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This is the third in a series looking at parental engagement in schools, covering both primary and secondary education.

Last week’s article focused on the main barriers standing in the way of the home-school conversation. This week, we will be focusing on the effects of the whole-school approach on parental engagement, how to implement it, and the major roadblocks that schools may encounter along the way.

While all teaching staff are, in part, responsible for the growth and development of the students in their care, this duty of care is even more important at a primary level.

In the primary age range, the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. (Desforges 2003).

While the exact reasons may not always be clear, it is obvious that the level at which parents engage with their children’s education can have a big impact on their development. So, what can be done to alleviate this at a primary level?

Part of the problem is perception. If parents and students perceive a school’s efforts at improving home-school communication to be an afterthought, or that they’re simply bolted onto existing, “core” school policies, they’re unlikely to view these efforts as something worth pursuing.

…parental engagement works best in the context of ongoing whole-school development. (Janet Goodall and John Vorhaus et al. 2010)

Whole-school approaches have proven to be an effective way to authentically engage at a primary level. The Manchester Transition Project (Dyson, Beresford et al. 2007) took place over two years, exploring the effect of increasing the level of communication between staff and parents, and the level of support that staff were able to provide. This included additional training, home visits, one-to-one interviews, workshops, and the introduction of additional classroom support staff.

They found that parental engagement works best in the context of ongoing whole-school development; parents need to be involved in school at every level. Interestingly, some of these practices were so successful at engaging their parents, such as homework projects and stay-and-play sessions, that they became embedded in the school culture.

The personal touch is key to a successful whole-school approach. The conversation shouldn’t be confined to the parents’ domain; school staff have to be proactive in engaging parents. Passive attempts at engagement, such as sending letters home, can be effective if used as part of a wider ongoing strategy, but if a school’s efforts to involve parents in the classroom operates only at a superficial level, they run the risk of disenfranchising them.

We’ve painted a picture-perfect view of the whole-school approach, but the reality is that it isn’t a simple thing to implement. Without additional governmental funding, many schools will struggle to find the time to give their parents this level of attention and support. Teachers already have a lot on their plate, and, unless a school is able to pay for the upkeep of dedicated pastoral staff, it probably won’t be able to recreate The Manchester Transition Project’s success.

So, how can you help? A structured whole-school approach isn’t impossible. Build it into your everyday routines, and make sure that your team is on the same page; consistency is important. Find time to dedicate to building strong relationships with your student’s families, and you may be surprised by how willing they are to do the same.

What’s your parental engagement story? Has your school adopted the whole-school approach, or have you found that it just doesn’t work for you? Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below, or get in touch with us on social media.

Next week: parental engagement at secondary school.

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