Discussion

This evaluation offers an insight into what some schools are doing to influence engagement with their parents, whānau and the wider community. These case studies highlight the common themes that underpin and contribute to successful engagement.Six themes provide a structure to discuss successful partnerships in practice:

  • leadership;
  • relationships;
  • school culture;
  • partnerships with parents and whānau/families;
  • community networks; and
  • communication.

Each theme is discussed and supported by further examples from schools where ERO identified successful practice in engaging parents, whānau and the wider community.

Leadership

Throughout this evaluation, ERO found leadership was a critical factor in determining the success of home-school partnerships. School leaders influenced how well a school engaged with its community. Strong and committed leadership was underpinned by a strong belief that parents play an important role in their children’s education.

In many of the schools that were successfully engaging with parents, whānau and the wider community, shared values and beliefs were clearly stated and well understood by all. Consultation with parents, whānau and in some schools local iwi, established the values to be promoted throughout the school. Values were advocated that promoted respectful relationships between everybody in the school’s community.

In these schools, the strategic vision and goals took account of parents’ aspirations for their children. Some schools actively planned to increase engagement with parents. This planned approach was often supported by explicit initiatives and activities to welcome parents and whānau into the school and to strengthen relationships. Such strategies were useful starting points for ongoing dialogue, and supported the development of partnerships focused on student learning and well-being.

Principals worked in particular ways to develop relationships that supported partnerships with parents and communities. These included having a collaborative and consultative approach to leadership where the views of others were heard and considered. Principals put time and effort into getting to know the families whose children attended the school. They expected all staff to demonstrate positive attitudes towards parents by being accessible, approachable and willing to develop partnerships.

Opportunities for others to take a leadership role were evident in many schools where partnerships were strong. Principals devolved leadership responsibilities for engagement to other members of the school community. In some schools, middle managers or teaching staff coordinated a range of activities to engage with particular groups of parents. Parents took on leadership roles with other parents, with members of their own cultural community and also with students.

Student involvement in leading and contributing to partnerships was a feature in some schools. Students talked to their parents about what was happening in the school and encouraged parents to attend activities and events at the school that they were involved in leading. This was particularly evident in some secondary schools.

Further examples of leadership contributing to successful engagement

The knowledgeable, committed principal continues to lead by example as he effectively manages a range of initiatives designed to promote and maximise learning outcomes. A feature of his leadership is his ability to foster trusting relationships within the school community. The senior management team is united in support for the school vision and actively promote and model the agreed expectations. Leadership roles are available at all levels of the school, with student, staff and parents having meaningful opportunities to participate in decision making.

Decile 2, coeducational Years 9 to 15 secondary school in an urban area.

There is a strong sense of ownership of the vision and direction from all involved in the school. The principal is an all encompassing leader. He effectively implements the school’s vision of partnership between the school and its community. He lives the school motto of kôtahitanga; dream, strive and achieve, creating a strong culture of inclusiveness.

Decile 4, Years 1 to 6 contributing primary school in an urban area

Relationships

Relationships mattered where schools were successfully engaging families and communities. A commitment to investing time and energy in positive relationships was reflected in how parents and staff interacted through a variety of activities and events. Positive relationships were a necessary part of effective engagement for the benefit of students.

In schools that had clear expectations that teachers would develop meaningful relationships with parents:

  • recruitment practice focused on appointing teachers with proven skills in forming positive connections with others;
  • self-review practice identified families or groups of families with whom teachers were not connecting, and
  • school staff undertook professional development focused on engaging parents and whānau.

Transition-to-school processes were pivotal in the development of positive relationships. Contact on the first day of school established the link between home and school. Many parents confirmed the importance of feeling welcome, particularly on their first contact with the school, and praised school personnel such as office or reception staff for making this happen. Parents liked to be well informed and have opportunities to meet a range of school personnel. Parents benefited from effective transition processes that quickly enabled them to become part of the school community.

Considerable time and effort was put into making contact with parents and whānau/families, in both the school and the wider community. In some schools, the early development of relationships occurred through open days, visits to contributing schools, performances and community events. Meeting teachers informally at school events, activities and sports, provided opportunities for parents to talk, ask questions and connect with their children’s school lives. Parents enjoyed being involved in non-threatening, social and student-focused activities, making it easier for relationships to be developed and nurtured. Informal contact strengthen relationships and paved the way for more formal partnerships to develop. Parents’ involvement in school activities assisted the development of trust, respect and understanding between the school and parents.

