Engaging with parents to support children’s learning

Written by: Nicola Michael | Published:
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Engaging with parents can have a notable impact on progress and attainment, especially for disadvantaged students. Nicola Michael describes her recent work to help parents support children’s learning

I became director of progress and attainment at an academy in Bradford in 2015 and at the same time I began the Teaching Leaders leadership development programme. Our academy had recently undergone a restructure and the focus of my role changed from head of house, with a vertical tutoring system, to leading on strategy for our year 11 pupils.

While the school had made improvements in some areas in recent years, overall outcomes were not improving at the same rate. The school had just under 50 per cent disadvantaged pupils, and I wanted to raise the aspirations of our young people.

I decided to take advantage of the school improvement impact initiative I was required to do as part of Teaching Leaders to focus on the new Progress 8 measure.

The uncertainty about the changes to performance measures, qualifications and grading at key stage 4 meant it was difficult to predict how we would do at the end of the year, but I decided we should focus on the pupils and that if we improved the progress they were making every week, the rest would follow.

I analysed the pupil data to identify the underachieving sub-groups in our year 11 cohort, including high-attainers, boys and White British pupils. My goal was to improve the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 scores of these pupils. Once I had identified my target groups, I thought about how we were going to drive this improvement forward.

Parental engagement

The impact home learning can have on outcomes is well-recognised. In our school I had seen evidence of this when we compared the grades of pupils who regularly used our online GCSE revision resource with those who rarely used it or didn’t use it at all.

I knew that improving parental engagement was key to ensuring pupils made the most of home learning time. While parents often wanted to help, they didn’t always know how. I wanted to empower them with the knowledge and resources they needed to support their children’s learning.

One-to-one meetings

I set up one-to-one meetings with the parents of pupils I’d identified as needing extra support. I spoke to the parents about their child’s grades and how these were likely to affect their future opportunities for post-16 study and employment if they progressed at the same rate. I coupled this with concrete actions that could be done at home to support their development. These were sometimes difficult conversations, but I wanted to make sure parents understood what their children were capable of and how they could help them to achieve this.

Parental engagement workshops

Alongside the one-to-one meetings, I set up a series of parental engagement workshops which were run by staff to further support pupils’ home learning. These workshops focused on how to use revision resources at home and, importantly, what good revision looked like.
Personal learning checklists linked to pupils’ mock results highlighted areas they were doing well in and areas for improvement. They provided guidance and empowered parents to know what their children should be working on. These workshops were particularly successful and have since been rolled out to other year groups.

Communication

To ensure that parents could “bang the same drum” from home as we do in school, I made sure we were regularly communicating with them by email, text, phone calls and letters to share mock result dates, home learning tasks and important messages about their child’s progress. We made sure they knew what was happening on particular days, so for example if they had a science mock the following week, parents knew what they should be focusing on at home.

Academic interventions

Alongside home interventions, we held a Saturday School for disadvantaged pupils that was attended weekly by more than 50 per cent of our disadvantaged cohort. We also held four blocks of rigorous mock exams to make sure pupils knew what to expect and were clear about what their results would mean at the end of year 11.

I made sure our academic interventions were targeted by examining four outcomes of English and maths crossover – at grade 4, grade 5, five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths, and five GCSEs including English and maths – to determine which pupils were on the borderline of achieving the grade above.

I held conversations with heads of year and members of the senior leadership team about the pupils in these groups, and the data was then communicated to individual teams. Where the pupils were clearly capable in other subjects, we ensured they received the extra support needed to push up their grade in the subject they were falling behind in.

A common goal

With so many stakeholders invested in year 11 outcomes, I avoided a situation of having “too many cooks” by regularly communicating the bigger picture with colleagues in an effort to keep us all on the same path. Uniting everyone around a common goal – what is best for the student – got everyone pulling in the same direction. By inviting stakeholders to all meetings and ensuring clear decisions and actions were made, I was able to hold people to account for the implementation of these actions beyond the meeting room.

To keep us on track, I created a month-by-month plan with everything that needed to happen each month to make the initiative a success at the end of the year. I also shared a week-by-week timeline with all staff involved, so that everyone could see what was happening in school and what needed to happen to achieve the results we wanted.

One of the most important things I learnt along the way was to acknowledge the factors I could control and those that I had a little or no influence over, so I could focus on having an impact in the areas that mattered most and use my time effectively.

Results day

When the results came in, we were very proud of the outcomes. To use a direct comparison to old money measures we had a 10 per cent increase on English and maths crossover. We also had a 0.4 increase in Progress 8, which meant we now had a positive score – a significant cause for celebration.

A particularly memorable success story was a boy who was one of our most able pupils. Although he wasn’t predicted to do badly, he had a Progress 8 score of less than 0. We invited his parents to three parental engagement workshops and we used mentoring to raise his aspirations and push him to aim for those higher grades. At the end of the year, his Progress 8 score was 1.80 and his Attainment 8 score, which had been estimated as 54, came in at 73. He achieved five 6-plus GCSEs including English and maths, and has now gone down the academic post-16 route.

The feedback we received from parents was that the workshops empowered them to support their child’s learning. An examination of our parental engagement log showed that parents invited in for workshops were more likely to make phone calls and visits to see how their children were getting on in school. This created a supportive relationship between home and school, and allowed us to work together to strive for the best outcomes for our pupils.

By keeping a log of how often parents are contacted, how often they are invited in and attend, and how often they don’t attend, we gained a bigger picture of which families were engaging in the support, and where alternative strategies may be needed.

Working on something like student outcomes is not something you do for short periods of time. It is relentless, and persistence is key. But when approached with consistency and hard work, it is possible to have a real impact.

  • Nicola Michael is a graduate of Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders programme.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk


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