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Parental engagement: the power of parent and school communication

The most important changeable factor of learner achievement is not in the classroom.

That’s not my assertion – it’s from some research undertaken by Dr Janet Goodall, renowned expert on Parental Engagement who presented a webinar on this topic last year.

As an ex-teacher, perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was shocked at this. Of course, I ‘knew’ parental engagement mattered, but after listening to Dr Goodall I was really surprised at just how much, and the real impact that getting it right can have on improving student outcomes. Other research I’ve been reading shows that 80% of the difference in how well children do at school is dependent on what happens outside school, starting with the wider family environment.

Improving communication through experimentation

Download whitepaper

To understand more about how schools are approaching parental engagement, we interviewed 177 primary and secondary schools in 2018. Download the whitepaper: ‘Harnessing parent power’.

So, we know that communication between schools and parents is important and that methods of communication are changing in a world of digital, mobile and social media. And I know from speaking with colleagues in schools that they are experimenting and innovating like never before with ways to improve information flow from classroom to home. It’s certainly not uncommon to find schools with individual Twitter feeds for class, subject, year group, headteacher, etc, nowadays.

However, we often haven’t stopped to ask what parents and carers actually want from schools in terms of information and engagement. Or how they want to receive that information or participate in the engagement. That’s why last month we published a new white paper on harnessing parent power from the parents’ perspective, to ask exactly those questions and provide at least some of the answers.

48% of parents say they receive the right amount of information, compared with 18% who would like more

The responses are striking and a cause for optimism for all those school leaders who want to innovate, engage and do more to bind their whole school community into their goals. We found that 81% of parents believe they are already ‘engaged’ or ‘very engaged’ with their child’s school, with only a small drop off as their children get older, with 52% believing their engagement has stayed the same as their child has progressed through school.

31% of parents say work commitments are the main barrier to engagement with schools

Where parental engagement is not working as well as it could be, we found several common barriers that suggest why this might be. Work commitments are the main barrier to greater parental engagement (31%), and the second most cited reason was too narrow a range of methods of communicating with the school (21%). Others are detailed in the white paper.

Making engagement a two-way street

If we agree parental engagement is so important, how can we help schools get better at it? Well, I believe we can also go much further than ‘broadcasting’ to parents – is that ‘real’ engagement? How can we tell they are listening and 'engaged'? And, in an age of personalisation I think we should be seeking to meet parents’ individual needs much more precisely. Personalisation means providing much richer and more relevant feedback and information about their own child’s performance, homework, behaviour and attendance.

It also means personalising parents’ preferences on when, how and how much they want to hear from school. And, as the tech develops it should allow for dynamic two-way dialogue between school and home, turning one-way information flow into genuine two-way conversations. That will be when we’ve really cracked parental engagement.

Photo of Graham Cooper

Graham Cooper

Head of Education, Capita Education Software

Prior to joining Capita SIMS, Graham spent 13 years in teaching, as a science teacher, head of ICT and latterly as deputy head of a large secondary school in Manchester. This is where he first started using Capita SIMS and became passionate about the impact of management information systems on student achievement. In his current role, Graham is responsible for understanding changes in the education landscape and how these will impact the business and product strategy to best support our school, college and university customers.

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