Further examples of relationships contributing to successful engagement

New students who are enrolling for Year 9, and their parents, are given the opportunity to meet the principal. This is followed by a phone call from the Year 9 dean and the prospective tutor teacher. Prior to the start of the year students receive a letter of welcome, a calendar showing the dates of school events and a newsletter. Parents report that this process helps their children to feel, valued, important and welcome. Parents feel involved, informed and have met some key personnel at the school. They begin to form positive relationships with staff.

Decile 4, Years 9 to 15 single sex girls’ secondary school in an urban area

Opportunities for parents to be involved socially with the school include open coffee mornings held for an hour once a month. The school supports this activity by having activities for the younger children while parents are involved in discussions. Parents come from a wide area. Parents network with each other getting to know other parents of children in their class in an informal setting. This is particularly good for immigrant parents who are new to the area.

There are good relationships between teachers, parents and school managers. The school is a familiar place so parents are comfortable to talk to teachers about concerns or to share their child’s interests. Families are well informed about school events and children’s learning. They readily participate in the many opportunities provided by the school to be involved in and to support their child’s education. The school philosophy of caring and giving attention to detail has resulted in visitors and families feeling valued at the school.

Decile 8, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in an urban area.

School culture

School culture is often referred to as ‘the way things are done at this school’. Culture reflects the values that underpin the actions of school staff and students. In schools where partnerships were working well, it was easy for parents, whānau and community members to come into the school and participate in formal and informal activities and events. An inclusive and welcoming environment helped parents to feel comfortable and at ease in the school. Parents’ interactions with school staff, including office staff, the principal, senior managers, and teachers were positive. Being included and accepted was crucial to successful engagement.

Where personnel, such as the principal, senior managers, deans and teachers were approachable and accessible, parents responded positively to opportunities to meet and talk. The ease with which interactions took place, influenced the nature of the relationships that supported successful engagement.

These schools acknowledged and respected the diverse backgrounds of all their students. Parents, whānau and families experienced a sense of belonging in their child’s school and felt comfortable contributing to programmes and their child’s learning and well-being. The diversity of each school’s community was valued and celebrated.

Further examples of the school culture contributing to successful engagement

At this school students’ self esteem and cultural identity are actively nurtured. Strong links are established with the local marae and kaumatua. Staff are proactive in engaging in student-focused liaison with each child’s whānau. The resulting positive wairua is a feature of the school.

Decile 2, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in a rural area.

The school has developed a whānau/family atmosphere. The principal and the teachers demonstrate care and respect for each other and for the children. Students express pride in their school. The principal and teachers model the behaviour they expect of students. Consistent and fair practices have ensured a successful behaviour management system that students know and understand. Inappropriate behaviours are prevented from escalating, while positive behaviours are readily acknowledged by teachers.

Decile 2, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in an urban area.

Partnerships

Where partnerships were working well, the involvement of parents, whānau and communities was explicit in the school’s plans and visible in its day-to-day interactions and activities. There was a clear expectation for parents to work in partnership with the school to benefit their child’s learning and well-being. The school community shared this expectation.

Where learning-focused partnerships were working well, a key aspect was the ease with which parents accessed information and understood what it meant in terms of their child’s progress and achievement. Written information was supported by face-to-face discussions that enabled parents to ask questions and involved students taking a lead role in sharing and reflecting on their learning. Regular opportunities to share information meant that parents felt well informed and were able to have conversations with their children about their learning and support learning at home. Parents appreciated receiving accurate and reliable information about how well their child was achieving.

Successful engagement involved parents and whānau in decisions affecting their child. In some schools, they were involved in decisions about their child’s learning goals, subject choices, class placement, and solutions to behavioural and learning matters. Parents gained confidence and trust in the school through decision making partnerships.

There were many opportunities to share students’ achievements and involve the wider community in acknowledging success. Celebrations included award ceremonies, cultural events and performances, festivals of learning, whānau hui, class presentations, art exhibitions, curriculum evenings, and daily communication books. Students’ pride in themselves and motivation increased when their parents, whānau and families were involved in celebrating their learning successes.

