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Parental engagement

Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.



Case studies


Parents hold key information and have a critical role to play in their children’s development.

They have unique strengths, knowledge and experience to contribute to the shared view of a child’s needs and the best ways of supporting them. It is therefore essential that all professionals actively seek to work with parents and value the contribution they make. The work of professionals can be more effective when parents are involved and account is taken of their wishes, feelings and perspectives on their children’s development.

These partnerships can be challenging, requiring positive attitudes by all, and in some circumstances additional support and encouragement for parents. Positive attitudes to parents, user-friendly information and procedures and awareness of support needs are important. There should be no presumption about what parents can or cannot do to support their child and their child’s learning.

Stereotypic views of parents are unhelpful and should be challenged. All staff should bear in mind the pressures a parent may be under because of the child’s needs.

Government commitment to parental engagement

Parents, carers and families are the most important influence on outcomes for children and young people. The Every Child Matters: Change for Children programme aims to ensure that support for parents becomes routine, particularly at key points in a child or young person's life. The government, in partnership with local areas, is working to make sure parents and families have access to the support that they need, when they need it, so that all children can benefit from confident, positive and resilient parenting, from birth right through to the teenage years. The aim is to ensure:

  • Good quality universal support, in the form of information, advice and signposting to other services, is available to all parents. It is important that support can be accessed in places where, and ways in which, parents and carers feel comfortable, such as early years settings, schools, primary healthcare services, and through childcare information services, telephone helplines and the web.
  • More specialised targeted support is available at the local level to meet the needs of families and communities facing additional difficulties. Types of support offered could include structured parenting education groups, couple support, home visiting and employment or training advice.
  • All schools actively seek to engage parents in children and young people's education, helping parents to understand what they can do at home to work with the school.
  • Children's centres and extended schools develop a coherent set of services both to support parents and to involve them properly at all stages of a child's learning and development.
    The programme is increasing the range of multi-agency services available to children and families, from integrated working within children's centres and extended schools through to multi-agency teams and panels supporting clusters of schools. These are important vehicles for delivering better information and support for parents and carers.

The Supporting Parents Guidance (2006) summaries what is known about the impact of parenting on outcomes for children, and an overview of the policy context. From April 2008, local authorities now have a duty to provide information, advice and assistance to parents and prospective parents of children and young people. This includes a duty to provide parents of disabled children and children with special educational needs with information on the services, facilities and publications that are available to them.

The government allocated £80 million for parent support services (2006-08). The funding was designed to improve engagement with hard to reach families, raise parental aspiration and enable parents to shape the system. In the Supporting Parents Guidance the government make it clear that local authorities should be developing a culture of working in partnership with local children, young people and families to ensure that local support services are developed in a way that is responsive to their evolving needs.

Aiming High for Disabled Children (AHDC), launched in May 2007, is the government’s transformation programme for disabled children's services, jointly delivered by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department of Health (DH). The AHDC programme is backed by significant extra funding. This includes £5m for parent participation.

The parent participation programme aims to develop parent participation activities in each local authority area across England. The Together for Disabled Children partnership facilitates the programme. Over the period 2008 to 2010 £3 million is available through a programme of grants and support from Together for Disabled Children. Grants are being used to develop the active involvement of parents in the service planning and decision making processes within each local authority area. The result of this strategic involvement by parents should be visible changes to the development and delivery of services, making them more focused on the needs of families with disabled children.

In addition there is ongoing work through the Lamb enquiry into improving parental confidence in services for children with SEN. This includes funding for pilot projects in eight areas to look at how confidence can be increased. The projects are in North Tyneside, Durham, Blackburn with Darwen, Wolverhampton, Oxfordshire, Newham, Portsmouth and Kent will look at a range of approaches including:

  • the development of the ‘Team around the Child’ approach, where a group of professionals are assigned to a child with SEN and a key worker makes a personal link with the family;
  • improvements in parental engagement in the school-based stages of assessment and provision, with better information for parents;
  • closer involvement of parents in the decision-making process.

The pilots will involve the parents in evaluating the impact of the local project.

Involving parents in their children’s education

Parent partnership services (PPSs) are statutory services that offer information, advice and support for parents of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) they will also be able to put parents in touch with other local organisations. PPSs also have a role in making sure that parent’s views are heard and understood and that these views inform local policy and practice.

For many parents the school is often the first point of contact. Parents should be fully involved in the school-based response for their child, understand the purpose of any intervention or programme of action, and be told about the parent partnership service when SEN are identified. Schools must tell parents when they first identify that a child has SEN. It is vitally important that schools welcome and encourage parents to participate from the outset and throughout their child’s educational career at the school. Schools need to regularly review their policies to ensure that they encourage active partnership with parents and do not present barriers to participation. Schools should seek to actively work with their local parent partnership service.

