We were delighted to host a roundtable with the EPI to discuss Parent Engagement at the end of last year. The range of backgrounds of the participants produced deep and interesting insights into the experiences of schools, teachers and parents through the COVID lockdowns.
Why is parental/carer engagement important in the wake of Covid-19?
Something agreed on by all our experts was the importance of positive, trusting relationships between teachers and parents, viewed as critical in ensuring better student outcomes. Strong communications are key, particularly when they are personalised and relevant to the child and family. A holistic approach to parent engagement should also underpin a school’s development plan.
Although engaging parents was seen to be easier in Primary Schools than in Secondary, there were some key activities for parents to invest in for different age groups:
- EYFS - reading with children
- Primary - educational visits and outing
- Secondary - taking an interest in children’s work
Overall however, the biggest impact parents can make is in creating a positive, home-learning environment for their children.
The good news is that parents want to play an active role in their child's learning and 30% wanted more involvement once schools return to a more ‘normal’ situation. 60% of parents felt confident supporting their child, but what they most wanted was guidance on how to support learning at home. Schools need to find a way to make it easier for parents to engage. They need to look at how they communicate and to do so such that it fits with modern digital habits. In the 21st Century, this requires a mobile strategy with mobile phones and tablets now pretty much ubiquitous across the population.
One impact of the disruption to schools has been that parents have felt the support they received has increased. Their understanding of education and the learning process has improved as a result of their greater participation, and they are better able to recognise the importance of learning beyond the classroom environment.
The effects of the pandemic on learning continuity highlighted the impact of the digital divide, with access to laptops and devices a common theme. Vulnerable children were particularly affected, but many families were experiencing significant issues in managing access to learning. Ongoing investment in technology is crucial in supporting families effectively, and preventing the digital divide from growing further.
What does an effective and efficient relationship between parents and teachers look like and what worked well and not so well during the school closures?
The key element here is the culture and values of the school - where partnership between families and schools is part of the school's ethos, we see good practice and experiences.
Parents are realising how committed teachers are. With unprecedented opportunities to see teaching and learning ‘first hand’ they understand what it means to be a teacher, whilst teachers also have a better understanding of the challenges that some families face. Technology has been instrumental in bringing this greater visibility, with online meetings for parents making it easier for all parties to collaborate. Above all though, these conversations need to be targeted and personal/relevant, if they are to be effective.
What will best practice look like post-pandemic?
One thing was very clear - schools and education will not simply go back to the way they were. Parents have seen what strong school engagement looks like and are demanding greater involvement in their children’s education.
Schools have indicated that they intend to retain many of the changes they have implemented, not least the use of technology to simplify and enhance their communications with the wider school community. Secondary schools for example, had much greater engagement with parents through the pandemic, whilst Early Years children have become more independent in their learning. Crucially, we have seen education become more accessible for many families as they have moved into a blended learning environment.
The digital divide will also become more profound over time, unless steps are taken to address this issue now. With educational opportunities so reliant on access to online learning and resources, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that every child has the tools and skills they need to make the most of the opportunities available to them in today’s modern learning environment.
It seems clear that enabling greater parental engagement should be a priority for 2021. With great variation across different schools, regions and age groups; the excellent practice in some schools needs to be shared more widely, and support must be put in place to help schools, teachers and parents moving forward. This is the moment when we can define what modern education should look like, and we need to ensure that we grasp the opportunity.
Looking for tips on parent engagement? The team at Firefly have put together a handy eBook on how to communicate effectively with parents. Download today to explore efficient ways to manage the parent relationship.