In 2014, following an Ofsted inspection, St Nicholas was graded inadequate and in the lowest 10% nationally. Staff turnover was high and the school suffered from low parental engagement. Since the appointment of the current head, Mr Dale, in September 2015, the school has been working hard to change this outcome.
"As a former pupil, St Nicholas is a school that’s close to my heart," says Jenny. "Two of my children attend the school and my third child will be joining them soon."
Jenny is passionate about children's welfare and education, having worked as a Family Support Officer in the local children's centre. She's on track to begin training as a teacher next September, and was keen to support the school in any way she could.
"Mr Dale wanted to create a school where parents would feel included in decisions about their children’s education,” Jenny recalls. “Having successfully implemented a Parent Council at his previous school, Mr Dale believed that we could do the same at St Nicholas, to bring home and school together in a hugely positive way."
Jenny said that the idea for a Parent Council was initially met with some scepticism in terms of how it would benefit the school "We arranged some low key advertising via the school newsletter and spoke to a number of parents," she explains. "Once they understood that it would enable them to have a voice, the question eventually changed from 'What is it?' to 'How can I be a part of it?'"
Establishing a Parent Council
As well as drawing on the experience of the head, the school found lots of help about setting up a Parent Council from Parentkind "The online help was easy to follow and we realised the importance of consulting with - and involving - parents, governors and staff. There was also lots of information about things to consider and the need to really think about what you want a Parent Council to achieve for your school.
"In the early days, although we were united in wanting to help the school somehow, I think our meetings were too formal - and it was more difficult for members of the Council to speak up," Jenny recalls. "Numbers were low and we felt that we weren’t reaching as many parents as we had hoped."
Recognising that the Parent Council had hit something of a stumbling block, the head suggested attending a Parentkind training course aimed specifically at parental engagement "The course was absolutely what I needed," says Jenny. "Since the training I have felt empowered and even more supported to develop our Council. In under a year, we have gone from having no Parent Council to a dedicated group that supports the school across 14 classes, from reception to year 6."
One of the main messages that Jenny took from the Parentkind training was that communication is key "Soon afterwards we increased communication to staff and parents about the Council and word soon began to spread about how it could support them.
"Our meetings are more relaxed and less formal to encourage whole-group participation. We now have two signage boards in school, which give us a greater presence. They’re a really useful way of removing the 'mystery' and explaining who we are and what we do."
Links to partner schools
Jenny says that another benefit of attending the Parentkind training course was to create links with other schools "It was a great opportunity to meet with other school representatives and we have since developed a partnership link with a school in Surrey, which is similar in size to St Nicholas. Our note-taker, Suzie Guest, and I visited the school and we are looking to set up a reciprocal visit in the near future, to share ideas and support each other. We have also had two other schools within the multi-academy trust interested in knowing how the group operates."
Jenny says that the Parent Council has been really successful in giving parents a voice "Sometimes parents don’t feel comfortable taking concerns to teachers, either because they lack the confidence or feel that their concern isn’t significant enough. We're a way to bridge the gap and provide that vital link between parents and school. Some suggestions, such as changes to the pen licence policy, have changed following feedback from parents."
Jenny tells us that there are discussions within school to start a new 'Friends of St Nicholas/PTFA' and also to join the Parent Governors, which all stems from the successful Parent Council group.
Says Jenny "St Nicholas has had a difficult journey but the school is turning that around. Our Parent Council has proven that positive relationships help everyone and that wellbeing within the school is inevitably increased."
- A pro-active parental voice comprising a strong group of 17 committed parents across 14 classes, from a position of having very low parental engagement
- Partnership working with a school in Surrey and three schools in Kent. All keen to hear about the Council and how it's becoming such a success
- Canterbury Christ Church University have asked Chair, Jenny Ross, to deliver a presentation to the University in May 2019 on the success of the Parent Council
- The Parent Council is branching out into other areas of the school, to help strengthen relationships further. Jenny is currently in the process of supporting another council member to re-launch the PTFA (which had previously been folded) and at least one other member is applying to be a parent governor
- Strong links within the school - with teachers, parents and children. The Council is now a secure part of the school that draws a lot of proactive interest.
“Since we established St Nicholas’s Parent Council in 2017 the benefits have been extremely positive. Perhaps the greatest achievement has been in creating strong, positive lines of communication between parents and the school in a meaningful way. Since attending the Parentkind training course I have felt empowered to develop our Parent Council further and have enjoyed seeing it develop from a new idea into a large positive group.” Jenny Ross, Chair