We all have different notions about ‘parental engagement’ and what it actually means but I have found recently that the idea of what constitutes parental engagement is taking on a new meaning and one that we have fully supported for almost five years.
Involving parents in school life is a step towards parental engagement whereas in the past parent involvement was seen as being synonymous with parental engagement – almost interchangeable terms. However, when we examine this more closely we begin to see clear differences emerging.
Established research demonstrates that parents can have a positive impact on their child’s learning which if it raises achievement will have a positive impact on school/academy outcomes. So, the question is, “How does a school engage parents?” and this leads us to examining the meaning of parental engagement and parent involvement.
Parents can be involved in school life in many different ways from helping on school trips to being members of Parent Associations, from being involved in the running of the school to supporting sporting achievements. The list is almost endless but one thing is common in all these activities and that falls under the banner of ‘information and communication’.
Simply explained, parental engagement is about engaging parents in their child’s learning and the processes that have to be in place to enable that to happen. At first glance, the involvement of parents in their child’s learning may be taking place but is it parental engagement?
Let’s take an example.
Schools and academies alike will have a homework policy. It will be a policy describing what the school/academy will provide and the expectations they have of their students and possibly parents. It may have been created as a result of a process that included parents in consultation so the policy has an element of parent involvement but parental engagement? Perhaps not.
The policy is implemented and a process is in place that enables a parent to see the homework set by a teacher. The parental role in these circumstances is to ensure that the homework is completed and submitted on time. Again, parents are involved but not engaged in their child’s learning.
How can parental engagement help?
Let’s take a look at the policy formation stage. Parents are consulted but it would make a difference if parents were able to communicate their concerns over homework issues such as too many subjects during one evening, lack of feedback from teachers, the inability to understand the purpose of the homework and so on. The idea being that with those concerns raised early, issues can be addressed before they actually occur by including processes to meet those concerns in the policy.
Moving on to policy implementation. Do schools and academies investigate potential barriers to a successful homework policy such as the lack of direct communication channels between parents and teachers, do they provide subject support so a parent can support their child, are teachers clear to parents about the expected outcomes, are assessments clear and unambiguous to parents, do parents have access to up-to-date and accurate information about their child’s progress? These are just a small selection of questions that can be easily included and would move parent involvement to parental engagement.