In the past week or so, I have taken part in a #Belmaschat and visited a school to discuss parent partnership in action. Both events gave food for thought. Where, over the past nine years, I have audited schools for both the Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA) and Inclusion Quality Mark (IQM), on every occasion I have had time in discussion with parents, leading to one of my nutshell series, on what parents want. In some ways the list is not too onerous, yet each statement embeds a number of elements which need some kind of coordinated action.
In the days of the internet, the school website is likely to be the first port of call for internet-savvy parents, especially if there is competition for local places, when decisions can be very fine-tuned within specific parameters. So the website has to be easy to access, to read and to navigate. What is on there should be parent friendly. Policies, running to twenty pages, in very dense script and educational jargon, may not be as parent friendly as the school anticipates. Is it clear from the website that the school values the children within? Does it show opportunity, children taking part in a range of activities and does it celebrate their achievements and efforts?
Parents may telephone or email for information. Is the contact system simple to use, the reception is a friendly voice and helpful guidance, making the parent look forward to a visit?
When they arrive at the gate, is it very clear that it is the right place and, especially where there is intercom access, how entry is easily accomplished? Once inside, does signage enable easy finding of the reception area? What does a parent/visitor see when crossing playground areas? Are they developed to support activity? Are there murals on walls? Is there litter? Are there updated noticeboards with parent information? Is it easy with a pushchair or in a wheelchair?
A speedy resolution of issues can be an element of positive parent support. This is usually accompanied by an acknowledgement of the ease of communication with the school, a significant positive. Where conversation is in a member of staff’s office, what messages are clear from their space, their manner and the outcomes of the meeting?
If a parent or visitor is to be shown around the school, who does this? It can vary from children to different staff layers. The choice should be appropriate to the task, so that questions can be answered and an appropriate dialogue entered into.
Corridors and classrooms are the real hub of the school. The messages imparted through displays should enhance the experience for everyone in the school, eg, ethos, quality, celebration and encouragement. Corridors and classrooms should be tidy, clear, litter and clothes (coats) free. Where resources are housed in corridor or classroom, they should show that they are well stored, easy access and appropriately used. Relationships are evident as adults pass children in corridors. Using names demonstrates that children are known, especially important from the SLT.
Where visitors are able to visit classrooms, it should not disturb the learning. Where children are required to stand when someone enters the room, this disruption can be counter-productive, as there will be a need to resettle the class afterwards.
Behaviour management can be on display, during a visit, as some schools allow children to be placed outside a classroom, or raised voices might be heard. These need to be explained to the visitor, through an easily articulated rationale on behaviour management and sanctions.
A number of parents will be interested in opportunities within the school to become active partners, through school associations or PTAs, as Parent governors or through other opportunities such as parent forum or council. I’d advocate for Parent Voice, as other names can imply a top down approach from the school. Schools send out questionnaires, often multiple question, in school speak, in order to demonstrate to someone (usually Ofsted) that they “regularly seek parent views”. There is often disappointment that few parents respond, so any data is skewed from the beginning. Where there are 39 weeks in a school year, questionnaires can be split into smaller, accessible blocks, sometime just one question, to be shared through the various media available. If the school actually askes the questions to which it would like answers and has a track record of reflection and response, parents get the idea that it is worth participating. Any other response embeds a modicum of negativity.
In many ways, none of the above is “rocket science”. It is simply different forms of communication used effectively to ensure that information is passed with appropriate speed and accuracy to the people who need to know. Many school issues stem from poor communication systems.
How about the visitor equivalent of a “secret shopper”?