to provide its students with the best outcomes. The research in this area illustrates the powerful impact parent engagement has on a child’s education, aspirations and, ultimately, on their outcomes. 

However, for families dealing with adversity and challenge, a lack of understanding of schools’  parental engagement strategies can see any well-intentioned efforts on behalf of the school fall flat. Instead of building relationships between parents and school, initiatives are often poorly understood and may even push families away.   

Schools with well-established positive relationships with all parents reliably see less disruptive behaviour in class, fewer absences, and more children reaching their academic potential. But how do they get there?  

Acknowledging the need for improved parental engagement is the first step, but  bestowing the full weight of those responsibilities on one staff member is a move to make with caution.  A non-teaching member of staff  responsible for parental engagement at a school with no whole-school approach may find that everything is dropped in their lap with an expectation that they can deal with it.   

On the other hand, if staff are given the responsibility for parental engagement in addition to teaching duties, then whole school improvement in parental engagement is likely to be limited.    

A parental engagement  role is only likely to be successful if it is just one part of the plan to build the capacity of school staff and families to work in partnership. A planned approach to improvement is required. The planning needs to include several things:  

  • A leadership team that are aware of the benefits of good parental engagement and who are committed to achieving it.
  • Achievable, measurable objectives (for schools, senior leaders, teachers and auxiliary staff too).
  • Regular review .
  • A training and awareness programme for the whole staff team (teaching and auxiliary) .
  • An openness to change.
  • The commitment of time.
  • A whole-school approach.  

Whilst having a designated parental engagement lead is a great way of ensuring that work in this area gets driven forwards, family engagement cannot be viewed as the job of one single person. It must be a shared responsibility. It is about the ethos of the entire school and changing the way you work together with families. 

So, whilst there is a real need for a parental engagement role to coordinate and implement the plan; review and report on the progress; maintain focus and keep parental engagement on the agenda, it is important that the resulting work is seen as everybody’s work.   

At PEN, we see the responsibility for parental engagement subsumed into many different roles and given an array of job titles including Family Support Worker, Family Engagement Officer and Parent Support Advisor. If a school has an effective member of staff in a role like this, and the support of senior leadership and other staff, they can expect to see significant changes to the way they work with parents and an improvement in relationships with families in their school community.  

However, more important than the job title, is that the individual clearly understands parental engagement and what they want to achieve through it. Schools do not necessarily have to employ a Family Support Worker (or similar role under a different title) in order to be effective. The role of parental engagement lead can be delegated to any competent senior leader or middle manager so long as they have the capacity to manage and coordinate parental engagement strategies in their school. In fact, some of the most effective schools that PEN has worked with do not have specific Family Support Worker roles but committed assistant heads with significantly reduced timetables.  And, of course, they are working at schools where the headteacher is supportive and ensures the responsibility of engaging parents is a priority for all staff.  Parental engagement needs to be part of the fabric of the school—a consideration of every activity, task and initiative.   

 Parents need to understand the relevance of what their child is being taught and how it is delivered. When they know this, they are MORE likely to support homework, supplement school learning with home learning activities, and ask for help if their child needs it. And as a result, they are LESS likely to be resistant to school learning activities or make complaints.  

So, what are the tools that each teacher needs to ensure their parental engagement strategies work? The fundamental communication skills that come naturally to teachers are at the heart of building good relationships with parents. Many teaching staff are already engaging with families well. However, we should not just assume that teachers are comfortable working with parents. As such, the parental engagement lead should look to survey staff about their levels of confidence with parents and use this to identify any additional training needs for example: successful phone calls home, dealing with difficult conversations and reporting to parents. This is a simple way of boosting teachers' confidence and empowering them to work effectively with parents, rather than avoiding speaking to parents unless absolutely essential.   

Improving parental engagement requires excellent leadership as well as a consistent approach from all staff across the school. This isn’t just the opinion of PEN; an influential educational study  found that schools that were most successful in engaging parents treated parental engagement as a whole-school strategy – not as bolt-on activities. Where the Headteacher championed the strategy, all staff were expected to be accountable for parental engagement and the strategy was embedded throughout the school across all policies and practices.   

It is a slow process, and one for which, unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all' approach. However, perseverance and the willingness to try new things (as well as stopping what isn’t working!) really does pay off.

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