Engaging with Families

Supporting Schools to raise attainment and close the inequity gap

Printed from : www.engagingwithfamilies.co.uk

Communications and Actions

Improving the level and quality of parental engagement is often a priority on the agenda of schools. Despite the benefits and rewards of moving beyond the more formal school-parent relationship that revolves around bi-annual parent-teacher meetings and recruiting parents to help staff at a school event, active parental engagement can be challenging, particularly with the most disengaged parents where the biggest gains may be achieved.

Interactions between the school and family are maximised when each views the other as educational partners striving towards the common goal of improving children’s learning and outcomes.

Parental engagement needs to be proactive rather than reactive (Olmstead 2013).  Developing multiple ways in which parents can be engaged in their children’s education avoids parents shying away from engagement because they cannot see appropriate and constant entry points for that engagement (McKenna and Millen 2013).  Creating both a physical and relational ‘shared knowledge’ space is an essential component of successfully working with parents to assist in children’s educational development (Mousoulides 2013; Campbell 2011). 

In order to take advantage of opportunities for home-school-community relationships, the parents’ ideas and opinions about their children must be heard and educators must be receptive to this parental voice and presence (McKenna and Millen 2013).  Successful communication with parents must be multidirectional, and their engagement in their children’s education must be understood as fluid and specific to culture and context (McKenna and Millen 2013).  Conversely, open, multidirectional communication also allows parents to examine and better understand any preconceived notions they might have regarding teachers and school (McKenna and Millen 2013).

Positive teachers’ beliefs and attitudes are needed to maintain the best possible parental engagement, and to build mutual understandings and collaboration (Mousoulides 2013; Emerson et al 2012).  Educators need to be careful that they do not slip into a ‘deficit’ thinking style in which parents are thought of in strict terms specific to the educational system (McKenna and Millen 2013).  By encouraging an educational partnership as opposed to a formal or social partnership, the learning process of children is best facilitated (Oostdam and Hooge 2013).

Using technology to increase parental engagement is crucial for the future of children’s learning (Olmstead 2013; ).  School’s need to maximise emerging technological tools to promote better communication between teachers and parents, and this can include voice-calling systems, school websites, class-parent portals, emails, and e-newsletters  (Olmstead 2013).  If schools can use technology to allow parents to view their children’s assignments grades as well as upcoming events or tests, some of the time pressures around when parents and teachers can communicate may be relieved (Olmstead 2013).


Developing shared learning goals for children so that parents and teachers reinforce each other’s efforts (Emerson et al 2012).  This is best achieved by plain and direct communication that uses no jargon –or explains it clearly – that is conducted via the parents’ preferred medium (Emerson et al 2012).  Many parents express a preference for more feedback from school about children’s performance and their role in improving their child’s learning (Grant 2009).  

Schools and parents taking account of each other’s needs.  Although parents and schools may have differing expectations and opinions as to what is optimum for their educational partnership, each partner brings competencies and expertise to the relationship (Oostdam and Hooge 2013).  An important way to address any perceived or actual power differentials between schools and parents is to include parents’ knowledge and input feed into the decision-making process (Yoder and Lopez 2013).    

Allowing pupils to become an active agent in the school-family relationship. By participating in progress discussions and developing their own portfolio of progress and results, in conjunction with teachers, pupils can also be involved in explaining progress to their parents (Oostdam and Hooge 2013).  In this way, parents and pupils become more familiar and conversant in the language of education while the teachers become more knowledgeable about the families’ needs and contexts (Emerson et al 2012).

Using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) learning platforms for communication and engagement between schools and families (Selwyn et al 2011).  By using digital technology to make the school learning more visible, parents’ understanding of the curriculum, expectations, and pupils’ progress can be built upon (Selwyn et al 2011).  Digital tools such as online gradebooks give parents and students 24 hour access and help to avoid any surprises when progress reports are distributed (Zeiger and Tan 2012).  However, it will be beneficial to provide parents with information and instructions about how to use the technology via printed materials and/or workshops (Zeiger and Tan 2012).