Working with parents
Many schools already enjoy the benefits of a close working partnership with parents. Research increasingly shows that when parents are involved with their child's education, children do better. Parental involvement is therefore an important lever for raising children's achievements.

Schools are now under a duty to have regard to the views of parents. This means that schools will need to consult with and listen to the views of parents before making decisions on issues such as extended activities, travel-to-school arrangements, school meals, the curriculum and pupil behaviour. It is up to schools how they fulfil their new duties.

Parents as partners
Some schools may be uncomfortable about the idea of parents getting more involved in school decisions; others may feel that parents don't actually want this kind of involvement. Yet Government research shows that many parents would like to get more involved in the way their school is run but for a number of reasons don't or can't. Some may not feel ready to be a parent-governor based on assumptions about the kinds of people who can fulfil that role; for others the pressures of modern life may make it difficult to find the time; while other barriers like language could be getting in the way for some.

Case studies have shown that parents respond positively when they are given relevant opportunities to get involved in school life. Often this means thinking of new ways of reaching out to the more disadvantaged and those who traditionally don't get involved, perhaps because of language or culture.

One way in which schools can encourage all parents to get involved in school life is through parent councils.

Parent councils

Parent councils are a relatively new way for schools to encourage more parents to get involved in school life. They are informal forums where parents are able to raise issues, be consulted on school policy and give their views. It isn't just about parents' relationships with the school — it's also about their relationships with other parents, and of course with their child's learning.

There is no definitive model — it will depend on the make-up of the school. For example, schools with a high ethnic minority population will need to think about the impact of culture and language and take action such as making sure information is available and understood in the relevant languages or holding women-only meetings.

Parent councils can also be a useful way for the governing body to communicate and consult with parents. Trust schools (where the majority of the governing body are appointed, not elected) will be required to have a parent council. Local authorities would like to see more schools setting up parent councils and will be running training courses for school governors.

Setting up a parent council

A recent project, Setting up Parents' Councils, funded by the DCSF, explored how school communities could develop parental involvement in their school through setting up a parent council or forum. The case studies report about this work describes what happened in each of the four schools that took part and highlights what worked best for them. Calderdale, West Yorkshire, has set up a website for its Parent and Carers' Council.

The impact of parental involvement in children's education
Developing home-school relationships may not always be easy. Different pressures and circumstances mean many families will need special arrangements, or extra help, to enable them to become actively involved in their children's school lives. Many schools are already over-stretched, and spending time, money and resources on getting parents more involved may seem like a low priority.

However, research has shown conclusively that parental involvement doesmake a difference to pupils' engagement and their achievement and the evidence indicates that parental involvement benefits students, parents, teachers and schools.

‘Personalisation’ agenda – putting parents in control

The ‘personalisation’ agenda means that health and social care services are now very much expected to negotiate and agree support services with service users. Person centred planning refers to support strategies which are negotiated and agreed between service providers and service users. It is a strong planning process that puts the person or family at the centre and deliberately shifts power towards them. The next step forward in giving control to service users is putting them in charge of the resources.

Direct Payments/Personal Budgets/Individual Budgets

The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996 established the right for people aged 18-65 assessed as requiring community care to receive direct payments in the form of cash payments in lieu of services provided directly by the local authorities. The intention was that disabled people could arrange their own services, choose the type of support they wanted, and how it was to be delivered. Following implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, direct payments must be offered to parents of disabled children, giving them greater choice and flexibility in how they receive services.

Evidence from local authorities indicates that the take-up by children and families of direct payments has been increasing, partly because local authorities are now offering additional support. Not all families and individuals want the monetary responsibility associated with managing and holding their own budget or the additional responsibility of becoming an employer. The government have therefore been running a number of pilots which have looked at different ways of giving people control over the resources available to them.

The In Control pilot offered Personal budgets (PB) limited to the provision of social care services.

The DH Adult Individual Budget (IB) Pilot Programme incorporated monies from the Access to Work Fund, Supporting People funding, Independent Living Fund, Disabled Facilities Grant and Integrated Community Equipment Services fund. However, the allocation of budgets differed between the pilot sites.

The Dynamite and Taking Control pilots were part of the In Control activities but were specifically aimed at children and young people. Dynamite sought to provide IBs for disabled children at transition stage (14-25yrs). Taking Control focuses on the provision of IBs to children with disabilities who are 0-18 yrs. This programme of work was established in July 2007 and currently involves 20 local authority sites, albeit at a relatively limited scale. Some of the pilots found that there was much better take up from middle class parents who tended to be better informed and more confident about managing the process. The pilots also highlighted the need for significant cultural change for local authority staff.

