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Research School Network: Working Effectively with Parents/​Carers in Early Years Settings – even with the impact of a global pandemic What does the evidence say?


Working Effectively with Parents/​Carers in Early Years Settings – even with the impact of a global pandemic

What does the evidence say?

Who are you? What is the setting context?

Highfield Nursery and Children’s Centre is based in Ipswich within an area of high deprivation. It provides an outstanding service to the local community and the staff are committed to sustain this even when faced with the ongoing situation.

Building relationships with the child and their supporting adults has always been at the core of the practice in Highfield. This was recognised by OFSTED:

‘A key to the school’s success, in enabling children to achieve their very best, is the outstanding work you do with parents and families. You and your staff have built a strong and trusting relationship with parents so that they can support their children’s development and well-being and, hence, contribute actively to the progress their children make.’

OFSTED, 2017

Why have you used this approach? What is the need?

In Highfield there is a lot of support to promote secure attachment and resilience within the family groups that attend. Individualised support is offered to those who require a more specialised package. Through the years there has been a high level of skill developed within the staff. The Early Years setting has a shorter window of time to work with children and their supporting adults, so an effective and appropriate approach needs to be used. This will have a positive impact throughout a child’s time in education.

‘Secure attachment during infanthood has been linked with more ‘compliant’ behaviour in the preschool years (Klein and Durfee, 1974), and fewer problem behaviours at primary school age (Lewis, Feiring, McGuffog and Jaskir, 1984)’

'What Works in Parenting Support', Moran, Ghate, van der Merve, DFE Research Report 574 ,2004

How have you adapted practice to meet the need of the members of the setting community?

With the present situation, all the previously used strategies and approaches cannot be used. The one-to-one support, group intervention or offers of family counselling are not appropriate. If anything the need for these is rising so what can be offered to meet this need?

An obvious answer is to use the existing technology to adapt the offer. Highfield Children’s Centre offers a virtual programme. This can be found at

Jannice Simpson, the Children’s Centre Manager, has been monitoring the virtual offer and its impact on parenting support. Some parents have reported they prefer the virtual approach and platform for learning and engaging with services and support through the Children’s Centre. One parent shared:

‘I actually enjoyed accessing the parent course in my own home. I FELT more relaxed and comfortable to worries and struggles as a parent. I WAS IN BETTER PLACE To open up about the advice about behaviour’

(Capitalisation parent’s own)

‘The courses on offer have a particular focus around how to connect, not correct your child using the attuned principles of the Solihull Approach and VIG and VERP’

(Video work with parents)

The EEF Guidance Report: Working With Parents to Support Children’s Learning’ identifies:

‘Working effectively with parents can be challenging, and is likely to require sustained effort and support’

Recommendation 1, EEF

There have always been difficult to reach parents/​carers and those who engage really positively. Within this quickly-changing time, faced with having to use more distanced approaches, it may be time to consider:

A focus on areas that have better impact and uptake:

  • Talk to parents who are less involved about what support they would find helpful.
  • Plan and monitor to progress towards defined aims.
Communication 1296385 640

How do you suggest parental engagement could be maintained? Things to consider.

Have you updated your website recently? Is there a section of the website parents/​carers use more than others? Is there any more useful information you could add? Are there useful links to support home learning? A lot of providers are giving free sign ups during this time.

Highfield use Tapestry as their online Journal. There are others out there and each have their individualised benefits and limits. Each setting needs to chose which fits best for their demographic and staff skill base. Any online offer works best when all staff feel confident to use it and it is easily accessible by parents/​carers.

Do you offer staff meeting time to check if there are any problems? Have you a time to share tips and shortcuts’ as there is always one member of staff who will find quicker ways of doing things! Is there a system to support engagement of those not accessing the journal?

Facebook can be useful or not, depending on your cohort. I have seen it used very effectively to engage. However it can also prove problematic for different reasons!

There is always email, text, or a direct phone call. Some parents/​carers can easily delete an email but find it more difficult to avoid a direct conversation. Often a quick call can help stop a situation escalating quickly as you can give a direct answer and stop an anxious adult worrying unnecessarily.

All settings tend to have a regular newsletter. How regularly is this sent out? Would it be better to make it shorter but share it on a more regular basis? Less content may encourage those with challenges around reading to engage better.

Effective communication is important and it has to be a two-way’ conversation. It can be difficult in the best of times. I have had many a conversation with a parent who hadn’t heard about an event even though all communication avenues had been used. 

As at Highfield, plan to use what works best for you at this time. If things change, be flexible and use the most appropriate methods to suit your individual setting.

I finish with a quote from Ruth Coleman, Headteacher at Highfield Nursery:

‘Flexibility and a many-pronged approach is definitely the way to go.’

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