Engaging parents in secondary school
Ellowes Hall is a great example of a secondary school that wants parents to remain part of their children’s education. ‘It’s partly to do with expectations,’ says assistant headteacher Andy Johnson.
‘At primary school it is expected that parents get involved. They’re on the playground in the morning and they come into school.
‘When pupils transfer to secondary school the links start to be broken. We don’t want that to happen here,’ explains Andy.
Bringing the parents in
Most families are introduced to Ellowes many years before their children are due to transfer there. Getting parents into school is a priority and they start well before the children begin in Year 7.
From Year 4 onwards parents are coming in to school for the different local events that Ellowes hosts. One example is the mini Olympics in which local primary schools compete with the help of Ellowes’ sports leaders.
‘We also host the dance extravaganza,’ says Andy. ‘Again this brings the community into the school and breaks down any barriers there might have been at an early stage.’
When they do get them into the school, Andy is very keen to make sure that every point of contact with parents counts. ‘If they come in for a parents’ evening, for example, we want to make sure that they think it was worth it. If it isn’t, we might not see them again.’
Every opportunity is nurtured, such as the annual parents’ meeting with the pupil’s class tutor. The pupils are grouped vertically so this means that, provided the tutor doesn’t move on, they could have the same point of contact throughout their school career.
‘This consistency is important,’ says Andy. ‘They know who to go to and we take time with them. The appointment lasts for half an hour and that’s enough time to ensure that a plan can be put in place if there is something that needs addressing.’
Subject leaders feed into these meetings, but parents can also see them themselves if they wish.
Ellowes has just been awarded the Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA) for a fourth time in a row. The LPPA is a national award aimed at strengthening a school’s work with parents. It requires schools to go through a process of self-evaluation and portfolio building and provides schools with a clear framework for action.
Andy has had a key role in helping secure their success in engaging with parents and is delighted that Ellowes has once more been recognised for its outstanding work.
‘The overall intention of the LPPA,’ explains Andy, ‘is to develop parental engagement with the aim of improving student achievement. Through improvements to punctuality, attendance and behaviour students’ progress improves too.’
A framework for action
Our determination to engage with parents goes across the school into every department
An important benefit of achieving the award is that it isn’t only recognition of the school’s work in engaging parents but it also provides a clear structure for taking the next steps. Andy recognises the clear progress there has been over the past four years.
‘During the first year it was a case of meeting the criteria,’ he explains.
‘In the second we knew we already met the criteria so we developed our provision around the new sports hall that had been built and the all-weather pitches.
‘For the third year we focused on the extent to which our premises were being used by the community and renting them out. During the fourth we focused on the virtual learning environment.’
Their next focus, among others, is on gifted and talented provision. ‘We must ensure that staff know who the students are and parents have access to the information they need too,’ explains Andy.
Virtual learning environment
Ellowes has recognised the opportunities there are in the virtual learning environment. The school uses the internet and technology to improve the speed and relevance of communications.
‘It’s intended for teachers, students and parents and emphasises keeping everyone informed. It was designed by an ex-student too, so someone who really knows what our school is about,’ says Andy.
He feels that this approach has made a difference to the level of communication that parents have. ‘They know immediately if there has been a problem with attendance or behaviour.
‘If a pupil has a detention parents are informed by text message and they know within 15 minutes. We also send a letter but the text message has more impact because it is quicker,’ explains Andy.
It’s not just for negative communications, of course. Parents get to see their child’s termly assessments as they are published and are notified about good behaviour as well as bad.
‘It means they have a historical record they can access. All the reports can be viewed online and you can be sure that they get home this way.’
The weekly newsletter is emailed, and parents can access previous newsletters and teachers’ email addresses.
‘This means that if they do have a specific problem they can contact the teacher directly,’ says Andy, ‘without having to go through reception and find a convenient time to call.’
Hard to reach
Andy is aware that there is a small group of parents who are still proving hard to reach. ‘Fortunately this is a very small group now so we can use face-to-face contact where necessary and our parent liaison officer and team of student support can work on developing an effective form of contact.’
It is very important that Ellowes Hall works closely with its primary schools to pick up on the families where additional or alternative methods of communication may be necessary.
‘Our induction of students is vital for this. Use of our facilities also encourages the more reluctant to step onto school ground,’ says Andy.
Ellowes Hall has a booking facility that means that local teams can play on their pitches. ‘We were the first state school to have an army cadet regiment which has proved to be very successful in helping us to engage with families who might be reluctant initially,’ says Andy.
‘Most important’ says Andy, ‘It has to be a team effort. Our determination to engage with parents goes across the school into every department. It spreads out in a common partnership that we are very proud of.’