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What are the barriers to effective parent engagement?

The impact of strong parent engagement on their child’s learning is well known.

However, whilst it is the aim of many schools to bring parents fully into the learning conversation, it is not always easy to achieve. In summer 2021, we commissioned a piece of research looking at how well schools are helping parents support their child’s learning. We spoke to both teachers and parents to get their views, and one of the key findings was the importance of identifying what barriers were in place, preventing parents from engaging fully with their child’s school.

What are parents saying?

From the parents’ perspective, the way in which a school communicates with them can be a significant barrier. Where schools use education jargon which parents are not familiar with, or do not make the information clear and unambiguous, there is a tendency for parents not to engage, despite their best intentions. 


“You should never read a piece of information and still have questions. It should be really clear and much of the stuff that is sent is not clear.”

Nicola West-Jones, The Key Support Services


Although schools are using technology far more in their dealings with parents, if it is not used thoughtfully, then it too has the potential to cause difficulties. Not all parents have access to the latest technology, and attachments to emails are not always easily visible on a mobile phone for example.

Finally, parents’ own experiences of school can sometimes be affecting their readiness to engage. Schools are generally very different to twenty years ago, but parents are not necessarily aware of this. School leaders need to find a way to make parents comfortable talking to teachers and promote a partnership with the home as part of their core ethos.

No parent would describe themselves as hard to reach, but schools need to talk to parents, find out how best to communicate with them, and ultimately engage them fully in their child’s learning.


“Schools need to think, how can we accommodate these parents, how are we hard to reach rather than the other way around.”

Rachel Greeves, Parent Engagement Network


How do teachers view parent engagement?

Teachers reported a different set of issues, and these also need to be addressed, as they are on the front-line of parent engagement. A key issue was a lack of time. With teachers already experiencing heavy workloads there was a concern that not enough time was available to be devoted to working with parents.

This was tied to a better understanding of what actually works and then the training to take advantage of this knowledge. If time is to be spent engaging parents, then this needs to be productive and have a positive impact on the relationship.

Some of the concerns of teachers were centred around the expectations we have of parents and children. They recognise that parents may not have the time or skills to be able to support their child and would need better support to do so effectively. Furthermore, as children get older they may not wish their parents to get involved.

4 things that can be learned?

  1. Identifying parental barriers can be hard, especially if you are unaware of them in the first place.
  2. There has to be a point to all communications, a goal or outcome the school wishes to achieve. This may be in the form of an immediate impact or something that feeds into a child’s long term development.
  3. Some parents will be more active in their child’s learning than others, but those who are not will have different reasons for their lack of involvement, for instance their own experience of school.
  4. Technology can help to break down barriers and improve communication but it can also become a barrier in itself. 

Things to think about:

  • Frequency: How often do you talk to parents about what their expectations are - do you know what they are struggling with, or what their barriers might be?
  • Clarity: Are you speaking the same language? Do you use plain English and avoid jargon? 
  • Ease: Are you using technology in ways that can help break down barriers and make it easier for parents to understand how to support their children’s learning?
  • Channels: Can you find one delivery method that can be equally accessed by all, or do you need to plan for several delivery methods?
  • Plan: Is there a parental communication plan, or someone who leads on parental engagement in your school?
  • Customise: Can your communications with parents be individualised for different children? Do you target hard to reach families?
  • Can your communications with parents be individualised for different children?
  • Do you put the onus on the parents to overcome engagement barriers or do you ask yourself as a school, how can we remove the barriers?

These areas are good starting points to reflect on how much you ought to put the onus on the parents to overcome engagement barriers and how much, as a school, you can start making small changes that will have lasting impact on engagement. 

Next steps

What is clear from the research was that schools and parents are trying to get it right. Whilst there are barriers, there was a determination from everyone involved to work together to overcome them. If you would like to see what schools are doing to help their parents support learning at home then download our free report for further information. Find out more about:

  1. Barriers to effective engagement with parents
  2. The effectiveness of different forms of communication
  3. How communication helps parents understand their child’s learning
  4. The impact of parent voice have in a school
  5. Ways to improve communication

Along with further recommendations for schools looking to improve parent engagement. Download this essential report today and see what your school could be doing to better meet the needs of parents, and help them support their children more effectively.

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