Promoting Parental Engagement

5 June, 2024

Gemma Davis is the Programme Director at Learning with Parents, an educational charity committed to breaking down the barriers to parental engagement in order to close the achievement gap and ensure that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential. The charity offers primary schools a programme of resources to support learning at home, including an award-winning digital reading log that provides a quick and inclusive way for schools and families to record children’s reading.

Closing the Attainment Gap

At Learning with Parents we focus on helping primary schools build parental engagement in children’s learning. By age 11, a disadvantaged child is, on average, nine months behind their richer peers in English and Maths. Figures show that 49% of that attainment gap is down to what happens at home, compared with only 14% that is linked to what happens in school. We believe that it is only by supporting all parents and carers to engage with their children’s learning that we can hope to build a fair education system in which every child has the chance to fulfil their potential.

When we work with our partner schools, we start by making the distinction between parental involvement and parental engagement. Both are important but they are two different things.

Parental Involvement – Building a School Community

Parental involvement is all about building a strong sense of community and encouraging families to take part in the wider life of the school. Knowing what extra clubs are available for their child to join, attending parents’ evenings and school events or helping to run a school book fair are all great examples of parental involvement. All these things will help to build strong, vibrant school communities that will support families throughout their school journey.  It is extremely important for every child to feel involved in school life. However, while important, it doesn’t have a direct impact on their academic outcomes.

Parental Engagement – Where the Magic Happens

It is quite possible for a parent to be heavily involved in the school community but still know very little about what their child has been doing in the classroom. Parental engagement is about motivating and supporting parents to take an active interest in their child’s learning. Engaging in learning and giving their child that extra support at home fosters a shared enjoyment of learning and empowers both parents and children.

Overcoming the Barriers

Promoting parental engagement can be challenging. Parents face a range of complex barriers and have a variety of motivations. This means that best practice in one community may not apply in another. While more research in this area is needed and there is still much to learn, our work with primary schools has allowed us to identify some core principles that can be applied across all settings:

  • Ensure parents know how important they are in supporting their child’s education. Parents and carers do not necessarily know how vital their input at home is, but they are the adults who know their children best. Letting parents know how valued they are and that you want to work with them in partnership will help set the right tone at the beginning of the year.
  • Think about the language you use when communicating with parents and carers. When talking to parents about the curriculum either in conversations or school reports don’t assume they know terminology such as ‘grapheme’ or ‘partitioning’ or ‘T-Levels’. Providing families with simple tools to understand these new terms can do a lot to empower them to support themselves at home.
  • Be aware of the power dynamic. Surveys have shown that only 4% of parents are happy being called ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ by their child’s teacher. Learn parents and carers’ names so that you can create an equal partnership with them – remember you are on the same team!
  • Avoid the term ‘hard to reach’. No parent or carer thinks of themselves as ‘hard to reach’ and nor should schools. Instead, think of the barriers that parents face as something which can be overcome.
  • Remember all parents and carers want to support their child’s learning…they just need to be given the tools and the support to do so.

Parental Engagement takes time. By developing deeper, more personal relationships with parents we can break down any barriers they face, or faced, in their own learning, help them to understand their value and empower them to support their child at all points of their education.