Ask Brenda – How do I engage parents?

Written by: HTU | Published:

I am a new head in my first headship at a small primary school and am finding it very hard to engage the parents with my new ideas for the school. What can I do to bring them with me? Or should I perhaps slow down the pace of change?

Never slow the pace of change if change is planned, well thought out and logical and if you can see that there will be a positive impact. It is about communicating the why, how and when.

It is also about how you can quickly get some parents “onside” so that they support you by spreading the messages you wish to take out to the community. Below are some further thoughts.

Have you a PTA?

Can you set up a team which becomes your “think-tank”? Explain you do not want them to take messages between the parents and yourself, but to act as your “test” bed. But while you do this, you are also explaining to them your thoughts for any future action and, believe me, they will take the message out. Use with discretion but this can be a real support for you.

See is believing

Offer “Seeing is Believing” trips during the working day for parents. One class at a time and on a first-come, first-served basis. I would take no more than eight on each trip.

The offer is that they will be taken around the school to see children working and this is then followed by tea and biscuits, giving parents a chance to ask questions that are pertinent to them and to discuss any changes you are beginning to make. Make sure they leave knowing that while you will always listen to them, you may not always be able to grant “wishes” – but you will always tell them why.

Have a book for these parents to sign at the end of the morning. Ask them if they would care to make a comment which could be shared with the school community, including their children. You will be surprised at how many positive comments are written when they know feedback is going to the children. This can also be used when Ofsted visits).

Family evenings

I am sure you offer curriculum evenings, so why not offer a “Family Games” evening and then show how playing games can aid their children’s standards in literacy and maths. They will have had fun and another door of communication may open. I am amazed at how many adults don’t know the old games I used to play with my son and still play with children in the playground now!

Parent support

Introduce support for those parents who come in to hear readers or help in school, including a training pack and an evaluation sheet which they fill in each term so that they feel their work is valued.

They too will talk to other parents and will also become the band that speaks in the playground and the community about the positive nature of the management of change.

The role of technology

Are you using technology effectively enough to ensure parents feel communicated with and empowered to support you? Your website should include:
• General school information including Pupil Premium.
• Admissions and policy documents.
• News and newsletters.
• Information on class work and the curriculum.
• A calendar of events and PTA page.
• Clear contact information, a photo gallery and guestbook.
• Video-sharing practice and a roll of honour.

What about your virtual learning environment?
• Individual portfolios/children’s targets.
• Simple reporting strategies to let parents work with their child.
• Individually tailored materials for pupils.
• Challenges in each subject area.
• Homework and quizzes.
• Adult learning through links into courses.
• Advice to parents on standards/how to support their child.
• Parent forums.
• Chatrooms for the headteacher to seek children’s opinions.
• Chatroom for year 6.
• Online questionnaires for pupils and parents.

And if parents don’t have technology, why not open up your computer suite one night a week and ask a competent teaching assistant to supervise? Invite parents to use it as a “cyber-café”, but the ticket in must be their own child. This way they are sharing learning and communicating with their child.


If you want parents onside, then it is about how you communicate with them and whether you can make that communication a positive, two-way process. When communication is good, mutual respect is evident and support for new initiatives will generally be forthcoming.

Please do not expect everyone to like “change” or to follow you into the unknown with glee, but be pleased when the majority applaud your new initiatives and remember that they will also become your advocates for change in the community. I heard someone say once that the path is for treading not for muddying – so keep moving forward. Your children, your team and your community are looking to your leadership to give them the best possible opportunities. Good Luck!


Experienced headteacher Brenda Bigland will be offering her advice and answering your questions in this regular column. If you have a query that you’d like Brenda to investigate, email the editor of Headteacher Update, Pete Henshaw, at

Brenda Bigland has been a headteacher for more than 20 years in both the independent and state sector. Her last headship was of Lent Rise School in Buckinghamshire. She now runs an educational consultancy called Ask Brenda, which offers confidential advice, mentoring, training and CPD. Visit

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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