Parental involvement or parental engagement?
Were you aware that meaningful parental engagement can equivalate to an additional 4 months of progression per year for children in school?
It isn’t just down to teachers to ensure that children get the best education and support they can. Parents also play a key role in their children’s educational experience and, as such, it’s crucial that schools can involve them in the best ways possible.
But knowing the difference between parental engagement and parental involvement is key to understanding the role parents play in their children’s education.
Parental involvement is the general term to describe a parent’s participation in their children’s education, while parental engagement illustrates parents’ active and meaningful participation in school life.
So, parental involvement forms the foundations of a good parental engagement strategy. And by really harnessing the relationship between school and home, children will experience an enhanced education, as has been found in research using data from the National Child Development Study:
- Very high parental interest is associated with better exam results, compared to children whose parents show no interest.
- Children with very interested parents progressed 15-17% more in mathematics and reading between the ages of 11 and 16.
But parental involvement can manifest in a variety of different ways, and there is no one way to meaningfully connect with parents and carers. Joyce Epstein, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, has developed a framework to guide you through some of the key areas for parental engagement in education.
Here’s how to use her framework to improve parental involvement in your school:
A huge part of a child’s learning and development occurs outside the school boundaries: at home. Parents and carers are responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy and happy home environment where children are supported with their education and personal lives.
Of course, this if often easier said than done. And with each family experiencing different social, financial, and educational pressures, those from lower social economic status (SES) backgrounds may benefit from more of a helping hand.
But parents don’t have to figure it all out on their own. Be mindful of promoting social inclusion, as there’s a lot that your school could do to support families in their home setting:
Work with families and communities to offer parenting workshops
While it may not be for everyone, many parents will love the chance to attend professional workshops that will help them best support their children throughout their development.
With in-person workshops and online webinars available from a variety of providers, your school can help parents by pointing them in the right direction. You may even have one on your doorstep, with many local providers around the country. So make sure to engage with your local community to see what’s on offer near you.
Encourage positive behaviour such as reading with children
With aid from software like reading cloud, parents gain full visibility over their children’s reading habits, all the way down to reading lists, book reviews, and past reads. This enables them to become a larger part of the children’s reading experiences at home.
And with cloud-based interaction between school and home, this level of involvement helps to curate positive attitudes towards certain aspects of education, all the while fostering engaged communities of educators, pupils, and parents.
Point parents in the right direction for any support they might be entitled to
The attainment gap is a daunting one to bridge, and there are still many low-income and low-SES families who require additional help to reach a level playing field.
But those who are entitled to additional help may not be aware that they can claim it. For example, only 1% of eligible households have taken up special discounted broadband packages, while 14% of pupils entitled to free school meals are not claiming them.
There is some help out there, so being aware of the government, charity, and special provider discounts that are available for disadvantaged families will help your school to enable more parents to become involved in their children’s education.
Opening effective channels for communication between school and home is crucial for parental involvement. Constructive two-way communication increases understanding and co-operation, allowing parents to be involved with their children’s education to any extent they wish.
Whether it’s hearing about volunteering opportunities, updates on general school policies, news and announcements, updates on their children’s learning, or quality standards announcements, parents will react well to regular, open, and honest communications from the school.
But the key to successful communications that stimulate greater parental involvement is how you communicate, and which channels you use.
Emails, for example, lie at the heart of any effective communication strategy, offering a free and easy way to contact the right parents. The trick is to aim for quality over quantity – you don’t want parents to switch off if you send them too many emails!
Newsletters can also be a powerful channel to garner parental involvement. Being able to condense a plethora of updates into one publication allows parents to flick through and pick and choose what they interact with at their will. To save on time, consider making a newsletter template to avoid unnecessary admin tasks.
And why not take advantage of what’s already in place? Face-to-face or virtual parents’ evenings offer a good opportunity to deliver any messages to parents without the risk of misinterpretation over digital communication. Just be sure to keep any messages short and succinct – you don’t want to eat into your busy meeting schedule.
Other digital channels such as social media, text and SMS messages, and your school’s website are also great ways to deliver bespoke messages to parents.
