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Empowering Parents in Education

Harris and Gooddall 2007 stated that ‘parents have the greater influence on the achievement of pupils through supporting their learning in the home environment rather than through more formal involvement in school activities’.

Harris and Gooddall’s research resulted in me refining my focus for the research on ‘how do we effectively engage parents? My research began with seeking to increase numbers of parents attending school events and trying strategies to make parents engage more with the school. These desired outcomes for the research highlighted that as a school we assumed that parents were not engaging effectively with their child at home or possibly were not interested / or held no aspirations in their child’s education. There are numerous research reports regarding the impact of parental aspirations on a child’s attainment, however, none show a clear link between students who succeed in education and their parents aspirations. This is mainly due to the high number of factors affecting a child’s attainment at different stages throughout their education journey. One thing is clear and that is all parents had some aspirations for their child regardless of their socio-economic background and what differed mostly was the level of aspirations for their child. Hilary Grayson’s research on ‘Rapid Review of Parental Engagement and Narrowing the Gap in Attainment for Disadvantaged Children’ states that ‘Poorer children and families often have high aspirations, but lack social capital. They therefore need access to better information about the options open to them, and appropriate support and advice.’

I believe that this is where schools come into play, rather than continue with the deficit model in assuming parents are not engaging we should shift to a more positive, albeit still an assumption, that parents want to engage and they all have aspirations for their child. To try and confirm this assumption the next step in my research was to survey our parents and find out how well we were doing as a school in enabling and empowering them to engage with their child at home.

Parents were asked to rate the extent to which our communication and feedback through reports, parents’ evening etc. allowed them to effectively engage with their child regarding their education as well as the barriers they face when trying to engage. The results were quite positive with a higher number of parents reporting there were no barriers in engaging with the school or their child.

Q6: What barriers, if any, do you face in supporting your child at home?

As well as finding out about the barriers parents faced in engaging with the school.

Q8: What barriers, if any, do you face when trying to engage with the school? Eg attending parents' evening, meetings, making calls/emails etc. Please tick all that apply.

To address the time/work schedules barrier we surveyed parents regarding the times of our events and the evening times we have set for parents’ evenings etc. and these were still the most suitable times for parents.

Q4: To what extent do the following parental communications allow you to engage in your child's education?

As a result of the survey we decided to focus on our key communications with parents starting with our reports and our parents’ evenings. And consequently the layout and structure of our reports is currently under review to make them easier to navigate and understand.

While reviewing our parents’ evening structure it was observed that parents would receive a different experience from teachers they met as some came armed with the student’s classwork and homework; others brought mark books and some came empty handed. The focus of meetings with parents varied from reviewing their classwork and discussing behaviour to a target setting focus on how to improve or even just explanations of what the students had been studying.

The other observation made was that parents at KS3 on average would have 10-12 appointments and KS4 up to seven appointments. Some parents would scribble notes down on scraps of paper and others try to remember the different points made from one appointment to the next. I wondered how much of that information would be remembered and acted upon in the following months?

This led me to consider the purpose of a parents’ evening. Was it for the parent, the school or the student? I decided to focus on a purpose of enabling parents to engage with their child at home. With this as the purpose I set about examining the key points for parents to leave the evening with that would allow them to support their child at home. I created a crib sheet for teachers meetings to streamline and offer a consistent experience for parents.

This crib sheet allowed for more focused meetings that tried to ensure that parents left with a better understanding of the progress report as well as armed with actions to support their child at home.

Additional to support parents in keeping track and as a reminder of what was discussed at parents’ evening a booklet was produced for them to record notes.

I included a glossary of key terms used in the progress reports and other key terms parents may come across in communications from the school.

I also added a number of pages where parents could record what the student needs to focus on to improve and what they could do at home to support their child. Examples of actions for parents included providing names of websites or resources that they could use to help understand the topics students were studying or explaining the quality of homework expected of students so they could monitor the completion and standard of work produced. I felt this was important as one of the barriers identified by parents was a lack of knowledge on the topics the students were covering.

At the end of our first newly formatted parents’ evening we used a questionnaire to survey the opinions of parents on the evening and the use of the booklet. One of the main difficulties with launching the booklet was that many parents were not aware of it until the actual evening and were therefore unfamiliar with it and unsure of how to use it for the meetings. Another issue highlighted was that not all parents received a booklet on their arrival. However, from those who did receive the booklet there were some positive comments and many would use it again for a parents’ evening.

The questionnaire showed an improvement in the parent’s experience at the evening and suggests the crib sheet and making the purpose of parents’ evening more explicit to staff has led to parents feeling more informed and having a more positive experience. I will refine the booklet and look to inform parents prior to the meetings about the purpose of the booklet and how to use it.

Moving forward with my research will involve surveying parents regarding the new report layout when it is completed to see whether it is easier to for them to understand and more importantly to act upon. Another next step will be selecting key students whose parents used the parents' evening booklet to see whether they found it useful in supporting their child in the months following parents’ evening as well as investigating whether the actions for students and parents outlined at the evening had an impact on the students’ progress.

Aileen McEvoy

Lead Teacher RPE

Alec Hunter Academy

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