Are you building good relationships with parents of gifted and talented pupils, or do you see them as interfering and 'pushy'? Lyn Bull provides some practical tips to help you establish real 'parent partnership'‘What’s the local authority policy on gifted and talented?’
This question used to see me reaching for the caffeine when I worked as a local authority adviser. It would be the opening shot in an unexpected telephone call but I knew immediately that I had a parent on the line and it would be a long conversation. I also had a pretty good idea of the scenario behind the question as the same features came up time and time again:
- Parent approaches school about a particular issue.
- School goes some way towards addressing issue.
- Parent becomes frustrated.
- Both parties stop talking to each other.
- Parent goes somewhere else to get issue resolved.
How damaging would it be to your school for a parent to get the local MP involved? Or appear on a website such as www.parentscentre.gov.uk? If you really want some masochistic fun, take a peek at the G&T parent forum. My conversations with schools indicated that sometimes parents who were felt to be pushy and over-ambitious for their child, didn’t see that the child was just one of many and so very demanding of a school’s precious time and resources. Occasionally, I have had conversations where parents were seen by schools as the enemy with no understanding and no right to interfere in the school’s G&T provision. What happened to ‘partnership with parents’? If you are still in any doubt as to how important it is for a school to get the partnership with parents right, consider the following:
- Recent research has found that parental involvement has a significant positive impact on the achievements of pupils.
- The National Standards has an indicator for informing and involving parents as has the Challenge Award.
- If neither of those convince you then perhaps the next two acronyms will – SEF, Ofsted.
So, doing the minimum, just isn’t enough: the odd article in the school newsletter, the comments at parents evening once a year, a letter home about a gifted and talented trip. We have to be more upfront, proactive and have a planned approach to working in partnership with parents. So, here are my top tips for harmonious and beneficial relationships between school and the parents of their gifted and talented pupils.
1. Make sure all your parents know what it’s all about and who is being targeted!
If parents are to understand and value what you are trying to do with your G&T provision, then you have to tell all of them about it and not just the parents of G&T pupils. Your policy should be clear, defensible and ‘out there’! If it’s sitting in a file somewhere, get it out, dust it off and get it up on the gifted and talented section of your school website – you do have one, don’t you? Consider writing a multi-purpose leaflet which gives information about the school approach to G&T provision, including why you are focusing on it, which pupils you are targeting, what you are offering and how you will do it. Some schools have produced a G&T guarantee to inform parents of how they are providing for G&T pupils across the school and in individual subjects. This can be sent out with the prospectus and annual report to parents. (This is probably obvious, but just in case, it’s worth just highlighting that if you say you are going to do something in your leaflet or guarantee, you have to make sure that it happens otherwise parents do tend to feel let down.) Highlight your pupils’ successes through the school newsletter or email a G&T newsletter out to parents; you’d be surprised at how many parents have email addresses these days. Have a display stand that can be put up at events such as parents’ evenings to give information and point parents to sources of support, eg websites, books they can buy, etc.
2. Tell parents if you have identified their child as having gifts and/or talents
‘This would open the floodgates with our parents. They’d all want their children to be gifted and talented.’
This has been a sticking point for some schools but this is where your communication strategy should come into its own. If your policy is sound, your identification process transparent and shared with all parents, you are less likely to encounter difficulties. Involve parents in the identification process by routinely asking all parents to tell you of their perception of their child’s strengths, successes and interests both in their school work and outside of school. This information will help your school tailor the provision to match the learning needs of all children and will help you clarify your thoughts on which children you should target within the G&T provision. Once you are clear which pupils you are targeting you should inform the parents by letter. After all, you would let parents know if their child needed any other kind of targeted support, eg special needs provision. Why not send with the letter that G&T leaflet and an invitation to an induction session for parents? The purpose of the session is to allay any fears, increase the parents’ understanding of the potential of their child, introduce the key contact at the school (the leading teacher or the coordinator) and reassure them that the school will support them. The session should go over the basics, give the parents an opportunity to ask questions, do a few fun activities to illustrate the level of challenge in the classroom and introduce a few ways that they can support their child’s learning. Making sure that the headteacher is there is important for the status of the event and involving some of your G&T pupils from other year groups always goes down well. I have seen this done very successfully on a number of occasions for the parents of an incoming year group, resulting in the establishment of a good partnership between parents and school.
