Category: parent engagement

Helping schools improve parent engagement and involvement

Parent engagement gap over 50 years

Since the Plowden Report in 1967 urged that “all schools should have a programme for contact with children’s homes”, parental involvement in child education has been a central issue in the UK. A wealth of research papers and books have been published on the matter, offering extensive advice on frameworks, structures and best practice on parental engagement.

A new review of 40 UK Government-commissioned reports, reviews and command papers over 50 years, archived by the Education in England project, reveals over 6,000 mentions of the word “parent”. The Plowden Report contains over 600 alone but the intensity has increased markedly over the 50 years since that publication as the role of parents and their relationship to school has become embedded as a key contributor to the achievement of good learning outcomes.

Graph showing intensity of parent focus in government policymaking

A brief history of parent involvement

See our interactive timeline of government reports, reviews and command papers from 1967 to 2016, with links to the original text of 25 papers spanning nine governments.

Has it worked?

The research is extensive and the evidence remains strong that schools recognise the value of parental engagement. Over recent decades, thanks in part to successive policy interventions, parents have become skilled guardians of their children’s schooling. As Topping and Wolfendale predicted in 1985, “parents will, as a corporate force, build up collective expertise on relevant matters of school policy, curriculum and organisation, and will acquire skills of questioning, bargaining, negotiation and decision-making within the governing body.”

Parents have progressed in other ways too and there is evidence that schools’ communication skills, knowledge and methods lag far behind the parents with whom they communicate. Over the past decade, parents have embraced new methods of communication and developed new expectations of organisations, brands and authorities. The danger for schools is that, while they make their best efforts to remain proactive in their parent engagement, an invisible gap is growing. The volume of communication “going out” remains the same, but the information received by parents diminishes as they are confronted by ever more information and less time to absorb it.

Does this matter?

The current coronavirus pandemic has revealed a harsh truth: with modern life so busy, parents have struggled to prioritise the intervention schools need, if wellbeing is not to be put at risk and learning plans squandered for this year, and perhaps longer. The crisis reveals a Parent-Engagement Gap that was already there but had remained largely hidden. It is only too visible now. The Sutton Trust published a stark report in April showing that fewer than one in four children in state education was participating in live or recorded online lessons each day. In private schools, twice as many are accessing daily online lessons. Right now, 11 million parents in the UK are struggling to support the education of 10 million children. We believe, with a little guidance, some insight into audience responses to communication and some new ideas, schools could offer parents a lifeline at a time they desperately need it.