Open Thinkering


Why parents don’t engage with schools

This morning I dropped my son off at school nursery and then went for a run. As I ran past our local church I noticed there being more cars there than usual. This got me thinking about fluctuating church attendance over the last few hundred years and how, in times of crisis, people tend to start attending again.

When people who don’t usually attend church return – at times of crisis or for the major festivals like Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival – they expect things to be the same. It’s much the same with parents and schools. Apart from dropping their children off when they’re younger, the only times they enter schools are for parents’ evening and school events. Parents expect schools to be much the same as when they went themselves.

People expect institutions with which they don’t engage much to remain the same.

So what are schools, churches and other institutions to do who face this problem? Wait until people engage with them to gain a mandate to change and stay relevant? Of course not, that would create a vicious circle.

What’s needed is strong leadership. A vision: a clear, decisive focus on what’s important. In our increasingly atomised society it takes a huge effort to create an engaged community. This is especially true in schools who, according to a figure I heard at the Scottish Learning Festival this week, have had to deal with 700 new initiatives since the dawn of the National Curriculum.

Parental engagement is like confidence. You can’t wait for it to happen; you have to make a decision and decide to change. It’s takes effort, but it’s got to be worth it in the long run!

8 thoughts on “Why parents don’t engage with schools

  1. Very true Doug. As a parent I would love to be more involved in my daughters’ school. I am chair of the PTA and have volunteered in the classroom but I still feel pretty shut out. I know that most other parents feel even more in the dark about school than I do. Perhaps our school isn’t typical but I feel we have lots that parents could offer and the school doesn’t want to engage with us. I know it’s hard, but a few basics, like a photo board so we know who the staff actually are, being able to catch a teacher’s eye and arrange to see them later in the week, open assemblies for parents to join in. It doesn’t take a great deal to make us feel welcomed and involved.

    1. Absolutely – it’s about the channels of communication! I saw a wonderful presentation by Derek Robertson about using games-based learning in the early years. I’m going to try and share it with Ben’s school, but there’s no clear channel for me to do so.

      I can feel another blog post coming on… 😉

  2. “What’s needed is strong leadership. A vision: a clear, decisive focus on what’s important.” It’s true for churches too… 😉

  3. My experience the total opposite at my kids school Doug. The head (primary school) has been there for 10yrs+ and has made numerous attempts at getting parents involved. I got involved about 5 years ago when the school celebrated their cententary – i offered my services (set up email – made contact with local media to try and find past pupils) since then we have had a great teacher/parent partnership and we even got a parent council started up, however when help is needed its the same few folks who turn up year in year out. Teachers in the school are there for parents (our school though has had some highly publicised tragedies in the past 8 years).

  4. Doug,
    Some parents’ engagement with school is invisible. They give emotional support and other encouragement that educators may not see or appreciate. I had just read a research paper on this very topic and was going to just leave a short comment but then decided to expand what I wanted to say into a post on my blog.

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