Government research into IBs has found that local authorities, other stakeholders and parents felt that IB did ‘add value’. Most of the focus was on qualitative changes in: improved user choice and control over services; better partnership working between professionals and families in a user-led approach; greater consistency in service delivery; and greater transparency of costs.

In September 2008 In Control also launched Staying in Control which is a group of 36 PCTs and their partner local authorities who are exploring how personalisation models tested in social care can best be amended and tested within the NHS.

The NHS Next Stage Review contained a commitment to start piloting personal health budgets in 2009, as a way of giving patients greater control over the services they receive and the providers from which they receive services. The pilots will draw on the experience of other health systems and in social care. The Department of Health are producing updates on the progress of the pilots.

As part of the Aiming High for Disabled Children (AHDC) programme the government have committed to an IB pilot programme to establish if IBs are a viable and better alternative to traditional forms of service for some or all families with disabled children. They will also help identify the demand and benefits of IB in their application and explore the financial impact of introducing IB to families with disabled children. 12 authorities have been invited to apply to become pilots and 4-6 will be chosen. Updates on the programme will be available on the AHDC website.

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Get help from...

National Association of Parent Partnership Services
The National Parent Partnership Network (NPPN) supports all parent partnership services across England. NPPN works under the aegis of the Council for Disabled Children and is funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)..  020 7843 6058
Contact a Family is the only UK-wide charity providing advice, information and support to the parents of all disabled children, no matter what their disability or health condition. They also help parents to get in contact with other families.

The Parent's Centre provides information on all aspects of a child's education including the curriculum, administrative and social issues, and school performance data. 

Engaging with fathers – a national charity that supports the development and needs of boys and men through project work, research, training and consultancy – Information, news and advice for fathers. Training, consultancy and resources, and information on the Fatherhood Quality Mark. – gives details of engaging with fathers in extended
services through the national YMCA dads & lads project

National organisations with expertise in supporting parents
The National Family and Parenting Institute is a charity working to support parents in bringing up their children, to promote the wellbeing of families and to make society more family friendly.

Parenting UK is the national umbrella body for people who work with parents. It developed the National Occupational Standards for Work with Parents.  – a charity which offers a wide range of education and
support for schools, families and communities, including the ‘Active Dads’
and ‘It’s a Man Thing’ programmes


Parent perspectives on role engagement: an investigation of parents of children with ASD and their self-reported roles with education professionals. September 2006, Julia Stoner and Maureen Angell.

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Parenting Implementation Project (PIP)
The aim of the Parenting Implementation Project (PIP) is to support local authorities to improve the design, commissioning and delivery of parenting support and services.

Parental Involvement in Children's Education 2007 (published 7 May 2008)
This report summarises the findings from a survey of parents and carers of children, in order to examine parental involvement in children's education.

Aiming High for Disabled Children
Updates on the Individual Budget pilots and other aspects of the programme

Personal Health Budgets
Updates on the Department of Health Personal Health Budgets pilots

Parenting Support: Guidance for local authorities in England 2006

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Case studies

Family learning for families with children with autism spectrum disorders

Millfields Community Primary School is a resource base for children on the autism spectrum from across the authority.

The school also provides specialist support for families of children with autism.  Following one discussion on methods used to get children to go to sleep each evening, one parent commented, "I just never realised that other parents had the same difficulties.  It is great to be able to share strategies and I have got lots of new ideas to try out now".
Contact details: Head teacher – Anna Hassan
Tel: 0208985 7898

Wells Hall Community Primary School in Sudbury, Surrey, has forged ahead with innovative and productive practice.  Recognising that children, parents and staff learn from each other, with each other, the school has invited parents in to see teaching in classrooms, as well as gain insight into how children learn. Special activities are also organised including maths and science challenges aimed at adults and children, as well as gardening and art activities.  Parents were also given the opportunity to see the school council in action.

The school also have a ‘Bring an Adult to Lunch Day’ every Thursday.  The benefits are manifold as parents learn more about healthy eating. They can see how their children socialise with their peers and join them at playtime to see how they learn playground games with the help of play leaders.

Science masterclasses for all
In a bid to turn around the underachievement of Year 11 boys, The Douay Martyrs School, Ickenham, Hillingdon, has run a series of science classes to which both parents and children were invited. There were four Masterclass sessions aimed at teaching difficult scientific concepts to parents with their children sitting next to them in class. To reinforce learning, parents were encouraged to continue this work at home with specially prepared resources. The programme included:

  • Modelling for parents on how to coach their children
  • How to use memory tricks and techniques to improve memory and recall
  • How to use mind maps as a tool to bring together many difficult concepts

All classes are taught by subject specialists who are also good communicators so that they can respond well to the parent-pupil dynamics. No more than five sets of parents and their children attend a masterclass at any time.

For further examples of different ways to involve parents in their children’s education see the case studies on the Teachernet website.

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