As the changes facing schools become more vast and intricate, it is crucial that schools build relationships and effectively engage with external influencers, says Emma Williams, executive director of PTA UK.
It’s important to maintain solid processes and practices within a school. However, it’s just as crucial to develop and build strong relationships with those who have a personal interest in the performance of a school and its pupils, whether that’s governors, existing or prospective parents, or the local community.
As schools face continual change, greater scrutiny and restrictions on resources, it’s more important than ever for school senior leadership teams (SLTs) and governors to engage effectively with parents and other stakeholders.
For a school, one of its top priorities is the well-being of its students, ensuring that they feel comfortable in a safe and secure environment. Being able to cater for their needs, as well as providing an effective place for learning will reassure parents and other stakeholders. Making sure this happens isn’t down to the school alone; schools do not operate in a vacuum and this is why it’s important for school business managers and senior leaders to build and maximise relations both within the school and outside of it.
Creating a strong network with stakeholders – be it parents, pupils, staff, community, governors or neighbouring schools – has always been regarded as important. But with the increasing demands and reforms, it is more crucial now than ever before. But the question is, why is this important?
Working alongside parents
Successful schools meet the educational needs of the communities they serve by growing existing student attainment and appealing to prospective pupils and parents. As such, emphasis for schools should be placed on maintaining a positive profile and reputation throughout the local community.
It is widely-recognised that parents hold a very influential role in a child’s educational journey. Therefore, they should be considered a principal stakeholder in every school. In PTA UK’s summer 2015 Parent Insights Survey, 85 per cent of those parents surveyed stated they want a say in education with 79 per cent wanting to actively support their child’s school. Furthermore, 96 per cent also told us that being consulted makes them feel included in their child’s education.
These statistics clearly highlight the desire and need for schools to consult with and involve parents. Keeping parents updated from an early stage on any proposed changes to the school may also reduce the number of concerns or uncertainty from parents later on in the process.
It is the responsibility of the school business manager to ensure that the school works alongside parents, the local community and business leaders in order to establish a culture of parental participation and various stakeholder engagement. Having them on board creates a like-minded community that encourages others to get involved, or at least allows them to understand and recognise the value these relationships can bring to the school.
There are a range of ways in which schools can support parents: from becoming a community hub for parent training or services, to encouraging a culture of volunteering and forging partnerships; all of which will help to achieve the school’s mission and drive better standards.
Many organisations and parent bodies aim to build awareness of the benefits that can be gained from schools, communities and parents working together in partnership, whether that’s supporting children’s learning in the classroom and at home, or helping to improve overall school life and processes. Working together as a strong and unified entity will provide huge benefits to the school community, as well as demonstrating to pupils that both their parents and teachers truly care and are invested in their educational futures.
Engaging with stakeholders is not only important to a school itself, but gaining parental feedback is also a critical element for Ofsted analysis. Giving parents a voice has become an integral part of the inspection and regulation, influencing its decision on whether or not to inspect a school. Therefore, welcoming the opportunity for them to have a say and listening to and acting on real needs and requirements is a powerful driver for self-improvement.
Building a strong network
Bodies like Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) are an invaluable way of encouraging stakeholders to be proactive in improving the school, and subsequently every child’s development. Having a strong network within schools creates an influential community that is able to raise funds for aiding children’s attainment and educational experience, as well as providing a forum for engaging a wide variety of parents on developments at school.
In 2015 alone, PTAs across the UK raised over £120 million for schools through fundraising, allowing for a more enriched education for children, which would have otherwise been taken from other budgets, or not been possible at all. Although this is extremely valuable, this success in fundraising should not mask the role PTAs can play in involving the wider community that a school serves as well, contributing directly to advancing education for the benefit of all. It’s through these strong relationships that value is proven to be far more effective than simple financial support.
School business managers should seek opportunities within the school that help to establish a culture of parental participation and stakeholder engagement throughout the school. PTA UK, the leading membership body for parent bodies across England, Wales and
Northern Ireland, has joined forces with the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM) to develop a guide providing advice and top tips on how to engage parents and other stakeholders to improve your school.