So, what do you need to think about before you can start?
The following information provides guidance on setting up your parental engagement in maths strategy. This is best practice taken directly from our 28 project schools.
1. What is 'parental engagement'?
Parental engagement refers to all activities that parents do to help their children succeed in school and life. It includes everything from making sure they are prepared to go to school every day to attending parent meetings and conferences, to taking an interest in and supporting their child’s learning. It is possible to be involved in school plays or sports days, for example, but this project is about parental engagement in learning. “Previous studies have convincingly shown that engagement in a child’s learning, rather than simple involvement in school activities, is the most effective way for parents to improve their child’s attainment” (Teacher Support Network and Parentline Plus, 2010).
It has long been recognised that parental engagement has a large and positive impact on children’s learning (Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003). Research suggests that parents engaging with their children’s school learning is essential for maximizing their learning potential (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). Parents/carers can have a large influence on a child’s attitude to learning and attainment, particularly in mathematics.
National Numeracy states that: engaging parents and carers with their child’s education leads to raised attainment, improved behaviour and school attendance. This is well evidenced in many research documents around the world. To find out more, visit http://www.familymathstoolkit.org.uk/evidence.
2. Strategy for engaging parents in maths
Parents and families have a vital role as first educators and schools should ensure that they recognise this by engaging families in their child’s education.
It is important to have a strategy to achieve your parental engagement goals, as it provides direction and scope. Without this, it can be easy to drift off course and difficult to monitor progress towards your desired aims. The information below should help you to get a better idea of what you are aiming to achieve as a school and how you might go about it.
The Count on Us Parental Engagement project focused on engaging families in maths. Research shows that high numbers of parents and carers do not support their children in this subject. This could be due to a number of different reasons and barriers that are explored below. It is important to recognise that all schools and communities are different; therefore, the needs of your schools’ parents/carers will differ too. This information will help shape your engagement strategy. As a school, you might like to use the parents’ and teacher’s survey to help you understand their views of school engagement and their feelings about maths. It is useful to use these surveys at the start and end of the project (perhaps an academic year);this will provide evidence of impact.
3. Who needs to be involved in the process?
Right from the beginning, you will need to involve all stakeholders: parents/carers, staff (especially senior management), children, governors etc. It is important to understand the views and experiences across the school and community. During the initial project, schools who involved all stakeholders were more successful and had better experiences than those who did not. As with anything in schools, it works best when it is tackled as a whole school community.
You might want to consider using the teacher survey to find out how staff feel about maths and what their experiences of parental engagement are. If staff don’t value parental engagement or are unsure of how to encourage and support it, we suggest completing a CPD plan for them. It is important to create the school action plan with the staff as they are the ones who will be implementing it. Using a staff meeting to discuss aims and gather ideas will help everyone to take ownership of the process.
It is particularly important to have the senior management team on board with the project; they will help to ensure that all staff have a consistent approach and should also provide resources and/or time to enable the project to succeed.
Even with this support, it is likely that you, as project leader, will have to be the driving force behind the project. During our project, we found that schools who appointed more than one person to drive the project forward had a better experience and better outcomes. Consider the involvement of parents e.g. parent governors or PTA members. Some schools have a ‘Parent Champion’ to liaise and encourage possibly reluctant parents. They can be very supportive in moving the project forward.
4. How should you begin?
Before you begin action planning, you must be clear about your school’s starting point. It is important to remember that every school is different and may be at different points along the journey. It is advisable to take into consideration what you are already doing to engage parents and build on these foundations, and take time to analyse what has been successful and what has not and why.
A good place to start is using the National Numeracy Audit tool, this can be accessed here. Follow National Numeracy’s 4 steps to engagement to guide your school on its journey.
5. What are the aims of your parental engagement strategy in maths?
Once you have completed your audit you will then be able to start thinking about your action plan. You will most likely already have thought about some of the overall outcomes you want for this project but it is important to be realistic about these. Consider your aims and break these down into manageable steps towards them. It is better to achieve a few steps successfully than have a range which have not really been addressed sufficiently to have any impact.
Over the course of the project, the action plans which worked best were those that took small steps and sustained them, rather than the more challenging ideas that schools then struggled to maintain.
Below are some examples of aims.
- Continue to maintain and improve parental engagement
- Engage parents with the school maths curriculum and their child’s barriers to learning in maths.
- Keep parents informed.
