04. Parent Partnership

Why is it important to work with parents?

The view that the quality of the child-parent relationship affects educational achievement throughout the primary phase of schooling is supported by the findings of the influential Desforges and Abouchaar report (2003) which reviewed the latest international research on the effects of parental involvement on pupil achievement.

% Effect of parent on pupil achievement % Effect of school on pupil achievement
Age 7 0.29 0.05
Age 11 0.27 0.21
Age 16 0.14 0.51

Table showing the impact of parents on pupils’ academic achievement (Sacker et al., 2002, cited in Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003)

The table above from Sacker et al shows that right up to the age of 11 years, parents continue to have more influence on their child’s achievement than does the school.  Therefore, in addressing the needs of poorly performing pupils with BESDs, parental involvement is crucial.

However, parents of pupils at risk of exclusion are often the group of parents who are hardest to engage in school partnership. This can be due to the defensiveness engendered by having to continually come up to the school to hear about their child’s poor behaviour, by the triggering of uncomfortable memories of their own schooling  or to the fact that they are themselves under stress and struggling to cope with day to day matters.

So how do we go about engaging such parents in school?  The Story Links programme uses a solution- focused approach by inviting them to come into school to support their child’s reading rather than asking them to come in to discuss behaviour difficulties.  Parents of pupils at risk of exclusion may be defensive, disengaged and even aggressive towards the school but in my experience they always want their children to learn to read.  So here is an assured point of mutual interest where parent and school can meet.

I thought it was going to be difficult but it has helped me to realise a few things – especially about S. It’s taught me how to help S with reading. We also sit down at home now and make up stories.

Keeping it solution focused

Research by the Social Exclusion Unit  (2007,  Families at Risk Review, Reaching Out: Think Family) looked at how the ‘system’ (i.e. education, social care and health) sometimes views excluded families and how this compared with how excluded families themselves view the ‘system’.  The results are highlighted in the table below:


How the system sometimes views excluded families How excluded families sometimes view the system
Reluctant to engage with services

Chaotic lifestyles and unable to keep appointments

Aggressive and difficult behaviours

Lacking in confidence and low motivation

Multiple and entrenched problems mean that they are unlikely to succeed

Easier to refer on to another agency

Poor parenting and life skills

Complex needs or conditions beyond staff capabilities

Need to be challenged more than they need to be supported

Information on services is difficult to access or understand

Services are not relevant to their specific needs

Staff do not treat them with respect and lack knowledge to deal with problems

Physical environment is intimidating

Respond to single issues without reference to the complexity of problems

Respond to problems when they reach crisis point rather than at an earlier stage

Processes and services are inflexible

Services are fragmented and poorly co-ordinated

System may focus more on policing that on support-hence a fear of approaching for help

This research highlights the need to provide a solution-focused and emotionally contained intervention if  parents are to be persuaded to attend a 10 week  Story Links intervention. One of the key findings in the Evaluation Report was that parents were motivated to attend, often to the surprise of the educational professionals.

John’s got behaviour problems so my interaction with the school was horrible all the time. The only interaction was “John’s been bad, this has happened, that’s happened” and that’s the only links I’ve had with the school….now it’s nice to look forward to coming in, in the afternoon, we all sit down, we talk about bits and pieces, and John glows and picks up his reading and is eager to tell us his story.
John’s Mum

From the Dragon’s Mouth