Hayesbrook is one of three schools in the Brook Learning Trust. We caught up with the Trust’s Education Director, Nicola Taylor, to find out how the school is successfully engaging parents and the wider school community through a series of exciting initiatives - with positive results all round.
The Hayesbrook School was the first in West Kent to gain Academy Status in 2010. Since then, it has focused on working together with parents and the wider school community to ensure the best possible outcomes and opportunities for its students. Nicola takes up the story: - “The school’s partnership with the whole school community has good communication at its heart.
“As well as statutory monitoring roles for things like safeguarding and health and safety, we have a number of advocacy councillor roles, which are filled by volunteers from the local community - including parents - or through an organisation called Governors for Schools. Our advocate councillors are the conduit for seeking views, opinions and feedback from parents and the wider school community.”
School Advocate Roles
We ask Nicola how this works in practice, and she cites the example of the school’s parents’ evenings. “Our Parent Advocate Councillor is always available to speak to parents attending these meetings and will pass on feedback to our Academy Council – the equivalent to a local governing body. We supplement this by giving parents the opportunity to fill out feedback questionnaires – and we’re always looking at ways to better already strong parents’ evening attendance.”
The Hayesbrook school has recently introduced a new initiative where it reaches out to those parents who don’t attend the parents’ evenings: “We’ll always follow up with parents who didn’t make it to the Parents’ Evening, on the assumption that the time and date wasn’t convenient to them,” Nicola explains. “We offer to gather the relevant information about their child so that they can gain some feedback and insight into their progress and effort.”
Early parental engagement
Nicola tells us that the school communicates with parents from an early stage: “The Chair of Hayesbrook Academy Council attends the welcome events for families and always speaks to parents about what the Councillor roles involve. We have recently seen four Academy Councillors join us and we now have a full team of Councillors. The Hayesbrook School benefits from engaged and supportive parents, which is only strengthened by the dedicated roles of our Council members.”
Family Learning Programme
Another school initiative called the Family Learning Programme has received hugely positive feedback from parents and students alike, as Nicola explains:
"We decided to create specific, curriculum-linked opportunities for parents to come into school and work with their children. The key aims are to help parents to become more involved in their children's learning, whilst gaining an understanding about how their children learn.
“Although the Programme’s only been running in its current format for the last 18 months, the feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. They tell us that they really enjoy meeting our staff and learning how they can better support their child with their homework and coursework.
“To date, we’ve had small groups of parents attending sessions with their children across Maths, ICT, English and Design Technology lessons, as well as several cookery sessions and a first aid course. Over the coming months, we’ll be hosting some fun-based sessions including a Christmas cake decoration workshop and a science family learning event. The numbers are growing, which is really encouraging.”
Nicola says that they’ve recently undertaken a new initiative to ensure that disengaged and less advantaged families are aware of the school’s Family Learning Programme. “We’ve started to follow up our initial communication with a phone call to ensure families don’t miss out. We want to ensure that these engagement opportunities are positive and are focused on whole families, rather than being child focused; we want all parents to feel that they are very much part of the Hayesbrook learning community.”
Wider community engagement
Nicola tells us that the Community Advocate has been a great liaison between the school and local influential people and organisations. One example of this in action has been the opportunity for students from Hayesbrook to participate in the Tonbridge Carnival this year: - “This couldn’t have happened without the initial introduction from our Community Advocate. Another example has impacted on the school’s future plans for fundraising with contact made with the local food bank,” she adds.
We ask Nicola what advice she would give to schools looking to build a truly parent friendly environment: - “Enter into engagement with parents in the spirit of ‘parents haven’t been able to yet’, rather than they are disinterested or don’t care. This will then highlight barriers to engagement in a more productive way and enable the school to make changes to facilitate greater engagement. An example of this for the Hayesbrook learning community can be seen in the move to having two parents’ evenings for each year group: the first running from 4pm to allow those parents who need to collect a child from primary school to come straight over to the event; the second running from 6pm to allow those who work further afield, or have other commitments, to attend later in the evening.
“Education is a partnership between home and the school and so every attempt must be made to make that partnership work.”
“We know that parents often feel less involved in school life after their children move on from primary school. We felt there would be numerous benefits if we could bridge that gap and include parents in their children’s learning experiences at secondary school. ”