The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

Happy together?

We asked teachers and parents if they agreed or disagreed that parental engagement, a key driver of improvement in the NIF, is achievable in practice for teachers and parents. From those who responded, 38% agreed, while 62% disagreed. Here are some of the responses


Five steps to success

It is achievable any number of ways, but here are five basic points to consider when launching a new initiative. The first, in my varied professional experience which includes mainstream arts agency management, daily newspapers and media consultancy, is the most important. If you have a head teacher who cannot or will not lead with vision and passion you are doomed to fail, or at the very least, not fully achieve your initial goals.

1. Upper-level, organisationwide support. For a parental involvement programme to be successful, you must have support starting at the top of the school, including the dedicated fiscal and human resources needed to meet the goal. It’s not just about classroom teachers. I have worked in schools where lofty goals have been spoken about passionately in what I call the “dream stage”. But until the goals are documented as part of a strategic plan and appropriate funds and resources are allocated, nothing appreciable will happen. I would submit a school-wide programme of this stature would require at least one full-time, dedicated, motivational staff member to act as point-person who is well known to parents, pupils and teachers alike. This person should have a range of skills, including those motivational, as well as a high degree of likeability, which will help to promote trust from apprehensive parents.

You must have support starting at the top, including the fiscal and human resources needed to meet the goal

2. Vision must be clear and concise: The end product, which is to more comprehensively involve parents in the learning and teaching of their children, must be “You must have support starting at the top, including the fiscal and human resources needed to meet the goal” clearly articulated at the beginning of the process. All key players need to understand their role in the bigger picture and work together to get to the same end goal. More easily said than done. This will take time to organise.

Encouraging Approach

As a parent I firmly believe in two-way communication and I'm encouraged to see the two schools (one primary, one secondary) that my children are at do so much to engage parents. For example, the primary school has an active parent council of which my wife is a member and former chair. But it's much more than that. The format of the parents evenings are more engaging than ever. Parents get to assemblies to see the work the years have done. Their newsletter is more engaging than ever too in a new format. The secondary too does more to engage than I ever remember from my own days at school, and I am encouraged by the approach they take to communicate with parents at events and parent nights. A little effort from both sides is all it takes to turn a one-way comms into a meaningful and engaging relationship.
Alan Ramsey, Parent in Griffnock

3. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst (organisation and accountability). Be realistic. Have a Plan B. A detailed project plan, including a timeline, must be shared and agreed upon with the entire team. This is critical if the expectation is for all to buy into the programme. Commit to regularly scheduled meetings to ensure momentum and accountability to the project, timeline and budget. When obstacles arise – as they most likely will – time and resources for such factors will have already been included in the project plan.

 4. Time and patience go hand in hand: Some projects require seed time to allow the idea to germinate across the school. Once more people are aware of and supportive of the project, it can be positioned broadly as a strategic goal. This is very important in the teaching culture, which has proven itself to have a sizeable cohort of those resistant to change, any change, as well as parents who take the “it’s-not-myjob” view of teaching.

5. People can make or break a successful launch. A key characteristic of a leader (I say “leader” in the event that the head teacher is not the best choice of personnel to spearhead the programme) is the ability to identify, develop and effectively utilise the talent from the people on their team. Best-case scenario allows the leader to select their roster, but many times the team that is involved in a new project is inherited. Time needs to be allotted for the leader to work within the group, identify skills and aptitudes inherent in their people, plan time to develop competencies for others, and put the right people to work in the right roles. Again, easier said than done. Overall, parental involvement in theory seems to me to be a positive idea. That it is now a requirement of the National Improvement Framework removes any debate on whether it should be implemented or not. So, let us all get busy!
Megan Seacord, Oban High School

Positive impact

 With support and resources schools can be creative to engage parents. There is research that provides evidence to demonstrate that parental engagement has a significantly positive

impact on raising attainment and achievement. However, teachers and school leaders are feeling overwhelmed due to teacher shortages, inclusion of an increasing population of children who have had adverse early childhood experiences.
Sandra Logan, Stirling Schools, Learning and Education

