This blog explores how schools can develop supportive, constructive partnerships with parents and carers to benefit their children. Schools and colleges are busy places with many pressures on teachers’ time, yet few interventions have the potential to make such a major positive impact on outcomes for high potential learners, especially those who are disadvantaged or disengaged.
This blog will:
- consider some of the research into the importance of parental/carers’ engagement in their child’s education
- consider what information to provide for parents/carers before a child joins the school or college
- reflect on the questions that are useful to ask parents/carers about their child’s learning and interests
- identify frequent questions from parents/carers
- suggest some ways to equip parents/carers with the ability to ask about their child’s learning
- think about effective communication
- provide a list of resources available from Potential Plus UK
- provide a reference list.
Research and the Implications for Schools
Research: John Hattie
An analysis of 50,000 studies involving 83 million students found a combination of high parental expectations and encouragement were the critical elements in parenting support. The effect of ‘Parent Engagement’ over a student’s school career amounted to adding 2-3 years of education.
- 2-3 years is a significant difference and will impact on outcomes. Many children, those whose parents/carers went to university, are likely to get the encouragement they need, but those from disadvantaged families, or those whose parents/carers had a poor experience of school are far less likely to get the necessary encouragement to add a 2-3 year benefit.
- Parents who are long-term unemployed are unlikely to see the benefits of school and Higher Education. As teachers and school support staff, our job is to help these parents/carers to see the value of study and scholarship so that they can encourage their child. We need to equip them with the information and skills they will need to do this. John Hattie suggests encouraging parents/carers to talk about learning, share learning and encourage learning.
Research: Castro et al. 2015
High aspirations and expectations have the biggest impact on grades. This relates to the parents’/carers’ views of how important school is, their attitude to teachers and how much they value education.
- Develop and maintain regular communication between school and home, making sure parents/carers know about school life and the learning topics. As well as this, support parents/carers to have frequent conversations with their child about school and learning.
- Talk to parents about helping to set routines around homework so that their child learns to divide their time between homework and leisure. They need to explain why they have these rules as this will help promote good decision making later.
Research: The PISA research team
PISA interviewed 5,000 parents/carers about how they raised their children and then compared responses with children’s test results. they found that 15-year-olds whose parents/carers often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents/carers read with them infrequently or not at all. On average, the score difference is 25 points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.
They also found that parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA. This is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background.
- Encourage parents/carers of younger children to read frequently and regularly to their child. You may want to consider providing some simple questions they could use to help them talk to their child about the text.
- For older children, think about the support that parents might need to support their child. For example, you could offer a session for parents/carers on revision skills or on the transition from Key Stage 3 to 4, or 4 to 5?
Research: EEF Report on Parental Engagement (updated 2021)
The average impact of parents/carers engagement with education is about an additional four months’ progress over the course of a year. Effects tend to be higher for literacy (+5 months) than maths (+3 months). This varies across the age ranges: Early Years +5 months; Primary +4 months; Secondary +2 months.
Disadvantaged learners make less academic progress, and sometimes even regress, during the summer holidays. This is due to the level of formal and informal learning activities they do or do not participate in.
- Schools may be able to mitigate some of the loss of academic progress over the summer by supporting parents/carers to help their children’s learning or their self-regulation, as well as specific skills, such as reading.
- Parents really need practical tips and strategies, not simply physical resources, e.g. questions to ask and ideas for helping their child learn to self-regulate so s/he will be able to organise themselves without the need for anyone else to help.
Parental engagement is definitely of benefit to learners, starting really early and continuing into early adulthood. Now we’ll look at how to achieve this.
Questions to Ask Before a Child Joins the School
It may be that parents/carers do not know if their child has been identified as having high learning potential in a previous setting. What you can do is ask a series of probing questions to gather information about the child. Some examples are here for you to adapt for your context.
If possible, ask the child to bring a drawing or piece of writing chosen with the last teacher so you get a picture of what they are currently capable of achieving. Take a copy for reference for their new teachers.
Questions about learning
- Do they enjoy school/learning? Which lessons/subjects?
- What are their academic strengths? What about other strengths?
- Does your child need help in any areas of learning?
- What was the last book your child read? What are they reading now?
- What do they enjoy doing?
- Is there anything they dislike?
- Do you have any concerns about their learning? What do they need help with?
- Did you, or anyone in your immediate family, have the chance to go to university?
- Is there a laptop/tablet they can use? How many people share it?
Questions about interests
- Do they play/would like to play a musical instrument? Have they taken any grades?
- How well does your child make and keep friends?
- What languages do you speak at home? Which language did they learn first as a baby?
- What are your child’s hobbies, interests and clubs?
- What do they enjoy at home?
Questions about well-being
- How might we know if your child is not happy so that we can help?
- How well did they cope with Covid lockdowns? What support did they need?
- How well does your child make and keep friends?
- Is there anything we need to know about your child’s well-being?
- Are there any family situations we need to know about?
Providing Information for Parents/Carers
What might you offer parents/carers before they join the school?
A well-thought-out policy for children with high learning potential is a great marketing tool so make sure prospective parents/carers know what you do. Include information in the prospectus and consider putting together an A4 flyer of FAQs for Open Days and the new parents/carers interview days. This starts to build confidence and ensures that parents are getting a consistent message as well as saving time when a number of parents /carers want to ask the same questions.
You may want to consider a welcome letter, either to all parents/carers or just to the high potential learners. It may be useful to offer a time for parents to talk, online, to established, trusted parents of a child or children with high learning potential in an older year group. The High Learning Potential Lead could set this up and then leave the meeting. Parents/carers for children with dual or multiple exceptionalities will really find this useful as they explore which school is the best fit for their child.