- Ensure the welcome to all stakeholders is inviting and promotes a positive ethos.
Obviously, these will need be broken down into specific individual actions matched to your school. See the example action plan for some suggestions. The example action plan is extensive to show a range of considerations – an average school plan would be one page.
6. What are some of the challenges and barriers you are likely to face and how can you overcome them?
Research has shown that there are commonly found barriers to parental engagement with their child’s learning of maths in school. Conversely, it has been found that school staff are often not aware of these barriers and therefore attempts to engage parents fail, leaving both teachers and parents frustrated and unwilling to persevere. Some of these barriers have been identified as:
- attitudes to maths – ok to dislike/ fear/ acceptable to say you’re no good at maths
- cultural norms and expectations
- working family lives/ work commitments
- language – both first language at home and mathematical language
- low levels of own numeracy and ‘new methods’ not understood by parents
- lack of confidence often related to own experience of education
- ‘hard to reach’ parents
- feel stigmatised if attend support group
- digital divide
- some pupils (SEND especially) unhappy at school
Schools who have engaged fully with parental engagement consider the research findings and work together to find solutions.
7. How can you make your efforts sustainable?
Is it valued?
It is key that any changes or initiatives are valued by the school, ensuring that you have full support from senior leaders and all teachers. As mentioned previously, there needs to be a project leader: this person will need to be dedicated to ensure the longevity of the project.
Is it manageable?
The tasks on the action plan need to be manageable; if you do not have time to complete them, they will not get done. Consider when would be best to work on them – could you use some of your subject release time or could your senior management team give you some time out of class to manage this project?
Is it working? If not, how can you make it work?
During the project the schools tried many different initiatives, not all of these worked. It is vital that you recognise if something is not working and evaluate it. Why is it not working, does it need more time to embed? What is not working – is it that parents are not turning up or that you are not getting staff support etc.? There is no point in continuing with the same format if it is not having a positive effect.
Team work helps
In the project schools, those who had appointed a ‘team’ to develop parental engagement had a better experience than those who worked alone. They were able to share the burden of the project and the parents had more than one point of contact. In terms of sustainability, if one member of the team was to leave the school, the other team member(s) could continue with the project.
8. How will you measure it's success?
Use your aims to identify some measurable targets when planning, so as to be able to identify impact and success of your parental engagement initiatives. Think about qualitative (opinions, observations…) and quantitative (attainment, attendance…) measures. These will be very useful when designing activities, informing stakeholders about the purpose and outcomes of the project as well as sharing your impact afterwards. Whatever you choose to do, remember that it has to be manageable and useful to you.
The main success indicators are that increasing numbers of parents attend activities and seem happy, engaged and confident in how to support their child’s learning. You could, of course, speak to the parents directly to find out what they think, but often gathering information from teachers and children is just as valuable.
You could also consider:
- Asking teachers for informal, or formal, feedback on parents and children in their classes.
- Asking have teachers noticed any changes? (eg. A parent wanting to speak to them after class, pupils mentioning that their family helped them with work at home, homework being completed more regularly, parents/carers asking questions about maths etc.)
- Asking pupils, teachers and parents to do an attitude survey at the beginning of the project and at the end of the first year.
- Ask pupils or parents directly for their feedback
There is no guarantee that changes you notice would not have happened anyway but your evidence will help you decide whether your project is contributing (at the very least) to the impact you hoped for. Trends and information from a variety of sources (such as the types described above) will give you the feedback you need and hopefully, it will also help you plan for the future and justify all your time and effort.
9. How will you celebrate success?
You and your school will learn a huge amount from the project, so make sure you build in time and capacity to share what you are doing, and what you found out. Sharing could be with a range of people and stakeholders.
Remember to share:
- What you are doing with parents and children. This will help them focus on what you are trying to achieve and they will be more able to give useful feedback. Perhaps use an assembly or celebration event.
- With other members of staff, by having good notes on content and outcomes. Sharing experiences and resources with other colleagues can have an impact on everyday classroom practice. You could use INSETS, intranet or informal discussions to achieve this.
- By involving other staff in delivery. This will help the sustainability of the project, with senior management to help them support you and see the project as part of the bigger educational picture within the school.
- With colleagues beyond the school, perhaps in your cluster or network. In this way other pupils in other schools can benefit from parental engagement initiatives in their schools and will make setting up and running projects easier for those teachers as they can learn from your successes.