Research School Network: A Blog about ​“I Blame the Parents”: Why schools and colleges shouldn’t give up on parental engagement By Caroline Lowing, School Improvement Lead and ELE

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A Blog about ​“I Blame the Parents”: Why schools and colleges shouldn’t give up on parental engagement

By Caroline Lowing, School Improvement Lead and ELE

I Blame the Parents”: Why schools and colleges shouldn’t give up on parental engagement

By Caroline Lowing, School Improvement Lead and ELE



I recently put together a webinar for ECTs on working with parents to support pupils’ learning. Topics like this are perfect for bringing together what the research shows us and our own experience. It is doing things like this that really make you analyse what you do, why you do it and how you make quick decisions based on your expertise. In this sense it was as useful to me as it was for those attending the webinar in that it forced me to reflect on my approach to parental engagement and how I could improve it further.

The EEF’s Guidance report Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning’ has four broad recommendations. Firstly, we need to critically review how we work with parents. The key quote here is: Schools should be optimistic about working with parents: there is an established link between the home learning environment at all ages and children’s performance at school”. Despite this, fewer than 10% of teachers have had training in working with parents. The Guidance report itself is a good place to start – school leaders can use it as a launchpad for reviewing what works and how to move forward.

Secondly the guidance looks at what role is the most effective for parents to play in their child’s learning. The research has shown that reading at home with your child during their early years of schooling is effective. However, book giving in itself is not likely to have an impact – rather sharing a more structured approach to reading together that can have huge benefits.

I particularly like Doug Lemov’s tips on how to read successfully to your child.

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Interestingly, this hands on’ approach to actual home learning seems to be less effective as children
get older. Instead, parents play a vital role in helping their children to develop effective habits as an
independent learner including homework habits, providing rewards, goals and encouragement.
The third recommendation is around communication. Cheap and relatively easy routine
communication, for example, through a weekly emailed newsletter go some way to opening these
channels. However more specific communication, such as celebrating success, is more effective if it
is personalised. Currently around 50% of parents say that they have never been consulted’ – schools
would do well to simply start by asking parents what support they would like from the school.
The final recommendation is about parents and children that need more sustained and intensive
support. The focus here should be on building parents’ efficacy whilst avoiding blaming, stigmatising
or discouraging parents. This is no mean feat and requires careful relationship building. Offering
structured and evidence-based programmes could go some way to meeting this. The EEF has a list of
Promising Projects’ including on focus primarily on parental engagement here. In addition, thinking
carefully about delivering an informal and welcoming offer (including home visits) is another way to
improve your likelihood of success.
In addition to the report, experience has taught me a number of things that I feel are important
when communicating with parents:
- Exceptionally few parents do not want the best for their children
- Parenting is a hugely emotional job and perceived criticisms of children are often seen as
criticisms of the parents – this is hard for anyone to take
- Face-to-face meetings are absolutely the best way to discuss concerns, often this works
better in a more private setting like an office. However, less experienced colleagues will
want to do this with another colleague and should try to be in a central location
- Listen, listen and listen again – quite often parents are upset and just want to be heard
- Taking notes can help slow down the meeting to give you time to think as well as reassure
the parent that you are taking their concerns seriously
- Always agree actions and MAKE SURE THAT YOU FOLLOW THEM UP. Get back to them again
soon but you should not share the outcomes for another student (e.g. if you have issued a 
fixed-term exclusion)
- Emotional coaching strategies work on almost everyone – the key to this is acknowledging
the emotion and empathising. An effective phrase is I understand that you are upset, my
children mean the world to me too and I share your concerns, however my understanding is
…”
- You should always be trying to get back to a relationship of working together. Always thanks
parents for their support.
- Praise calls/​communication are really important. For my money you can’t beat a positive
phone call (we used to have Phone call Fridays – a lovely way to end the week). Once you
have opened those communication channels it is much easier to call if you have concerns. I 
also like to say to parents that their child is a credit to them”, that they should be really
proud” and that they’ve done a great job. You hardly ever hear this as a parent, and it makes
you feel wonderful.
- In terms of so-called hard to reach’ parents there is some amazing work out there
particularly from the alternative provision sector. It is certainly worth talking to colleagues
from other schools and places of learning to share ideas. Remote meetings are so much
easier since the pandemic, this supports parents who cannot or do not want to come into a 
school setting. Many schools hold events off-site at venues within the community and
regularly do home visits. My friend in Yorkshire has a calendar of community events, such as
a huge iftar meal during Ramadan, where the whole school community comes together to
eat and enjoy each other’s company. Key messages can be given during events, or not, it is
just another way to build bridges.
Parents know their children better than anyone and it is clear that their support is absolutely key in
terms of supporting their child’s learning. As jaded and weary as we sometimes feel – we should
continue to be optimistic and relentless in our efforts to build those bridges.

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