An early finding of our ‘Areas of Greatest Need’ research is the importance of strengthening home-school relationships. Becky Francis’s study of ‘Satisfactory’ schools noted a “striking” tendency towards “scant parent engagement”: schools were not perceived to be listening to parents or helping them support their children’s learning. We’ve been seeking case studies of schools which excel at this; Bankside Primary School was recommended.
Situated in Harehills, a deprived area of East Leeds, the school has a diverse intake. Alongside established Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, Czech, Slovak and Romanian families have moved here recently; some speak limited English. In the last few years the area has seen violence and a riot. Yet the parental engagement which assistant head Kauser Jan described offered a model of good practice.
Bankside identified a need to involve parents more closely in the school. Although parents were interested in becoming governors, it was hard to gain their sustained involvement. The school hoped to support parents to become “confident participants within their children’s learning”, encouraging them to move through “tiers” of involvement.
The school has taken familiar actions alongside unusual ones:
- A family support team helps parents with their children’s learning and attendance. Parent groups and workshops include those on English as a second language, reading and book-sharing.
- The school supports parents developing and applying new skills, assisting their applications and offering volunteer placements which helps parents gain experience alongside training courses.
- The beginning and end of the day are a key contact point, as the school aims for ‘transparency’, with teachers and support staff obvious through high-visibility vests.
- There are three parents evenings each year. At the first, parents meet teachers, at the second, they review pupils’ learning and the third is led by pupils: “children meet parents and they talk about their own learning, and they tell their parents the level that they are at, and ‘This is what I’ve got, and this is what I need help in.’”
- The school has developed a parent council, alongside the very active school council with which parents are familiar. Text messages to all parents invite them to propose topics and to attend with family and friends. Minutes are shared with staff and governors and placed on the website and actions are taken up with relevant staff. “The key focus is to listen to what the parents want to know and need… empowering them to know who to go to and what they can do”.
- Pupils were concerned about dirt and litter locally. They set out tidying and invited families to join them: “as we came out to start this tidying up, people started coming out the houses with sweeping brushes.”
Attendance at the Parents Council has grown, as has its influence. Numbers have gradually increased, from five parents at the first meeting to at least thirty each time; in response to parents’ requests, the council now meets monthly. Another request was for additional support in dealing with bereavement. Parents suggested more visits from sports people to “encourage and inspire” pupils: the school arranged for a Leeds Rhino [from the highly-successful rugby league side] to speak. The next step was to build on the victory of a Leeds resident in the Great British Bake Off, who was interested in talking at the school: the school organised its own bake off. Although the council can be used by the school to share information about events and the charity the school will be supporting Kauser described it as “very much theirs”.
The Parents Council also provides a point of contact between parents and other agencies. Police and councillors attend and have pledged their support in addressing issues. In response to discussions about Islamophobia and racial hate reporting Leeds City Council asked the police to provide a female self-defence instructor. Having recently raised litter again with the local authority, six bins have been placed in locations suggested by parents and the police have offered help with another community clean-up. This reinforces parents’ belief that their wishes are listened to and acted upon.
Parents also provide solutions for the school. As parents asked for action after a child was nearly run over outside school, Kauser asked for their suggestions. Some parents offered to come in and help, and soon several were “standing like human bollards in front of the school gates so that the parents couldn’t park”. The school now used cones, but parents continued to help, met each day by Kauser in her high-visibility jacket. Not only is the street now calm and safe, parents “have seen that they are being listened to and we have responded with their concerns”.
Numerous parents have become involved in volunteering opportunities: “predominantly mothers who have gone onwards and upwards: who have started coming in and helping and then gone on to do a range of NVQ courses”. One has already gone on to become a parent governor.
Kauser described relationship-building and parents’ growing awareness of the help the school wishes to offer their children. Now parents come to the school “wanting to be engaged with their children’s learning” and asking what they can do. They also see the school as a source of help, whether providing volunteering opportunities or as a source of advice when a parent was a victim of crime.
“Being calm and non-judgemental is key: you’ve got to be approachable. We couldn’t make this work had it not been that we have won the community over.”
She highlighted the common stake schools and parents have in children: “To raise a child it takes a community – we are all members of the same community family”. She emphasised that success had not “come overnight” and had relied on strong leadership from two successive headteachers. Parents, Kauser notes, are the “greatest stakeholders in any school environment” and “as such they and their child must jointly be at the heart of planning, organising, delivery and the evaluation process.” They must be able to see “things that are being done and they are being listened to.”