Reaching out to parents and families: tips from practice

What can you do to bring more parents and carers into your school? Liz Worthen shares tips on building positive parent relationships and questions to consider

Author details

Liz Worthen is the head of content at Optimus Education. Starting her career as a secondary school English teacher, Liz has since worked in education resource and CPD programme management. She has a particular interest in workforce development...

Building positive relationships with parents and carers is a priority for many of our members and conference attendees. Connecting with parents perceived as hard to reach, or in difficult circumstances, is a particular concern.

Here I've collated ideas shared by speakers at our Managing Behaviour in Schools and Closing the Attainment Gap for Disadvantaged Learners conferences. 

Provide a welcoming environment

'Do your young people and families feel welcomed and wanted?' asks Steve Baker, in talking about improving attendance and punctuality. 'What are you going to do to change their decisions?' 

  • Stores such as Asda are known for their 'greeters'. Take a leaf out of their book and do meet and greet for parents and carers in the foyer. 
  • Carefully consider the balance of positive and negative messages going home. 
  • Use parent focus groups to give feedback on communications.
  • Simplify letters home so that language is accessible. 
  • Use breakfast clubs to engage with pupil premium families. 

When Sam Coy became headteacher at Benjamin Adlard Primary School in Lincolnshire, the school was in special measures and ranked the 27th lowest performer in the country. Within 12 months Ofsted had upped the rating to good.

Sam's mantras are 'it's not magic – it's about caring' and 'relationships are everything'. This manifests in a range of support and activities, including:

  • young carers club
  • adult learning projects
  • food bank
  • magic breakfast
  • uniform banks
  • behaviour support for parents
  • parenting classes. 

Sam's top tip for increasing attendance at parents' evenings: offer food!

Minimise anxiety

What's the experience like for parents when they come to a meeting in school? Raised anxiety levels make adverse responses more likely. What can you do to minimise anxiety and remove barriers? Questions and suggestions from Daniel Sobel

  • Ensure parents always know what the meeting is about and what to expect.
  • Don’t keep them waiting (and hence getting more anxious).
  • What’s the room like where you hold meetings with parents? What can you do to make it a relaxing and welcoming environment? Consider pot plants!
  • Do meetings have to take place in school? Use a local café as an alternative, or visit parents/carers at home (but don’t just go once – it feels like you’re checking up on them. Go at least twice and show commitment).
  • Keep meetings short i.e. less than 20 minutes.
  • Don’t have 15 people in the room – it’s intimidating. Who really needs to be there?

A challenge for change

Make school a source of positivity. Choose your 10 most hard to engage parents. Make a commitment to call home once a week with good news. See what that does to change relationship dynamics and improve communication channels.

Do real involvement

  • Do you have a parent involvement policy, asks Nicola S Morgan? Are there real opportunities for parents to have a voice in school life (not just fundraising via the PTA)?
  • Who writes your prospectus? Get parents writing it – they’ll include the things that other parents really want to know.
  • Do you have parents on your behaviour committee? Do they have a role in shaping the behaviour policy? (See auditing your behaviour policy for ideas.)
  • Use your 'on board' parents to reach out to other parents who may be hesitant to get involved. Parents are more likely to listen to other parents than to you!

Further reading

Last Updated: 
17 Apr 2019