If Covid-19 has had one major impact on the world of education, it is the importance of successful partnerships with parents and carers. Overnight the roles were reversed and in many cases the parent/carer was suddenly responsible for providing teaching and learning to their children.
During my many years as both teacher and headteacher in predominately Infant and Nursery Schools I already understood the importance of communicating with parents and carers. If there was a dialogue, it often removed issues before they arose. It is much easier to understand a dip in progress if you are aware that something at home, for example the illness of a relative is having an impact on the day-to-day life of that pupil. If a pupil was struggling with reading the one-to-one support at home can have a significant impact. The Education Endowment Foundation reported in a study conducted in 2018 that ‘effective parental engagement can lead to learning gains of +3 months over the course of a year.’ (Education Endowment Foundation – Working with Parents to support Children’s Learning. 7th December 2018) . As an assessor for the Quality Mark it is often while focusing on Element 9 – The involvement of parents and carers, that I find some of the secrets to a schools success in producing high achieving, confident learners.
Covid-19 raised the significance of that communication and involvement. It was the schools that already had a successful dialogue with parents and involved them in the day-to-day aspects of school that found dealing with this changing educational landscape easiest. They had the lines of communication established, although it was essential to add to these and rapidly understand and deploy new technologies to allow lessons to be beamed into homes. Schools who informed parents of what children were being taught in school, and shared clear expectations had already laid a groundwork for the understanding of what was required.
Often it is when children first start their journey into education that these lines of communication are most focused upon. The Nursery home visit, the stay and play session, initial workshops for parents on the key aspects of the curriculum like phonics, learning to read, how to teach and support Mathematics. These are well established in the majority of Early Years Settings, Nursery and Infant Schools and Primary Schools. That overnight transition to home schooling clearly demonstrated the importance of this as it is the youngest children who needed the most support. Parents of older children could leave them with a video conference lesson to a certain extent; but engaging those children in the Early Years, still gaining independent learning skills, building concentration and resilience to remain on task, support was needed and did require adult input at both sides of the phone or computer screen.
Successful Early Years settings base their teaching on a mixture of child initiated and adult guided activities to ensure that pupils begin to gain lifelong learning skills of enquiry, retention of knowledge and understanding of key concepts and principles that will support their entire educational journey. Staff are trained to support pupils to gain and develop those skills, however they are also very aware of the importance of parental support. Often as the pupils grow older, schools maybe do not engage as much, parents feel that the children can do it on their own, but we have learnt parental support is still vital. A child struggling at GCSE with a supportive parent who will not do the homework but helps them establish a routine and get the task completed or proof-read an essay is just as valuable as the parent who reads to or listens to their child read every evening.
Every successful school is aware of the importance of communicating with parents, encouraging them to develop a love of reading and provide the skills to support reluctant readers at home, from simple phonics to joining a library, reading a comic or instruction book if the child sees a book as too difficult, too boring, too much effort. It is all still reading and supporting those skills. Signposting parents to alternatives, an audible book although not physically involving the task of reading is still introducing pupils to a rich and varied language, building a story, creating tension or drama.
In recent years the way in which we have taught Mathematics has changed dramatically with the introduction of Maths Mastery, new vocabulary such as ‘subitising’ and new methods. How many of us have listened to a parent say, "I didn’t enjoy Maths at school’ or ‘I can’t do it, it’s all different now”. The schools who listened and supported parents to build confidence, through workshops held in school, videos on websites, information packs or Maths days in school have enabled those parents to support their children to improve outcomes in mathematics. How powerful is it for a child to be able to come into school and say, “I taught Mum or Dad how to do” and how confident and supported does a parent feel to allow them to do it.
It is not an easy task to involve parents and carers in school especially with the pressures of the modern world, many households see both parents working. We are now so much more aware of issues like dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, however many of our parents are struggling undiagnosed. In some of our schools due to the diverse social and cultural areas in which they are situated they may be dealing with thirty different languages and very different attitudes to the importance of education.
It is a creative and determined leadership team who work with all of these factors and support their staff to engage and draw in parents. Perhaps it does mean doing an early session before school, having a day when a class teacher can be contacted by phone for any queries or holding a workshop in an evening after work.
Covid-19 has rapidly introduced video conferencing, live lessons and pre recorded lessons into our school lives. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to reach out and communicate more with our parents. Many schools were exploring and using technologies like ClassDojo, Tapestry or Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to communicate with parents, messages going straight to phones. How can we exploit all of this new technology to continue those new relationships that we have had to establish with parents and carers in a post pandemic world.
Element 9 of the Quality Mark enables schools to focus on their relationship with parents and carers and it is during completion of the audit tool that many schools review their engagement and identify gaps. The school website has for many schools become a focus for Ofsted rather than a tool for engaging and supporting parents to help their children develop English and mathematical skills. Looking at it from the parents’ perspective has enabled many schools to add the tools and signposts that helped parents and carers during those initial days of the first lockdown to provide home learning whilst issues with access to technology were organized. Where clear and practical guidance about how to help and support their children in English and mathematics, as suggested by Quality Mark, had already been put in place, parents and carers in those schools were ahead of those schools who did not have such robust communication.
During the assessment visits themselves when the assessor speaks to parents and carers it often highlights successes for the school, but it does also provide a forum for parents. Within the context of the assessment and skillful questions from the assessor many parents feel comfortable in suggesting other means of communication and support that they feel would help them to support their children’s learning further. The schools that take on these development points often build new relationships which support both sides of the partnership. It is this clear focused self-evaluation that schools need to move forward with in order to create and develop this very important element of school life.
The last year has certainly provided a huge insight for parents in what teaching involves, not just the stresses but the exhilaration of being a teacher that absolute surge of joy when ‘they get it’. Many teachers have also experienced how difficult it can be to teach your own child as a parent, very different to teaching your class of pupils in school. We have the methods of communication and the opportunity to create a new partnership which will support all of our children to fulfil their potential.
WATCH: An introduction to Quality Mark
Quality Mark's National Director, Nicola Morris, gives an overview of the internationally acknowledged accreditation programme for the improvement of English and maths provision, including: how it guides sustainable continuous improvement; what it means for your stakeholders; an outline of the audit tool, and details of the support mechanisms to help you on your organisation's improvement journey.