Then there are mobile parent apps; another popular way that schools can communicate with parents. And it’s easy to see why. Parent engagement apps let you manage your school operations via one powerful platform. Tools such as Schoolcomms allow parents to access any communications from school, as well as clubs, parents’ evenings, school meals and more – from any location, any device.
Providing parents with the opportunity to support the school by volunteering at fundraising initiatives, school events, or in the classroom adds a more physical aspect to parental involvement.
Their presence tells students, leadership teams, and the community that parents care about the quality of the school and the success of all students whilst giving them greater visibility of their children’s life at school.
Be sure to promote any volunteering opportunities through your communication channels. Hosting a regular feature in the school newsletter with any upcoming opportunities is a great way to get the message around to all parents.
You could also incorporate a calendar feature on your school website so that parents can easily see what volunteering opportunities are available at their leisure.
To further this relationship, encourage parents to join your parent teacher association (PTA). The PTA is your pathway to parents and the catalyst for powerful communication between school and the home. And as the heart of the school community, PTAs can help strengthen the child, parent, and school community and can do a lot to improve your school’s reputation and increase parent involvement.
4. Learning at home
Education doesn’t end at the school gate, and there’s plenty that parents and other family members could do at home to enrich their children’s education.
One way for schools to facilitate home learning could be to send home activity packs for parents and children to complete together. With a pack of quick, engaging activities, parents and children will settle into the process of learning from parents at home as well as from teachers at school.
Just be mindful of promoting social inclusion by providing packs that are accessible to all of your parents – not everyone has a laptop and good internet access.
It’s also important for schools to be able to communicate with parents on any homework assignments so that parents have full visibility of what their children are asked to learn at home.
With parent apps like Schoolcomms, this has never been easier. Schools can send messages straight to parents through the free parent app, notifying them of any homework or other assignments that their children are asked to complete.
Parents often have the best perspective on how effectively your school is running, so why not include them in your decision making?
ParentKind found that only 50% of parents feel that they’re able to have a say on decisions affecting their children’s education. So it’s important that you’re able to let parents know how they can become involved in key decision making.
You could start by encouraging parents to join and participate in your parent teacher association (PTA) to give them a voice for change in your school. Being able to form a physical group that bridges the gap between your school and its parents is a powerful way to show them that their views are being heard.
But you don’t need to stop there. Not every parent will join the PTA, but by creating an effective parental engagement questionnaire, you will capture far more of your parents’ thoughts and opinions, casting a wider, more inclusive net for parental involvement in decision making.
Putting together a simple, engaging and impactful questionnaire is an easy and inexpensive way to form the foundations of parental involvement and a winning school improvement strategy.
6. Collaborating with the community
Parents who are immersed in the community are typically more likely to be invested in the school system as well.
And developing strong relationships with local businesses, universities, the local council, and other community organisations will go both ways. Community entities can help schools and students with clubs and activities, spaces for events and productions, and extra volunteers. Parents and teachers can help their communities by collaborating on social action and campaigns, partnering with employers and universities, and providing access to school facilities.
This collaboration helps to cement your school’s reputation with parents and can have a positive impact on children and their families. Strong community partnerships can:
- Offer children and parents a consistent, holistic school experience, from a smooth transition into your school to support with future opportunities when children leave;
- Unlock a range of additional learning and development opportunities outside of school;
- Facilitate information sharing from a child’s wider community involvement to best support their individual learning; and
- Provide family members with alternative entry points into the school day to support their student’s learning.
From involvement to engagement
By using Joyce Using Epstein’s parental involvement framework, your school will be well on its way to being able to involve parents in a range of aspects of school life.
But being able to effectively facilitate parental involvement is just the first step towards fostering meaningful and impactful parental engagement. There are many tools, channels, and methods available to help increase parental engagement, but making sense of them all can be a tricky business.
That’s why we’ve put together our Ultimate Guide for Parental Engagement to take you through improving your parental engagement step by step. From tried and tested communication methods to bespoke parental engagement software, this is everything your school needs to rejuvenate your parental engagement: