07 Dec 2018

Working with parents to support children’s learning

Working with parents to support children’s learning

I heard recently that children in the UK typically spend less than 30% of their waking hours in school. Most of us in teaching are well aware that the time we have with our students in school is too brief and therefore it is crucial to make the most of every lesson and learning experience. However, we still see it as almost entirely our role as educators to support young people in their learning. What about the other 70+% of their waking hours? What if there were ways for us to maximise that time too?

Today the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has released its latest Guidance Report:Working with parents to support children’s learning. Numerous studies have shown a clear link between parental engagement in learning and performance in school for all ages. As Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the EEF says in the foreword of the report, ‘Despite our best efforts, the poorest students are still much less likely than their classmates to leave school with the qualifications they need. While much of this battle can be won inside the school gate, what happens at home is crucial too. We know that a parent’s job,education and income matter less to their child’s development than what they actually do with their child.’

The report offers four recommendations to support our thinking:

  1. Critically review how you work with parents
  2. Provide practical strategies to support learning at home
  3. Tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning
  4. Offer more sustained and intensive support where needed

Recommendation 1 in the report asks us to ‘critically review’ our existing work with parents and my thoughts turned quickly to our transition work at Huntington from our many feeder primaries into year 7. I did this as I have feel this has been a real strength of the school in recent years through great partnerships with our ‘family of schools’. Our pastoral support includes pupils meeting their new form tutor and fellow tutees on their transition day visit, and parents being invited to a transition evening. They had been to our brilliant aspirations fair, had numerous visits from our Deputy Head responsible for transition and many had taken part in sporting, musical or artistic events in collaboration with our students and staff. This meant that they became more familiar with the school site, key personnel and systems and this has definitely supported how quickly they settle in and adjust to life in secondary school.

However, do we support the transition in their learning as well? Do parents know how they can best support their child generally, and in all of the discreet disciplines that key stage three suddenly brings? Last year staff received training around the explicit instruction of vocabulary and how supporting pupils with this aspect of their learning can help them manage the academic challenge: but perhaps we could have communicated this with parents and given them practical support strategies to use themselves at home.

Recommendation 3 looks at tailoring school communications to encourage positive dialogue and again it is far easier for me to point to a pastoral example, rather than an academic (although improvement in the former one often greatly helps the latter). Our pastoral team are very effective at communicating home to parents whose children are dipping below the magical 95%attendance rate. This contact with home is not about remonstrating with parents, but rather reframing what that 95% figure means to make that dialogue more positive. After all, 95% on a test is utterly glorious, but 95% attendance means you will miss two full weeks of school during the year.

Although the guidance is based on a review of the best international research and consultation with teachers and experts, the evidence in this area is not yet as strong as the EEF would like. Therefore, each over-arching recommendation focuses on the importance of careful planning and monitoring of any activities you facilitate.

As a Research School, we will be providing tools and resources to help you with carefully implementing these recommendations through the 6-step school’s guide to implementation. And this report has served as a timely reminder for us to reflect on how we work with parents and look to prioritise those areas where we think we have the greatest need.

Jane Elsworth, Director of Huntington Research School