Parental potential

Many parents want to be more involved and have a lot to offer. For this to work in practice, schools need to be more open about the learning and approaches that take place within them. Practitioners need to be more confident in their abilities so they do not feel judged or undermined as this would only result in increased workload with teachers putting on show stopping lessons. More parental involvement at every level in the school has the potential to ease workload issues while raising standards and attainment.
Sam Innes, Markinch Primary School


Too many obstacles

Certainly not for high school. Catchments cover many areas so no one clear community to work with. Teachers are not allowed to have direct contact with parents. There are too many pupils seen each week for meaningful contact anyway.

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If parents not already engaged and interested in their children’s education then it’s too late to start in high school. Parenting classes are essential from birth if this is to be successful. Cannot be led by schools alone. Schools can provide opportunities for parental engagement but parents have to want to engage. It is likely that only pushy parents will get involved and less articulate, less confident parents will struggle to be heard. Teachers also concerned about parents undermining them. Teachers are trained professionals, parents are not. The engagement of parents should not serve to devalue teachers any further than they already are – ideally it should do the opposite. However, I don’t think teachers feel confident that parental engagement would be a positive thing for the profession in practice (though I think most would support it in theory).
Caroline Mitchell, Beath High School

Nothing seems to work

In my establishment we have spent a huge amount of time trying to boost parental engagement and nothing seems to work. There is a small core of parents who engage but others just won’t! In an ideal world yes it would help but how do you achieve it?
Tracey Millar, Newmains Primary

With more parents working extended hours we have less opportunity to involve parents in the classroom or to engage with them at the start or end of a school day. Many parents are so busy trying to make ends meet they have no time to attend parent/teacher meetings.
Julie Irving, Gatehouse

It will only be achievable if teachers are given the requisite time allowance to do this and it is not seen as “another” addition to the current workload and retention crisis being suffered by teachers at this time.
Nick Forwood, Fortrose Academy

Personal agendas

Parental engagement in the current climate is restricted to those who can shout loud enough and who have a vested interest in the issues they raise.

Often the voice of the ordinary parent is drowned out by overbearing parents who have no interest in the life and work of the school and the community, but have a personal agenda, which they feel they need to have addressed through the parent communications. Parental engagement should be a contract between the parent, the pupil and the school/teacher in which the anticipated expected achievable outcomes for all are clearly defined and explicit. The terms should include respect, honesty, support and full engagement including homework, reading and a designated number of meetings over the duration of their child’s time in school. Similar to the agreement you enter into with your dentist or doctor etc. for regular face to face check ups. The current culture of that’s the schools role etc. is not acceptable, school cannot and should not be bearing responsibility for bringing up the next generation of society – this is a job for all in the current society to implement and achieve.
Robert Hair, AHDS

Need to refocus

I would really like to think that this is possible but some parents seem to have created, in recent years at least, a perspective that schools are accountable to them. Parent Councils across the country see examples of needing to refocus on supporting their school but inherently will bring one or two problems about their specific child to the table without approaching the school through its normal communication streams in the first instance. Schools need parental support and engagement more than ever before, and Parent Councils are traditionally associated with those from wealthier backgrounds. Parental engagement needs to be all encompassing whereby schools are the focal point of learning. We’ll continuously strive in the school that I lead for parental engagement. However, families and parents are busy too. Furthermore, social media and the press could be more supportive of schools and their efforts.
Fiona Robertson, Perth Grammar School

Social issue

The issue we have is parents who we want to see at parents evening, due to misbehaviour or attendance etc., are the ones who never come. Some parents have a bad memory of school and pass this on to their children also some parents don’t know what they should be doing but are not interested in finding out. I think it’s a social issue that can not only be improved by teachers, unfortunately we are not miracle workers.
Natalie Stitt, Dumfries and Galloway Council

 Debate submissions have not been edited.

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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