Following on from the last issue where we considered how to build good parent –school relationships, we look at ways of offering practical support to families who want to help their children to learnpdf-1791653

SENCO Week Helpsheet 29.pdf

Support for SENCOs
As SENCO your main concern with regard to parent-school relationships will be working with the parents and carers of children who need extra support and encouragement with their learning. But don’t overlook the important role you can play in the delivery of parents’ evenings and workshops where, for example, the National Strategies are explained and some general strategies may be offered for supporting children at home. These occasions offer opportunities for parents to get to know you and will be reassuring for those who suspect their children are making slower progress than the majority. Equally, your involvement with parents of children in the Early Years department and their ‘story-bag’ making, etc, can be invaluable. (If you want to suggest an off-the-shelf scheme for parent-and-child workshops, the SHARE programme is a good one to invest in.)

What about specific workshop sessions to ‘teach’ parents and carers some ways of helping their children to practise reading, writing and spelling? I’ve met many colleagues who shy away from this, worrying about patronising parents and feeling embarrassed by the thought of ‘teaching granny to suck eggs’. In my experience, however, parents are only too keen to be given a helping hand – especially those of older children who are concerned about their lack of progress. Teachers can forget that what seems ‘only simple common sense’ to them, is just not within the experience of many parents… simple games like ‘I Spy’, for example, are not in everyone’s repertoire. (Look at Supporting Children’s Reading by Margaret Hughes and Peter Guppy for a really useful off-the-shelf resource.)

Planning workshops
You may choose to offer a workshop to all/any parents, explaining the topics to be covered during the term/year in literacy (and numeracy), and demonstrating some of the strategies that will be used in school. It’s easy then to fit in a half hour of ‘this is how you can help at home’. Focus on games and fun activities, reading together, play reading, real purposes for talking and writing. Remember that some parents may be insecure with their own literacy skills and therefore lacking in confidence.

How to get them there?
This is often the sticking point – those who really, really need to attend often don’t. Perhaps the idea of sitting on a moulded plastic chair in a draughty hall and listening to a ‘lecture’ doesn’t appeal! Especially if you know that your child is not doing well and you may feel singled out…

Stealth may be needed. Tag the ‘workshop’ on to the end of another event – an assembly, play or performance of some kind (often the best way to get parents into school). Organise the children to make invitations. Send the children back to class after the ‘performance’ – or into another room for refreshments if it’s after school, and spend 20 minutes describing some simple support strategies – their appetites whetted, parents may then be much more keen to come again, to a more focused session.

The venue
Consider alternatives to the draughty hall and hard chairs. Is there a community centre nearby, or a neighbouring school with conference facilities? For an evening session, the local pub may have a room you could use. What about the mosque?

Incentives
The knowledge that they are there for their children may be enough of an incentive, but you can also try good refreshments and raffles – make it a social occasion.

Keep activities short, fun and interactive. Ask parents for their ideas. Encourage (but never force) them to give feedback on the success of a previous session/activity: ‘we played this game and James loved it… he kept asking to play’.

HELPSHEET 29 lists some ideas for practical activities

EvaluationAs with any initiative, it’s important to evaluate and be able to report on the positive outcomes.

Simple attendance numbers of parents are a starting point, perhaps with some qualitative data gathered by noting down their comments. It may be appropriate to invite some people into classrooms to work alongside their children – this, too, will be a positive outcome. Other indications of success might be improved motivation/behaviour/achievement of the children concerned; completed ‘diaries’ of activities shared at home; questionnaires. Parents’ own literacy skills are often improved by this sort of intervention as well, so be prepared to provide information about where they can seek further help in this respect (local FE colleges; www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise; www.niace.org.uk).

It’s common for parents who get involved in this way to become interested in training as teaching assistants – be ready with some guidance. A headteacher recently told me about one of her staff who had successfully completed the graduate trainee programme to become a qualified teacher: ‘I first heard about J from a fellow headteacher at a neighbouring school. She was one of the “gobby” mothers at the school gate – always complaining about one thing or another. The school set up a parents’ group to make resources and to learn “incidentally” about the work of the school, the national curriculum etc (ie through informal chatter around the table while they sewed etc). J became a different person; she was soon heavily involved as a voluntary helper, progressing to a paid position as a pupil mentor/classroom assistant. In time, she enrolled on a degree course… She is now an excellent teacher – she was brought up on this estate and knows exactly where the children are coming from.’

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.