3. Help them to support and get involved in their child’s learning
Some parents will know how to support and extend their child’s learning but many will not. Some may not have had a chance to work at the level which their child is now working at. Some may be encountering social and emotional issues which they have not met with their other children. One of the easiest things you can do is to give parents easy access to information and guidance which will help them understand and will put them in touch with others with similar needs. The best organisation for parents is the National Association for Gifted Children which has clear and useful information about G&T and has parent networks across the country. It offers a lot of free materials and services to members, most of which are available at a low-cost to non-members.
For subject-specific guidance you might recommend the National Curriculum website which, although designed for schools, gives parents good information about the kinds of skills and activities pupils should be developing. Putting in a link on the school website to the exam boards’ specification, past papers and grade descriptions and other relevant information at KS2 and 3 is not only essential for pupils but a life saver for parents.
You should consider parent/child homeworks and family learning days. Existing homework activities can easily be tweaked to direct families to activities which require using higher-order thinking skills and thinking about their working processes. Support them with question prompts, eg Did you both reach the same conclusion? If not, how did you differ? Those families that get really excited about this could contribute their own challenging activities. If you did this again, what changes would you make in the way you went about it? Family learning days in subject-specific areas can reap rewards. Camborne School in Cornwall, for example, has done some interesting work in involving parents in supporting coursework (www.campaign-for-learning.org.uk) – and before anyone says it, no, they didn’t get the parents to do the coursework for the pupils.
You could also offer targeted workshops for parents (and staff) on memory skills and techniques, mind-mapping, thinking skills, reflecting on your own learning etc. Have a look at the St Meriadoc Nursery and Infant School case study on the same website as above. Although not strictly gifted and talented both case studies provide successful models that are easily adapted. Finally, when your parents have had successes in supporting their child’s learning, get them to share what they did and how they did it with other parents and staff – think newsletter, website, contribution to workshop, staff meeting or training day.
4. Listen to them and act on what they tell you
Parental voice is as important as pupil voice and it’s essential to take an organised and proactive approach to this rather than find out what parents think when Ofsted tells you. Try to avoid the mass questionnaire which can end up as one of many in the bin. Go for a targeted sample group of parents with G&T children with an online survey which could be completed at a parents’ evening, for example.
5. Many hands make light work!
This cannot be done by one person alone. If you have someone in your school who has responsibility for developing the partnership with parents, work closely with them and piggy back on to their developments. The colleague in charge of transition will be a good ally in organising the induction evening. Subject leaders can play their part in providing information on their provision and guidance to parents on how to support learning at home in their subject. Finally, cultivate your ICT specialist whether colleague or pupil. You can save yourself a lot of time by getting as much as possible up on your website – links to useful organisations, information sheets, presentations, podcasts, vodcasts of the induction session – all so useful for those parents who missed or lost something and so much quicker and easier for you than endless photocopies. If you are in a school which is doing great things in this area, I’d be delighted to hear about them. I’m keen to build up a stock of interesting practice in this Cinderella area of G&T provision and to share it with colleagues. Watch this space!
‘We used a QUIA survey last year to check out a number of things from a parent’s perspective, for example, their understanding of gifted and talented and our identification processes, whether they needed more information or support and how they would like to receive it and how they thought our provision could improve. It’s been so useful that we are going to do this questionnaire annually. It’s really helped us focus on what we need to do to engage parents.’
Ruth Ward, lead professional at Yewlands School in Sheffield