7 December 2018
Chris Woodcock, Head of School at Durrington High School, introduces the EEF’s latest guidance report and explains how schools can use it to boost parental engagement.
Anyone working or who has worked in a school will know that parent/carer engagement is one of those amorphous things that is very difficult to get a clear and consistent grip on. With schools working with students of differing age groups, in such a wide variety of contexts, and perhaps most importantly in such a diverse range of community settings, it is safe to say that there is (as yet) no silver bullet solution.
So if it’s that hard to do why bother?
The question is why then are schools/school leaders so intent of engaging with parents/carers of the children they teach? Perhaps the most common reason schools and those who work in them cite are that they feel that by engaging with parents/carers children will be better supported (academically and possibly socially/ emotionally/ behaviourally) and the effect of this support is increased attendance and greater rates of academic progress for both the individual and the school. There is a widely accepted feeling that parents who come to school events/meetings, communicate effectively with the school, and support their child with out of school learning are regarded as a positive influence on their child’s progress/attainment. Whereas those parents who actively or passively display the opposites of these “valued characteristics” are often blamed for detrimentally impacting on their child’s future. Whatever the truth is there are exceptions!
Now comes the tricky bit; what we can do in our schools to create positive change to the existing status quo?
As a profession, we are perhaps in a position now of being more evidence informed than ever before. The new EEF guidance report goes a long way towards using this extensive evidence base to help framing what approaches/strategies are likely to have the greatest impact in improving parent/carer engagement. A further strength of the guidance is that it is explicit in places about not just what could work but also what strategies are unlikely to demonstrate the gains we desire. Beyond this it contextualises strategies and approaches in to age/stage groups; again a useful way to support school leaders.
One of the most interesting aspects of the guidance, which is especially pertinent given the unprecedented stains on school budgets, cuts to the workforce etc, is that the evidence suggests that by making relatively small, low cost and simple changes to how we as organisations communicate potentially will offer significant gain sin parental engagement/ support. These are ideals that I am sure all schools are interested in, not just in a classroom sense but also so they really can support and achieve the best possible progress for each child. Keyto the reshaping of communications are the ideas of:
- Making things personal (specific to them/their child… use their names!)
- Making things easy to engage with (one click response on text messages)
- Creating and sharing the social norm thus indirectly suggesting they/their child will be missing out but not acting
- The use of “nudging” language
These ideas, I believe,are well within the capability of any school to understand and implement however a caveat here, as the report suggests is that they still require careful planning for and implementation.
A word of warning
At this point it is pertinent (after you have stopped reading and already been distracted by ideas of how/what you could/should change) to mention the necessity, before deciding on or taking any action, to critically review the current picture in your school/setting. Without establishing(the easiest way to do this is using data you already have) a clear and understood “baseline” there is a real risk that a new initiative/change will be viewed by those expected to implement them as another “bolt on” or “fad” and thus be added to the bottom of long to do lists or implemented but with no real plan for reviewing whether they work or not. What shouldn’t be ruled out at this stage is that there are many other approaches, other than those suggested/discussed in the report, that contextually have had significant success. There are to approaches from other spheres outside of education that have the potential to have a positive impact; some of which are even referenced in the report which is great to see.
The final advice, again very clearly summarised in the report, is to keep any plans simple, clear and focused. Whatever you chose to do for the best chance of it working it has to have high fidelity (understood by those doing it) and be integrated in to day-to-date processes/practice. Anything other than this is likely to be seen as a bolt on by those involved and potentially fail at the first hurdle!Posted on 7 December 2018
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