Managing high parental expectations

Over-engaged parents can be challenging for schools to work with. Fiona Carnie offers ways for schools and parents to build and maintain successful relationships

Author details

Fiona Carnie is an educationalist and writer with an interest in voice and participation. On behalf of the charity Human Scale Education, Fiona led a DCSF-funded project from 2003-6 on Setting up Parent Councils. This involved working with a...

Every child is an individual with different talents and needs. Providing the experiences, creating the opportunities and addressing the challenges which will help each one to make sense of their world is a considerable undertaking. It is crucial therefore that parents and teachers work together in this endeavour.

Knowing the child

Most parents know their children better than anyone else and that knowledge is key to ensuring their child's needs and aspirations are taken account of.

Teachers must also get to know their students. Teachers and parents working in partnership are most likely to be able to provide the mutual care and support to help children thrive.

According to researcher, John Hattie, parental engagement in their child's education makes a difference of two to three years in the child’s progress. The onus is on schools to ensure that they do everything they can to build a positive home school partnership so that all parents understand how they can best support their child.

Over-engaged par​ents

While many schools struggle to involve their parents, others have the opposite challenge. Parents with high expectations are sometimes seen as too involved or ’over-engaged’.

At fee-paying schools, expectations on staff can be even greater. Parents who have invested financially sometimes put pressure on a school to guarantee high results for their child.

To schools, this over-protectiveness can seem counter-productive, getting in the way of children becoming independent and self confident. Teachers can be unsure as to how best to cope with this situation.

But it must be recognised that such parents are simply concerned. They see that young people are growing up in a highly competitive environment and want to do everything they can to provide their own child with the best start in life.

The relationship with parents of boarders provides yet another challenge. In their absence they may want constant re-assurance that all is going well. At the other end of the spectrum they may be hard to contact when the school needs to be in touch.

It is a fine balance and if relationships with parents are not well-managed, this critical partnership can easily be damaged. How then can schools work with their parents to get the best outcomes for their students?

Channeling parent expe​ctations

If parents understand what the school is trying to achieve for their students, what their child is learning and how they as parents might best support them, this dispels the need for constant contact. Too often schools fail to provide adequate information which means that parents can feel in the dark.

Providing an outline of the curriculum, letting parents know about homework assignments and offering information and ideas about how they could usefully help their child are all beneficial.

Schools also have a critical role to play in ensuring that students are not put under too much pressure, either at school or at home. This is particularly true in dealing with highly ambitious parents.

Children in the UK are some of the most tested in the world. And there are concerns that the stress that this causes may contribute to the increasing prevalence of mental health issues in young people.

Schools must clearly prioritise children’s well-being by focussing on their all-round development. Communicating this to parents and providing regular opportunities for discussion helps to channel expectations.

High quality and timely comm​unication

It is important to have clear, regular lines of communication.

Schools can use social media, apps, email, texts and the school website to keep parents up-to-date. Phone calls home and face to face contact are invaluable too.

If parents are properly informed this reduces the need for them to be in constant contact. Providing regular feedback on progress is much more effective than taking action when things go wrong.

Parents can't help being concerned about their children and need to know that if they are worried about something they can get in contact and will receive a timely response.

Having a clear communications policy, drawn up with parental input, can help to ensure that schools are communicating with parents in ways that meet the needs of both parents and the school.

Schools have a critical role to play in ensuring that students are not put under too much pressure

Skilling up sta​ff

The majority of teachers do not receive any training to work with parents. Many lack confidence in this, particularly young or inexperienced staff.

Parental engagement can be included in formal CPD or Inset days to build a whole school approach. Parentkind, in association with Parent Councils UK, runs a range of workshops and provides resources to support this work.

Alongside more formal training, staff can be supported with coaching and mentoring, or by shadowing more experienced staff.

Sitting in on meetings or phone calls conducted by senior staff can be invaluable. Small group staff discussions can also be helpful in identifying and troubleshooting specific issues that arise.

All those who come into contact with parents – reception/office staff, learning mentors, classroom assistants and family liaison workers - need to be equipped to work with parents, not just teachers. Using role play to practice difficult conversations can help to build confidence.

Parent partnership: a forc​e for good

Transition is a critical time to start the dialogue with parents. Clarity about expectations from the outset can lay the foundations for a good working relationship.

There must also be ongoing opportunities for parents to contribute to discussions about those aspects of school policy which affect them. When they are involved in this way it creates a powerful sense of partnership.

A parent voice group such as a parent council or forum can provide a valuable framework for such dialogue. By listening, the school is better placed to meet the needs of its community.

Asking parents how they can support the school sends a clear signal that they are valued.

Parents can be invited to share their skills and knowledge on different aspects of the curriculum. They might be able to help in the classroom or assist with after school clubs.

Some may be able to offer work experience opportunities for students. Others might work in community or arts organisations which can arrange visits or supply resources.

Working togeth​er

Teachers and parents are allies – all wanting the best for children. By developing a shared mission and working together, parents will better understand the many challenges of running a school and teachers will be better placed to help their students.

Those schools which have an open and caring ethos and where all parents feel welcome will be most successful in building a genuine partnership to support children.

Last Updated: 
23 Apr 2018