Participation and persistence in a parental engagement project (Dyson et al 2008).  Over time, parents and teachers alike can build confidence and change their attitudes, with parents becoming more comfortable interacting with the school and teachers becoming more comfortable working in engaging ways (e.g. home visits and workshops) (Dyson et al 2008).

Collaboration between families, schools, and communities can more easily identify pupils’ needs and pre-empt problems (Timm 2014; Grayson 2013).  Schools can play a key role as the coordinators and deliverers of services to improve educational outcomes and information-sharing between schools can help develop engagement practices (Grayson 2013).  One critical factor in this partnership working is to get the local authority involved for support with provision, staff, development, and targeting of families and pupils (Swain et al 2009).


The ‘Connecting Parents with Learning Project’ strengthens parent-student-school relations by facilitating a flexible programme where children teach their parents. (Townsend 2010). In one primary school it was applied to music and culture. Feedback from the end-of-project surveys showed that nearly all parents agreed that their relationship with the school and teachers was strengthened through the project, and that their understanding of both children’s learning and teachers’ methods was improved.  The teachers unanimously agreed that they felt they could communicate with parents more openly after the project, and teachers and parents alike agreed that the approach should be continued with other subjects (Townsend 2010).

Giving parents access to information encourages many of them to initiate contact with their child’s school (Zeiger and Tan 2012).  A case study survey of parents of first year high school students found that 58% had initiated contact with a teacher because of a grade posted on the school’s online gradebook system (Zeiger and Tan 2012).

A UK pilot project, the Home Access Programme (HAP), found that new conversations can emerge around shareable digital communication when a computer and internet connectivity is provided to families.  Participating teachers and ICT coordinators all agreed that HAP had improved parental engagement with students’ learning and the school (Jewitt and Parashart 2011).  Some 85% of 183 surveyed parents agreed that HAP had made them feel more involved with their child’s learning (Jewitt and Parashart 2011).

Case Study

In August 2012, eight schools in Scotland participated in the iPad Scotland pilot project in which the schools adopted mobile technology in one of three ways: with the digital tablets being retained in the school and issued to students for particular lessons; with the tablets allocated to each student for use across the lessons but to be kept at the school; and with the tablets being given to students to ‘own’ individually for use at school and at home.

The tablet devices were found to facilitate the achievement of many of the core elements required within the Curriculum for Excellence framework, and the significant transformation in access to and use of technology by pupils affected various educational factors such as motivation, self-efficacy, and increased school engagement.  A major finding was that parents also appeared to become more engaged with the school and their child’s learning when the iPad was taken home.

The majority of parents reported that their children gained significant positive dispositions towards learning as a result of access to the iPad – over 80% considered the pilot project to have been valuable for their child and say it significantly changed their child’s enjoyment of and attitude towards school.  75% of parents felt that their children were now more willing to complete homework, and over 90% of students believed that the iPad helped them to learn more and learn more difficult concepts better.

Perhaps more importantly, many parents reported noticing that their children were more willing to talk to them about the school work when they brought the iPad home.  The ‘full ownership’ model of the project, where pupils could take the tablet home, became the recommended model based on the conclusions of strengthening parental engagement (Burden et al 2012).


Has our school developed a parental engagement strategy that considers the needs of different parents and made it a priority of our school agenda?

Do we provide ways for parents to be included in the decision-making process regarding their children’s learning and progress?

In our school, is it clear to parents how they can approach the school?  Can they telephone/e-mail/interact physically and digitally?

Do we do our best to accommodate parents’ schedules and communication preferences in order to ensure they feel welcomed and valued?

Can we develop/improve our school’s use of Information and Communication Technologies in order to maximise parents’ engagement?




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DYSON, A., BERESFORD, E. AND E. SPLAWNYK. 2008. The Manchester Transition Project: Implications for the Development of Parental Involvement in Primary Schools.  Department for Education and Skills.

EMERSON, L., FEAR, J., FOX, S., & E. SANDERS.  2012.  Parental Engagement in Learning and Schooling: Lessons from Research.  Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth for the Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau.

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