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What does parental engagement actually mean?

Thursday, 8 September 2022 by Weduc

In short, parental engagement refers to the idea that both teachers and families are responsible for a child’s education. As a result, parental engagement in education is used to describe when parents and carers make meaningful engagement in a child’s academic learning.

The term covers:

  • Engagement with learning at home
  • Encouragement and support of learning
  • Parent-child discussions
  • Supporting children with reading, homework, and projects
  • Modelling of positive learning behaviours

 

What’s the difference between parental engagement and parental involvement?  

Parental involvement refers to the two-way relationship between parents and the school. For example, volunteering to chaperone on school trips, or helping to create costumes and props for the school play.

Parental engagement, however, describes the relationship between parents and their children’s education in general. It covers everything and anything a parent can do to foster a positive learning environment, whether that’s at home (chatting about school over dinner), school, or other community settings (swimming lessons).

Parental involvement can be thought of as the first step to family engagement. With family engagement, home and school come together as a team.

However, it’s important to note that: “engagement with children’s learning may not equate to – and should not be judged on the bases of – [involvement] with the school. Many parents – particularly those from ethnic minorities or those facing economic challenge, find [involvement with schools difficult, but still have a strong desire to be involved in their children’s learning and education.”

 

Why does parental engagement matter?

It's long been known that the more engaged parents are with their child’s education, the more likely the child is to do well at school. We wrote more about this 

In fact, John Hattie suggested that parental engagement is equivalent to adding two to three years to a student’s education. We wrote about this in more detail on our blog post 'How to Cut Through the Noise and Reach More Parents' . Clearly then, parental engagement can provide a huge advantage for a child’s academic progression.

However, this also indicates that students lacking in that area need more help than ever before. Especially considering the lost learning that took place between 2020-2021, and the fact that disadvantaged students have lost out considerably more than others.

 

In particular, why does it matter to Ofsted?

The new Ofsted framework specifically mentions parental engagement, saying:

"Inspectors will make a judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management by evaluating the extent to which leaders engage effectively with learners and others in their community, including – where relevant – parents, carers, employers and local services...engagement opportunities are focused and have purpose."

So, why is engaging parents in schools so important to Ofsted inspectors? Well, according to previous publications from Ofsted:

"Parental engagement can be a powerful lever for raising achievement in schools and there is much research to show the value of schools and parents working together to support pupils’ learning. Schools have been encouraged to shift from simply involving parents with the school to enabling them to engage themselves more directly with their children’s learning."

Clearly then, parental engagement should be high on the priority list for any school wishing to make a full academic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

 

What does parental engagement look like?

Parental engagement can be broken down into six separate categories:

  • Parenting
    Parents can support their children’s education by providing a healthy home environment that promotes learning. For instance, reading to and in front of their children.
  • Communication
    When parents ask their children questions about their education, and children are free to ask them back, they will become more involved in their children’s education by knowing and understanding more about their grades, curriculum, and behaviour.
  • Volunteering
    Parents should have the opportunity to get directly involved with volunteering in the classroom and in other areas around the school.
  • Home learning
    Not only can parents encourage learning by supporting their children with homework projects and assignments, but with life experience and knowledge themselves, they can provide an invaluable educational resource.
  • Decision making
    Parents that get involved in local advocacy, education support groups, and school boards can engage with their child’s education at a higher level, influencing change, and modelling leadership skills.
  • Community
    Schools and their local community go hand in hand. As a result, parents that are involved in one are likely to be involved in the other.
     

What are the benefits of increased parental engagement in schools?

Parental engagement has been repeatedly found to be one of the most effective measures for improving outcomes for students. In fact, research has stated: “The more parents are engaged in the education of their children, the more likely their children are to succeed in the education system.”

That said, what are some of the invaluable social and emotional benefits provided by increased parental engagement?

1. Family engagement equals student success

According to research, children with families engaged in their education are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education
  • Develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom
  • Have better social skills and classroom behaviour
2. Close the disadvantage gap

Disadvantaged pupils have been found to make less academic progress and even regress during the summer holidays. However, by designing and delivering effective approaches to parental engagement, schools may be able to mitigate some of these causes of educational disadvantage by supporting parents to encourage their children’s learning.

3. Improves confidence and self esteem

When children have parents who are enthusiastic and engaged about their learning, those children are empowered to be more enthusiastic and engaged as well. This can result in more confident children who have better social skills and classroom behaviour, with improved motivation and less of a need for redirection.

4. Creates a sense of community

According to Helen Keller, ‘Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.’ And it goes to show, as parents who are aware of what is going on in their child’s education and take steps to become more involved with school activities and the curriculum help to build a more cohesive community.

 

What are the barriers to parental engagement?

Interestingly, parental engagement in primary schools is far more common than in secondary.

There has been a lot of research into the reasons for this, with the main finding being that secondary schools are large, complex places, with multiple teachers with whom to build relationships.

In addition, in primary school children are generally collected by their parents or carers, providing opportunities for parents to accompany their children into school and get to know their teachers. In secondary school, however, pupils are generally at a more independent stage and no longer reliant on parents and carers to collect them.

Other reasons include:

  • Knowledge barriers
    Considering the level of education is higher in secondary schools.
  • Material barriers
    Such as time, money, and logistics. Many parents, for example, have multiple commitments and may struggle to find the time to either engage at home or attend school events.
  • Psychological barriers
    For instance, if a parent had a negative experience of school themselves.
  • Cultural barriers
    An estimated 18% of pupils in UK schools have English as an Additional Language (EAL). This means in many cases students may have parents who speak little English and are therefore hard to reach. 

How to improve parental engagement in schools

The good news is, when schools work with parents there are plenty of straightforward ways these barriers to engagement can be overcome. With that in mind, here are six steps to improving parent engagement in schools:

  • Create an engagement strategy
    With parent engagement boosting a child’s progress by up to two years, we’ve put together a guide to creating an outstanding parental engagement strategy here.
  • Invest in a parent engagement app
    By investing in a communications app, such as Weduc custom branded apps for schools, you can keep all families up to date in real time, while catering to those with different access needs.
  • Create positive relationships with parents
    Ensure your staff are on good terms with pupils’ families by keeping their parents informed on what their child is learning and setting up regular meetings for any queries and to discuss their child’s progress.
  • Keep your website updated
    Keep your school website updated with engaging content, blogs, insights, surveys, and personnel. Plus, with the Weduc platform you can post to your newsfeed and Weduc website simultaneously.
  • Ensure meetings and events are accessible
    When events require parents to attend in person, inevitably not everyone can make it. This may be due to simple time commitments, but it may also be due to more complex access requirements. Ensure every family is able to attend by providing options such as virtual parents’ evenings. For instance, via the Weduc Parents’ Evening System.
  • Personalise your communications
    These days, technology has made it possible to speak to everyone as an individual. No more ‘Dear parent/guardian’. Now, you can speak to each parent by name and empower them to decide which updates they receive and how they receive them.

Would you like to discuss this further?

Now we’ve established the importance of parental engagement for positive pupil outcomes, get in touch to find out more about how Weduc can support your parental engagement efforts.

  Book an informal chat here
  Drop us a line via our enquiry form
  Lets talk 01509 221 349

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