This issue explores how you can evaluate and improve your school’s relationship with parents, presenting the vital questions to ask of your school and staff

How do you view the parents at your school? Friend or foe?

Let’s hope the answer is friend. Like all friends there will be times when you don’t see eye to eye, but for 99% of the time you get on well together, sharing similar points of view and generally wanting the same sorts of things. Schools need parents who want to support the education of their children and parents need good schools who want to provide the best possible education for the children in their care. So, if you want to make the most of your school’s relationship with parents you need to ensure that the parents are a good friend to the school. This doesn’t mean you need to have a personal friendship with every parent but it does mean that parents want to see in schools those qualities one values in a good friend.

Most of us hope that our friends are people who listen to us, are interested in what we do, say and have to offer, stand by us, understand when we aren’t at our best and are with us at the best and worst of times. How many ticks would parents give if they were asked the following: Is your school welcoming to parents, is it a listening school and one which values all that parents can offer? Is it supportive of them and their child when things aren’t going too well in a family? Do staff know how to respond appropriately when parents behave in particular ways? Even if you are confident that your school would get ticks to all the questions you need to regularly put the relationship under the microscope and analyse what it is that you are doing that works well and why, what is going less well and why, what you could stop doing and what is it you need to do differently and better.

You can never take your school’s relationship with parents for granted and you need to start developing that relationship before children start school with you. Are you aware of how much influence your school’s reputation in the community has on how future and current parents see their relationship with you? Yes, in some schools it can be much harder to establish the relationship than others. Perhaps you are in a school where parents’ own school days may not have been a positive experience. Or perhaps the majority of your pupils arrive by bus each day and you don’t see parents on a daily basis. You may be in a school where there has been a quick turnover of school leaders and parents have stopped making the effort to get to know the new leader. Whatever situation you are in, the relationship you have with parents will make a real difference to how their children progress, learn and develop and you need to keep working at it. The approach must pay attention to relationship building with prospective parents as much as with current parents. So what is the strategic approach you adopt in your work with parents and how do you monitor and evaluate this work?

Here are four questions I ask schools when I am talking to them about their work with parents. Why not raise these at forthcoming staff and governor meetings? The answers can often be surprising and should give you a good insight in to how the governors and staff see their responsibilities in this area. Usually, the answers tell the school leaders what needs to be done to improve things and often a lot more as well.

  1. What is the school’s strategic approach to making the most of its relationship with parents?
  2. What is the school’s policy and aims for this area?
  3. Do all staff, especially new staff, receive training in working with parents so that they can perform their role even better?
  4. Have staff received recent and updated training in communicating with adults – on paper, face to face, by telephone, text and email?

These are not random questions. The answers give precise information about how people perceive the school’s relationship with parents, the expectations they have of them, the standards of behaviour, attitudes and tone they adopt in their communication with parents, how consistently school policy is applied and, importantly, how personal values and beliefs impact on the relationship. By the end of the discussion school leaders often have the answers as to why some members of staff are perceived more positively by parents than others and vice versa.

Why not take your relationship with parents forward by considering the points raised in recent e-bulletins. All e-bulletins this term are part of a series with a common theme. So for example, e-bulletin 25 looked at some of the skills that support children in getting the most out of school. You could take these skills and consider with staff and governors how to involve parents more and better in your work in this area. From e-bulletin 24 you may be looking at professional development for staff. Better communication with parents could be high on the agenda for professional development.

Because of the difference that getting this area right can make you can’t leave anything to chance. Its further development should be a key part of a member of staff’s role. Workforce reform has opened up many opportunities for rethinking traditional structures and leadership teams. Could it be a higher level teaching assistant or a member of your welfare and support staff who is best placed to take forward work in this area? Or it may be the deputy headteacher or a governor. You will know what is right for the structure in your school. What does matter is that the relationship is taken seriously. You do this by strategically planning for its continued improvement and development. Then you will know that making the most of your school’s relationship with parents is benefitting all children.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education