While PTA UK surveys of parents and school PTA members regularly show there is an appetite from parents to have more of a say in school decision-making, it has been less clear how schools and teachers feel about greater parental engagement. With that in mind, we widened our research to see how parental engagement is viewed from the perspective of school leaders and teachers.
A survey of 1,300 staff, including senior leaders and classroom teachers, asked them to rank in order of 1-5 (with 1 being the most important) the reasons they consider parental engagement to have a beneficial impact on school life. They were offered seventeen reasons.
Top six reasons schools should promote parental engagement
1. Builds trust and improves relationships between parents and teachers
This option was the outright winner, though the issue was generally more important to primary schools compared to secondary schools when children are starting out on their academic journey and parents are traditionally more involved. Senior leaders only nominated it a few percentage points more than classroom teachers. 56% of primary school teachers overall ranked this option in the top two spots, compared to 45% in secondary schools.
2. Improves academic achievement
This was nominated for the top spot by a staggering 52% of primary school senior leaders, but a lower share of the percentage in the other places in the top five (with only 9% of primary school senior leaders placing it second) saw this come in overall in second place.
3. Improves behaviour
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a much higher overall percentage of classroom teachers nominated this option compare to senior leaders as poor pupil behaviour impacts more negatively upon their day-to-day activities. There was a higher percentage of secondary school teachers voting it into the top spot compared to primary. It had a fairly even share of the vote in all of the first five spots, and this solid showing explains its overall third place.
4. Develops a shared school ethos and culture
This issue was more important to senior leaders compared to classroom teachers, with an average of 23% (split across primary and secondary) weighting it in first place. Teachers generally nominated it slightly lower in importance, placing it in third or fourth place.
5. Reduces pupil absenteeism
This issue didn’t have a high showing as the number one-placed issue by either senior leaders or classroom teachers in either primary or secondary school settings. However, it was fairly consistently ranked by all groups across the second to fifth spots, which is enough overall to bring it into the top six.
6. Raises pupils' aspirations
The highest this issue scored was at second place, as voted by an average of 31% of primary and secondary school senior leaders. As with reducing pupil absenteeism, raising pupils’ aspirations wasn’t more strongly favoured by any particular teaching demographic. Solid percentage points across the top five places sees it reach the final spot in our top six.
Options that scored much lower in the survey include:
- Helps to jointly address cultural problems
- Increases parental financial contributions
- Improves staff retention
- Increases access to out-of-school activities
- Increases access to business and employers
- What our own research suggests about parental engagement in schools
1. We devised a questionnaire on parental engagement and set out to interview the relevant school staff across a range of schools. This involved:
- We contacted members where the primary contact in our database was a school staff member. We spoke to 16 school representatives
- We undertook an online survey of 100 websites for schools in the Medway area and ranked their information on parental engagement against our 10 hallmarks of a parent-friendly school criteria. Field visits were arranged with 13 Medway schools to similarly interview Head teachers or the nominated person responsible for parental engagement in the school, and used the same questionnaire to discuss in detail the parental engagement work at the school
- Each interview we undertook with the 16 schools throughout the country and the 13 in the Medway area lasted on average 40 minutes.
2. We attend a meeting of School Business Managers (SBMs) on the subject of parental engagement.
- We took notes on the key points made by 11 speakers, who were members of NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers)
- We noted an overwhelming level of agreement when it came to the points raised.
Who is in charge of parental engagement strategies and policies?
In general, head teachers or a members of the senior leadership team are in charge of parental engagement in their schools. It is not generally delegated to other members of staff.
How do schools communicate with parents?
Many are keen to phase out paper correspondence (apart for parents without access to a computer). Secondary schools were markedly better at limiting the paper trail compared to primary. Some schools have introduced Dropbox for direct email messages.
What do educators say is the main barrier to increasing parental engagement?
Many school leaders believe they are doing all they can to engage parents, but feel it is hard work and doesn’t always pay off, especially on occasions when only a minority of parents get involved.
Where are the best opportunities for parents in schools?
Volunteering and all other forms of parental engagement are most evident in primary schools.
Recommendations for schools
Training. Most teaching staff haven’t received specific parental engagement training, but this could be part of their continuing professional development (CPD).
Creation of a specific role for parental engagement. As an alternative to training staff, a Parent/Carer Partnership Manager could provide focus for implementing a more parent-friendly approach and be a recognisable point of contact for parents.
Formalising parental engagement. We have developed a framework for parent engagement. Adopting such an approach would be a measurable way for schools to implement and monitor parental engagement.
Being open. A smile and a welcoming environment or even a bespoke room for parents help to create a welcoming environment for visiting parents (see our joint guidance with ASCL & NAHT for more details and case studies).
Asking parents. Send surveys and feedback forms to parents to periodically take a snapshot of their views on issues such as how they would like to be communicated with, their ideas for opportunities they would like to see and if their concerns or praise has changed.
Creating a code of conduct. Establish boundaries and expectations upon parents, with everything from how to communicate with the school to social media policies and behavioural requirements on the premises. It’s important to gather parental input so that they are invested in it and don’t feel that it is patronising or an imposition.