Bradfields Academy in Chatham teaches children with special educational needs (SEN). The principal has served in a role with the NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers). They have benefitted from a strong commitment to parental engagement, which has seen them successfully introduce a number of strategies to ensure parents are included.
What prompted Bradfields Academy to get parents more involved?
Business Manager Lesley Harris explains a reoccurring issue that they sought to address. "Our parents don’t usually drop the students off. They come in on school transport instead, so having that regular contact between school and parents at the start and end of each day isn’t there. We get a lot of phone calls from parents about a whole range of issues, often relating to specific conditions that their children have, and because teachers are usually taking classes, they couldn’t always be sure when their queries would be dealt with, and this led to an increase in frustration that we knew we wanted to do something about."
Finding ways to manage parents' expectations
The school worked on overcoming the physical barrier to engagement of rarely having parents visiting the premises, and at the same time sought to build up trust. All parents are different, with unique circumstances, so the school understood the need to make the home/school relations more personal. "We identified the best way of talking to parents. You get to know your parents, and you get to know how to talk to them and what they respond well to." The answer was to introduce a new communication system. "We could immediately make staff aware that a return phone call was needed. We had teachers’ timetables to hand so we could let parents know when they were teaching and when they would be available to return calls, even if that meant having to say to parents that they wouldn’t get a call back until the afternoon. It was all about giving the parents as much information as possible and ensuring that they felt their queries were being dealt with properly. For parents who may not want to call and speak to someone, we also introduced email Dropboxes so that parents can email concerns that staff can access and then reply to. We have pastoral managers who monitor the Dropboxes for each zone, and the assistant principal monitors the pastoral managers so we can be sure parents’ queries are being met and responded to."
Making parents welcome in school
A parent-friendly school often leads to school-friendly parents, and at Bradfields Academy, they let parents know they are welcome by introducing a Family Room which is easily accessed from the main entrance and is placed right next door to the office shared by the home/school support worker and the parent/carer partnership manager. Lesley explains, "It’s a great space for parents to gather. They can come in, stay for a hot drink and meet with our support team. Having the Family Room really helps parents to cross the threshold and feel part of school." The parent-friendly school environment was commended in the academy's 2017 Ofsted report [which ranked Bradfields as 'Outstanding']. It states: "Leaders work hard to enable parents to become active participants in their children’s education."
Offering parental support
As well as educating the children, Bradfields Academy is also supportive of parents in a number of ways. "A lot of our parents have special needs themselves. We offer a service through our home/school support workers where we help parents who might have difficulties filling forms. We offer a lot of parental help and support. Quite often social services will need to meet with parents and students and we accommodate those meetings too." Not only that, but the academy also runs parent workshops every week for literacy, numeracy and IT, and they are all well attended. Lesley believes that the level of support offered to parents at Bradfields helps to build their confidence.
Other ways for parents to get involved at school
Parents can attend the school to discuss their child's pastoral as well as academic development. There are also open days which showcase the different departments. Lesley suggests success lies in striking the right balance. "It’s better to have limited events which means parents only have to come in to school a few times per year. That way, you’re much more likely to get higher attendance at every one, rather than risking the numbers falling off."
Having an active PTFA
The PTFA holds regular events each year, including the Summer Fair, Christmas Fair, Race Night and Quiz Night, which are well-supported by the whole school community. They also hold more informal coffee mornings and afternoon teas which welcome parents and provide friendly faces.
Beneficial results of award-winning parental engagement
In the past few years, Bradfields Academy has won two prestigious awards for demonstrating great parental engagement. The first was Family Friendly UK’s Certificate of Accreditation at a reception held at No 11 Downing Street. The award acknowledged that, "Bradfields Academy has demonstrated its commitment to being a family friendly employer and service provider." The academy has also been awarded a three-year Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA) in recognition of their commitment to working closely and valuing input from parents and carers. They are in the process of applying for reaccreditation for the LPPA. Lesley talks about the recognition from parents. "We did a parental survey around the time of an Ofsted inspection, and that was really positive, with comments such as parents felt they were always welcomed, that staff is always efficient, and that phones are answered quickly, which is very satisfying." This view is endorsed by Ofsted, which says in their 2017 report: "Parents are overwhelmingly positive about the care that the school provides and the safety of their children."
“If we can be as enthusiastic engaging parents as we are teaching students, then children’s attendance and behaviour will always improve.” Lesley Harris, School Business Manager.