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The importance of communicating with and for parents

by Henry Kilshaw on January 19, 2017

The 2016 annual Ofsted report, and makes for very interesting reading with regard to parents; it goes into detail about what good communication looks like and what poor communication looks like. Don’t worry about the fact that some of these excerpts were not written about your type of school: the principles are universal. 

In the best early education, “Highly effective partnerships with parents mean that the parents are clear about their childs strengths, next steps and progress towards being ready for school.”

The key word here is ‘partnerships’. There is a clear implication that the best schools communicate a lot with parents, otherwise how would they know about their child’s strengths and so on?

This is made explicit in one of the case studies featured in the report:

“All information about childrens achievement is shared with parents to keep them fully informed and involved with their childrens learning.”

The word ‘shared’ is important. It’s actually more than ‘informed’, which suggests that the parents are being ‘done to’. Keeping parents updated ‘in real time’, to use computer jargon, is much more effective than giving them a report about how their child has done in retrospect.

In some schools,  parents have access to their child’s work online and can leave comments about it. This is a good example of sharing, and engaging parents.

Here’s an example of where communication is not as good as it could be:

“Communication with parents is not well supported by the key person system. Not all staff have a secure knowledge and understanding of the child protection procedures. Childrens records contain inaccurate information about individual children’s medication and dietary requirements.”

Those seem to be examples of poor communication with staff rather than directly with parents, but it’s clear that parents are going to be very much affected.

“As part of our work looking at transition arrangements, we spoke to some parents of new Year 7 pupils. Some of these parents were very disappointed that their youngsters were repeating learning at secondary school that had already been mastered in the lower years of primary school. Parents were particularly concerned by comments made by teachers in pupilsfirst lessons at secondary school, such as: ‘Im going to assume you know nothing about this and start right at the beginning.” 

That’s an example of a lack of communication between schools. Or perhaps a lack of effective communication. Primary and middle schools do usually pass on information about pupils to the secondary schools their pupils have gone on to, but what happens to the information once it arrives? 

“Secondary schools were seen by parents, headteachers and officers as too big and too impersonal.”

The best way of making school seem less impersonal is by treating each pupil as a person. Terry Freedman, former teacher said, "One girl in my registration class was the only pupil from her previous school, and she seemed quite lonely. I found out from her that she was interested in learning to play the guitar, and so I introduced her to the teacher who ran the after-school guitar club. She was much happier after that, not least because she suddenly had a ready-made group of pupils with whom she had something in common. The size of the school hadn’t changed, but it become less big and impersonal to her." 

“Many parents are not aware that there are options at the end of key stage 3 and transition at this age is not well aligned with local offers or national accountability.”

The question is, why were parents not aware? Surely it can’t be too difficult to organise a parents’ evening about it? Or the school could have put a page of information on its website, and then texted the parents to tell them about it. Or they could have emailed the parents.

“Many of these independent schools were not following guidance as to how to check that pupils were safe if they were not attending regularly or were arriving late to school. If parents had taken children out of school, managers did not always know whether individual pupils were now on the roll of other schools or were in fact ‘missing from education.”

If a pupil hasn’t arrived in school, surely what should happen is that parents be sent a text or phoned to find out what’s going on?

It shouldn’t be difficult to plug the kinds of information gaps highlighted in the Chief Inspector’s report. Perhaps a checklist might be useful to see if your school is on track. The following is offered as a response to the issues highlighted here. Don’t regard it as definitive; do regard it as a starting point.

Communications checklist

    1. Do you keep parents informed about their child’s achievement and progress, as it happens, or as soon as possible afterwards?
    2. Do staff know what the child protection procedures are?
    3. As part of Q2, do staff know what to do when a child doesn’t turn up, or comes in late?
    4. Are pupils’ dietary or medical requirements on the information management system — and are the details accurate? Have you checked with the pupils’ parents recently?
    5. What happens to information passed from one school to another? How can you ensure that the first half-term of secondary school is not merely a pointless repeat of their last half-term at primary school?
    6. Do you know what pupils’ hobbies and interests are? New university students have Freshers’ Week to help them acclimatise to their new environment. New teachers may have an induction period. What do you provide for new pupils?
    7. How do you keep parents informed about options, procedures and other aspects of the school’s life?
    8. And last but not least, how do you help to make parents feel like partners in their child’s welfare and education?

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Topics: Parental engagement, Ofsted, Groupcall Messenger