According to research by Clare Campbell (2011), hard to reach parents are defined as those who:
“— have very low levels of engagement with school
— do not attend school meetings nor respond to communications
— exhibit high levels of inertia in overcoming perceived barriers to participation.”
Having greater parental / carer involvement isn’t just about helping at the bake sale; pupils whose parents actively engage with school attain more, so it’s vital to make that connection. Reluctant parents with low self-esteem cite their own negative school experiences for lack of engagement, so what can be done to encourage them to join in?
For reluctant parents and carers, it’s particularly important to find out what makes them tick. Do they have any outside interests? You might find they have a skill that the school could use, like speaking a second language or a talent for arts and crafts. Taking the ‘glass half-full’ approach and focussing on the parents’ assets will raise their self-esteem and build positive relationships. By getting to know the hard to reach parent, the school is saying, “You matter as much as your child.”
That’s essentially what a school website is but has the potential to be so much more. It’s important to have a site that reflects the school’s ethos and brand. Apart from essential information such as staff bios and Ofsted reports, your website should be the communications hub of your school. The calendar and newsletter should be continuously updated. Useful research data can be obtained through regular online surveys. Hard to reach parents would benefit from being able to securely access a portfolio of their child’s work.
It’s vitally important to keep parents up to speed with what’s happening in school and with their children at all times. Poor communication, whether justified or not, is a common complaint from parents. Letters sent home in the school bag often go unread – assuming they’ve reached their destination in the first place. Chatting at the ‘school gate’ is beneficial but can be hit and miss. A more effective solution to sketchy communication is a school mobile app for parents. These apps allow parents to access the latest school news and important dates, as well as receive instant alerts such as an activity being cancelled. This saves time and improves relationships by keeping parents fully aware.
Supporting pupils with their learning at home is paramount, although some hard to reach parents feel ill-equipped, especially if their child has behaviour issues. Offering drop-in workshops during and after school is a way to bridge the gap, particularly if parents know their involvement can really make a difference. Workshops could cover basic numeracy and literacy support guidance.
It’s a sad fact that fewer children are being read to in the home. Shared stories help develop reasoning, imagination and communication skills, as well as an interest in reading and writing. Those pupils who would rather play computer games or watch TV need particular attention, as this is often a smokescreen for a feeling of inadequacy with reading. One way to encourage reading at home is to have a ‘Story Time with Parents’ initiative in school. Some children may never have heard their parent read a story, which can have a profound effect.
To encourage school spirit from the outset, set up a ‘boast board’, where teachers, governors, parents and pupils can post about what excites them about the coming school year. Regular blogging or podcasts can engage hard to reach parents by introducing topics they relate to. Posts don’t have to focus purely on what’s happening in school. It might be a discussion on different behaviour management techniques or it could be a recipe for paper mâché. Make it readable and keep it fairly light. School Facebook and Twitter accounts can be used to share your blog, raising the school’s profile. Social media is useful for school trips too, so parents can share in the experience and keep track of what’s going on.
Although this might be seen as a last resort, there are occasions when paying a home visit is necessary. This type of approach might be met with hostility from some parents, however if handled correctly, it can pay dividends. Keep it relaxed and friendly; ask for a hot drink if one isn’t offered, as it’s amazing how bonding can begin over a cuppa. Don’t be judgemental – the parent may already be thinking they’re in trouble. Take an interest and keep it chatty, eventually focussing on the child(ren). Hopefully the parent(s) will appreciate you took the time to visit.
With an increasing number of immigrant parents with little or no English, it can be a nightmare getting them involved with school. Add to that any cultural differences that may preclude certain activities and hit a brick wall. The ideal solution is to ask for help from community leaders or other parents who understand the situation. These helpers should be able to start building a relationship for the school and encourage some form of involvement, however small.
- Ditch the Cattle Market Parents’ Evening
For hard to reach parents, parents’ evening is a dreaded event. They may feel unable to speak to the class teacher on their level, causing deep embarrassment. Having to mix with lots of other parents could make them uncomfortable, particularly if the school intake has a wide socioeconomic range. And as is the common practise in many schools, having the pupils’ workbooks on display can have a negative effect on parents whose children have below average attainment. If possible, schedule private consultations on different days for these parents. If you remove many of the uncomfortable aspects, they are far more likely to attend.
This may seem an obvious question but is often omitted. What does a parent want from the school and for their child? What areas are most important to them? It could be attaining excellent SATs scores or it might be developing better social skills and behaviour. You might find asking this question opens up a continuing, positive dialogue with hard to reach parents, simply because no one else has ever bothered to ask them.