Your guide to involving hard to reach parents

Monday, 12 February 2024 by Weduc

How to involve hard to reach parents

Parents are often a school’s greatest untapped resource. They may only physically enter the classroom a handful of times, but their role in shaping a child’s education beyond the school gates is crucial.

The positive link between parental engagement and academic attainment has been proven. Joint research by the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) finds that parental engagement and strong home-school partnerships are key predictors of achievement – and the scale of the impact is found across all ages and social classes.  

Young people spend about 85% of their waking hours outside of school and formal education, so parents who actively support learning can help to join the dots between school and home and put their child on a fast track to educational success. 

However, while some parents need no encouragement at all, other parents struggle to get involved in their child’s education. There are a variety of reasons for this, from busy work lives to cultural and language barriers. That’s why it’s so important that schools play their part in bridging the gap between school and home by taking the steps needed to engage hard to reach parents at their point of need, taking into account the many challenges and preferences that make families unique. 


Why is parent engagement so critical?

John Hattie suggested that parental engagement is equivalent to adding two to three years to that student’s education. Pre-pandemic, this was an undeniable advantage for a child’s progression academically. Yet pupils are still catching up on the learning lost between 2020-2021 - with disadvantaged students losing out considerably more than others. As a result, current pupils need all the support they can get

Parental commitment doesn’t just positively impact our students' academic progress; it holistically supports their progress. Although the government's 2022 proposed changes to schools focus heavily on attainment, there are invaluable social and emotional benefits available from an increased parental interest in the school community, such as:

  • Opportunities to develop self-confidence as supported by the parents.
  • Encouragement in attending national tutoring catchup interventions.
  • Access to home-intervention catchup.
  • Positive family relationship building.
  • Enrolment in after school clubs to develop friendships.
  • Parental social support from other parents.
  • A united front between home and school.


Common barriers to effective parental engagement and how to overcome them

Your priority as educators is always the students; their welfare and progression are the drivers of your decisions and initiatives. To add hard to reach parents' interest and engagement levels on top of the already extensive responsibilities schools have can seem unreasonable. This is why it is important to quickly overcome any barriers to parents' interaction with your school. These can include:

  • Cost

Cost is often a forgotten barrier, as maintained schools and trusts are non-fee paying. However, what may seem like small costs to one parent (such as use of public transport or the price of petrol) could break the budget for another - particularly as the cost of living rises.

If a family has more than one child at school, the sums can multiply quickly. And if one child is too young to bring along to school events, there is the cost of additional childcare in addition to the cost of taking unpaid time off work.

The principal way to overcome parents’ lack of parents’ evening attendance is to allow them to book their own timeslots and to hold your parents’ evenings online. After all, parents’ evenings should be just that – an evening for parents that allows them to engage on their level they’re able to. It may not solve all their financial challenges but by letting them know you recognise the financial challenges that are involved in attending such events, you can lay the groundwork for a stronger working relationship with them.

  • Language and cultural barriers

An estimated 18% of pupils in UK schools have English as an Additional Language (EAL). In some cases, pupils may have parents who understand very little English and may use friends, neighbours or family members (including the student themselves) as translators.

Investing in a communication system that can be tailored based on language preferences is a real bonus here. Plus, it’s important to remember that a lot of parental involvement in a child’s education goes unseen in the home, as it doesn’t tick the boxes of conventional parental engagement. So, just because you can’t see or understand a parent’s engagement, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  • Time and working life

A lack of time to meet with parents to discuss concerns or celebrations and attend sporting events or school community events can increase the lack of connection and ‘belonging’ within a school. Yet, many parents are struggling with the increasing cost of living and are having to make sacrifices in order to stay afloat, which may include missing school events in order to work.

Using a parental engagement app that has a tailored newsfeed and enables virtual interactions can enable hard to reach parents to stay engaged with the school whenever, wherever.

  • Poor school experience

It’s also important to remember that many parents will struggle to engage with their child’s school because of their own negative school experiences when they were younger. They may find schools to be inherently intimidating places, a concern amplified by the daunting prospect of appearing inadequate.

To combat this, it can be useful to introduce no-pressure school events where the parents have the potential to blend into the background: a walk around classrooms, a reading picnic, parent-child art lessons, or light sports-related activities.

Alternatively, enabling virtual engagement via a parent engagement app can enable them to engage from a safe distance, if that’s easier for them. A 'safe social-media' style newsfeed can help with this. Though it’s important to consider staff workload and wellbeing with comment features. Be sure to provide clear expectations for staff and encourage them to stick to these healthy boundaries.


How to reach parents: Our 5 top tips

There is a myth that positive parental engagement must mean a school has a dedicated person focused on covering all communication avenues possible—sending messages to parents, creating afterschool registers, booking onto extra-curricular clubs, transferring all important data onto the MIS, organising parent payments, and keeping the social media platforms updated - to name but a few.

This is not the case; highly technical apps are now available to give your engagement strategy wings without the human resources.

We have highlighted your first give steps in engaging those hard to reach parents.

Step 1

Create an engagement strategy that outlines the changes you can make to engage hard to reach parents. This should include clear, defined goals and next steps to take if these changes are successful or not.

Step 2

Discuss and agree on the vision of your strategy and gather the commitment of all team members, especially the senior team and governors. This vision will underpin all your decisions relating to parental interaction.

Step 3

Put energy into creating positive relationships with parents. Reserve your Twitter and Facebook feeds for positive news and message and keep mundane but important information on your parent app.

Step 4

Ensure all communication is worthwhile and in the child’s best interests. For example, the ReachMoreParents app has a targeting feature that can enable you to personalise your communications so that they only go to the parents they’re aimed that. The app also protects any images of students, so you can be sure they aren't shared with the wrong audience.

Step 5

Ensure your communications systems are inherently inclusive. Use a simple app that all families can access easily, with language translations and audible functions. In addition, ensure you don’t just choose an app but choose a communications partner, one that provides adequate support not just for the school but for parents, to free up your office staff from dealing with queries and ensure parents get the right information.


Make use of parent communication software for schools

Schools have been using technology, such as emails and text messages, to foster effective teacher parent communication for decades now. And those methods have helped to bridge the gap between school and home by reducing the need for paper-based communications.

However, they still come with their own issues as neither email nor text message inboxes are places reserved solely for school communications. That means emails and texts get lost, forgotten about, or missed altogether due to the sheer volume of messages parents are receiving in both these places.

Specially designed communication software for schools, however, provides one dedicated place for all school communications to take place, making it easy for parents to keep on top of messages. In addition, school communication software can provide a direct line of communication between teachers and parents that allows both parties to communicate back and forth without compromising their personal details.


How can ReachMoreParents help?

At ReachMoreParents, we go beyond off-the-shelf products to tackle the problems unique to schools like yours. That’s why we reach more parents that any other system with our range of software all under the umbrella of our Reach More Parents platform. This includes our Parent App, Attendance Tracking App, Homework App, Parents’ Evening System, and custom branded apps for schools.

To find out more about how to involve hard to reach parents with our range of software for schools, click here to book a discovery call at a time that suits you or drop us a line via our enquiry form.

Start reaching more parents today