Parent/carer engagement

If schools want to develop a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing, engaging widely with all members of the school community is essential and should be a key part of a school’s mission and values.

This broad engagement should include parents and carers – building important links between home and school, empowering them to voice their ideas and opinions, and communicating effectively with them to promote their child’s learning and educational experience.

Parent/carer engagement is important because working together (with mothers, fathers and carers) has been shown to have a promising impact on the wellbeing, attendance, behaviour, sense of school belonging, intellectual development and attainment of children across a range of social and economic backgrounds.

What schools can do

School inspectorates will often look at parental engagement as part of their assessment of schools. It can involve a number of activities and actions such as:

  • Directly involving parents and carers in their child’s academic learning. This can focus on building skills with parents/carers (e.g. familiarising them with the curriculum, building parental literacy, maths or IT skills) so that they can support their child.
  • Helping strengthen parent/carers’ abilities to build resilience in their children and in themselves – reducing risks affecting wellbeing and learning. Some schools run programmes for parents/carers which aim to strengthen children’s mental health or de-escalate common problems. Bear in mind that although parents and carers value opportunities to learn about mental health, the word can be daunting as there is still a great deal of stigma attached to it.
    • For children with behavioural difficulties, for example, there is strong evidence that some parenting programmes help parents and carers develop additional techniques and approaches which, if used consistently, can help children manage their own behaviour more effectively. These programmes can also result in improvements in parental mental health.
    • Putting on information/training sessions about a particular theme can also be useful. For example, running a session on academic stress, especially at times when parents/carers will be worrying about it.
  • Noticing when parents/carers are in distress and considering how it may be impacting on their child’s learning. In a study of parents accessing Place2Be’s school-based parent counselling, parents said that discussions with school staff on children’s wellbeing and progress had been a major prompt to getting help for themselves.

The reception teachers saw I wasn’t coping and the bairns weren’t coping. They saw things I didn’t.

– Parent

  • Seeing every parent/carer contact (even if it’s a difficult exchange) as an opportunity to support protective factors, so they can work with you to help their child flourish and learn. Use existing networks and events to ask parents/carers how they are doing.
  • Being consistently available and in sight on the playground in the mornings and after school so that parents and carers begin to get to know staff. They’ll also become more familiar with staff roles and will develop a trusted point of contact if they need additional support or someone to talk to. Investing in parents and carers in this way can also reduce the risk of conflict.

Before school the head, myself (school leader) and the learning mentors will be outside most mornings... So, we are all available there on the morning, we’re all visible and we stay out there for half an hour making sure everything is okay and answering any questions. They won't see you if you're in your office; they won't approach you – but we’re out there saying ‘morning, morning’.

– Centre for Mental Health

  • Being welcoming to parents and carers who come into the school; communicating with them in a non-judgemental and positive way.

It's good for them to see everything, to see the staff here working so hard to support the children. I think that's good for them and when they’re going round the school and they’re looking at the books and the marking on the display and seeing what goes into making learning fun for their children; I think it really helps to create a positive relationship (with parents).

– Head teacher

  • Having an open door policy for school leaders and making sure it is communicated to parents and carers.
  • Creating a parent engagement strategy – with a clear plan for engaging harder to reach parents/carers. Activities could include:
    • Non-academic-related social or ‘taster’ events for parents/carers to build up confidence and trust and help them to become more familiar with the school.
    • Parent/carer ‘walkabouts’ in schools to familiarise them with what happens in school and what teachers are seeking to achieve with children.
    • Uniform swap shops or banks. These sorts of activities and resources will help parents/carers feel more involved and can be useful for showing that schools can be supportive.
    • Parenting support groups.
    • Parent/teacher associations.
  • Identifying staff development needs and gauging how confident staff members are in relation to speaking to parents and carers. Making sure that staff are kept up-to-date about internal and external services that support parents and carers and have a list of services to hand that parents can be signposted to for more specialist help. The section of our website on risks and protective factors may help school staff better understand some of the challenges that children and families face and how staff might best use routine contact to help parents and carers link to support.

What else schools can do

More information, advice and ideas about what schools can do to engage parents and carers.

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