Parental engagement the key to success

One of the ‘buzz’ terms doing the rounds at the moment is parental engagement. I have Ministers of Education, leaders of education departments and school stakeholders saying this to me all the time. At times it is not clear that they mean the same thing or are aiming for the same outcome from parental engagement… but it is definitely one of the ‘in’ terms right now.

While the various politicians, bureaucrats and principals might not share a common understanding of the term, they are clear about one thing: the educational outcome for students is enhanced when parents are engaged in the processes of learning.

Parental engagement is an interesting term – it is both active and sustained. In other words, the engagement has to be more than a polite interest and it needs to be more than just in passing. It is about knowing what is happening in education – whether that is school enrolment policies, how the curriculum is evaluated or how resources are apportioned. These are procedural steps but vital ones – unless parents know these things they can too easily find themselves on the fringes of their children’s education.

Beyond the merely procedural, there is the need to develop the relationship with the children, their friends and their teachers to ensure they are aware of how those procedures are actually applied in the day-to-day steps of education – are the curricula effective, do children actually learn? Do the students engage with staff? Do staff encourage a love of learning? These questions cannot just be applied to the external framework – to the school or the teachers, they also need to be applied at home and in the relationship between parents and children.

When parents are engaged in the education of their children they ask questions, they demand answers, and they seek better outcomes. That may well prove to be uncomfortable for those who fund education, set educational policies or lead education facilities – but it will also lead to much better outcomes for students. Parental engagement of this kind will only be genuinely effective if it is also a hallmark of what happens at home: do my children see me prioritising education or making it part of my own life? This does not mean constantly enrolling in new courses or programs but it does mean engaging with the world in a sustained and critical way – reading newspapers and books, critiquing the news, developing new skills, and making sure that educating myself is a priority.

The challenge to us all is to actually ensure we are engaged – meeting teachers, reading notices, volunteering to help ¬– but also writing to MPs, considering education policies, thinking about what the future educational landscape could look like… these are all vital ingredients in becoming engaged. The pay-off? Our children will recognise that education is a priority, that it can change lives, their own and those of others. Engagement will become the key to developing our communities and transforming the opportunities of all.