Information for parents/carers
Try to keep parents/carers fully informed so that you build trust and confidence in the school’s or college’s ability to meet the needs of their child with high learning potential. Some ideas to get you started include:
- Send a letter telling parents/carers that their child has been identified as having high learning potential, and if this is based on data or nomination by teachers.
- Provide reading lists, both fiction and non-fiction for older age groups. As discussed above, encouraging reading will pay dividends later on.
- Suggest ideas for reading for parents/carers. For example, some of the work by Carol Dweck, Bounce by Matthew Syed, Building Learning Power by Guy Claxton.
- Create a list of typical characteristics of high potential learners as parents/carers are unlikely to be aware of them all.
- Inform parents/carers of the topics studied and ideas to extend learning in the topics.
- Make suggestions of how parents/carers can support their child at home and locally.
- Information about any workshops you run for parents/carers.
For members of Potential Plus UK, there are reading lists and an introductory leaflet covering characteristics, how to support at home and information about how schools challenge their high potential learners. The latter reduces the expectation that special events will be put on for their children and helps parents to understand that it is what happens in lessons, 5 hours a day every school day, that will make the difference, not a one-off event or workshop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here is a selection of common questions, gathered from primary, secondary and Sixth Form teachers. Creating a FAQ sheet for the website would be an efficient way to deal with these. There aren’t necessarily any right answers, but parents/carers just want to know what their child’s school does.
Maths comes up a lot so it may be worth considering telling parents about the school’s approach to maths teaching.
- How do you identify children for the high learning potential register?
- How many children are on the high learning potential register?
- How does the school stretch and challenge children?
- Will we be told the levels children are working at? How often?
- Do you run clubs, trips or classes for them?
- What is the policy for homework?
- How can we support our child at home?
- My child isn’t on the register so I’m worried s/he is missing out?
- Do you set or stream? Why? Why not?
- What might I expect in terms of characteristics or behaviours?
- How do you support children applying to university/Oxbridge?
Parents/carers want the best for their child, yet even the most confident parents/carers with a good experience of education behind them, can struggle to get their child to talk about school or college. Encouraging families to eat together is a great way of ensuring that there’s a time to talk about learning every day, in a relaxed setting with no pressure for a serious discussion – just sharing news of the day and providing opportunities to encourage and support.
Questions for parents/carers to ask their child
These questions need to be adapted for different ages.
- Tell me something new you learnt today?
- Tell me a good question you asked at school today?
- Give me an example of when you stretched yourself at school today?
- What was tricky today? What did you do to get unstuck?
- What did you struggle with today? How did you get over this hurdle?
- What useful/great mistakes did you make today? What did you learn?
- What did you notice someone else do well that you could learn from?
- What did you work on with someone else today? How did you achieve this together?
- Give me an example of when you managed to concentrate well? How did you manage this?
- How did you use skills you learned in another subject/club/out of school?
You may also want to provide a few suggested questions for parents/carers in primary schools to ask about reading books. For example:
- What do you think might happen next?
- What word would you use to describe?
- Why might she have done that?
- What might you do in that situation?
Beware of encouraging parents/carers to help with home learning, especially in secondary school or in the Sixth Form. This is especially important for high potential learners who need the help of a subject specialist to secure the top grades.
Communicating Effectively with Parents/Carers
Form of communication
The consistent message from the EEF’s (2021) testing of a number of interventions designed to improve outcomes by engaging parents/carers found that communicating by text message had a small positive impact for a low cost. This finding was replicated in similar studies in 10 countries around the world
Send positive messages as far as possible (these are easy to send by text). This is really helpful for disadvantaged or disengaged high potential learners. Then if you need to contact them about any problems that arise, it will be so much easier opening up an already existing channel of communication.
Having worked so hard to engage parents/carers, take care that all communications are in plain English. The Plain English Campaign is an excellent source of advice about avoiding jargon, complex sentence structures, etc. This is especially important for the parents/carers of disadvantaged children who need to feel included and part of their child’s education, not excluded by an inability to understand information sent to them.
Avoid jargon, acronyms, terms used by teachers but not in the general community
- Be friendly yet professional
- Be concise
- Use photos where you can
- Bullet points may help.
To return to John Hattie’s findings, the effect of ‘Parent Engagement’ over a student’s school career amounted to adding 2-3 years of education. Just imagine what we could achieve in schools if we had an extra 2-3 years!
Helping You Learn questionnaire for Key Stages 1 and 2
Getting to Know You questionnaire for Key Stages 3, 4 and 5
- Castro M, et al (2015). Parental Involvement on Student Academic Achievement: a Meta-analysis. Education Research Review, 14, 33-46
- EEF Report Parental Engagement (updated July 2021)
- Hattie, J (2012). Visible Learning. Routledge
- OECD (2012), Let’s Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing
- The Plain English Campaign http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
About the Author: Mary Phillips: Potential Plus UK Schools Advisor
Mary was the Head of English before moving to Yorkshire to set up her own consultancy, specialising in education. She works with senior leaders and classroom teachers as a coach and mentor. She facilitates a wide-range of professional learning and has lived experience of the challenges and joys of living with a child with high learning potential.
About the Author: Joy Morgan: Potential Plus UK Trustee
Joy was a senior leader in London schools until August 2021, responsible for professional learning and for high learning potential. She has helped many schools to develop their policy and to improve their practice for high potential learners. Joy is passionate about securing excellent outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Her extensive experience within schools is invaluable to the team. Joy continues as a Trustee of Potential Plus UK.