The implementation of restorative justice practices that promoted a partnership approach to dealing with more serious behavioural issues was a strength in some schools. Success depended on the way the school personnel involved students and their parents and whānau in decisions based on finding solutions rather than attributing blame. In most cases there were positive outcomes for students and their families in terms of strengthening partnerships.

Further examples of partnerships contributing to successful engagement

At this school parents have an opportunity to discuss their child’s learning with the teacher with their child present. The school produces folios of assessment information and student samples of work that are discussed at the interview. Interviews are also undertaken for a specific purpose such as transition to school, reporting school entry assessment data or sharing the outcomes of the diagnostic testing. Parents receive information at certain points in their child’s learning. The junior syndicate establishes close relationships with parents in the first few years. Parents are contacted and consulted when special programmes are put in place. They are also invited to sit in on lessons. This familiarises them with the specific learning needs of their children and gives them ideas about how to help them at home. They are able to reinforce learning.

Decile 4, Years 1 to 8, full primary school in an urban area.

Parents are well informed about their child’s progress and achievement. Student-led conferences focus on individual portfolios of work samples and give students an opportunity to discuss their learning and successes with their parents and whānau. Formal and informal parent-teacher meetings and interviews inform parents about their child’s current learning. School-based curriculum forums promote a stronger learning partnership between parents and the school. Parents spoken with stated they gained better understanding from these sessions.

Decile 3, Years 1 to 6 contributing primary school in an urban area.

Opportunities for parents to be involved in their child’s learning include: curriculum evenings where the following term’s focus areas are discussed with parents;

  • three-way goal setting interviews involving parent, child and teacher;
  • meet the teacher interviews and parent interviews to share and discuss individual student achievement;
  • opportunities for parents to share their expertise with other students in their child’s class;
  • informative newsletters; and
  • parent involvement with trips and reading programmes.

Parents know how their children are doing and are interested in their children’s achievement. Many parents speak of learning conversations continuing at home. A home-school partnership is developing where parents, teachers and children themselves all contribute to children’s learning. Parents are involved in many ways. One father developed a presentation on the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi to their family and presented it with his daughter to her class. The school values children’s homes as an extension of the learning environment.

At the beginning of each term parents receive a newsletter about what their children will be learning. Curriculum meetings give parents a further opportunity to be informed about the learning programme. Sharing the same conceptual theme across the school enables students with siblings of different ages to engage in conversations about their learning with each other and with their parents. Parents report that students are transferring school learning to other situations outside the school.

Decile 8, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in an urban area.

Restorative justice practices at this school have received a very positive response from parents. Respect for the individual and an expectation that each member of the school community takes responsibility for their actions form the basis of the school’s vision. Restorative justice practices support this vision and positively influence the school tone. Processes involved are very clear and have resulted in a commitment by all parties into finding real solutions to problems rather than punitive outcomes. Students are staying in school and feel valued. The school promotes a culture of inclusiveness.

Decile 2, coeducational Years 9 to 15 secondary school in an urban area

Community networks

Parents felt that they knew about what was happening for their child where the school actively sought their view on a range of topics and where those views were then considered as part of the school’s direction. Consultation that was regular and took account of the diverse ways in which parents wanted to express their views and ideas, strengthened partnerships between the schools and their communities.

In many of the schools with diverse communities, partnerships worked well because of the way in which the cultural identity and values of students, their parents and their community were acknowledged and included in day-to-day activities. In these schools, parents were involved in organising and leading cultural celebrations. Community expertise and skills were identified and contributed to strengthening partnerships that benefited student learning and well-being. Regular meetings, hui, fono and forums involving parents, whānau and families had a positive effect on engagement. These meetings were often led by key people from either the school or the wider community. Such gatherings provided a bridge for parents to come into school. These helped to build parents’ confidence, especially if schooling had not been a positive experience for them in the past.

Some schools had developed purposeful links with the wider community through involvement with community groups and agencies, both in the school environment and outside the school. Links with the local iwi facilitated further engagement with whānau and families. Regular meetings were convened with a wide variety of agencies that supported children and their families. School personnel worked in partnership with community agencies to support students’ learning and well-being.

Formalised links with community groups and agencies involved various groups working in partnership with parents, whānau and school personnel. The benefits of such partnerships were evident in the shared understanding parents had about student achievement priorities and the support given to achieve these.

Further examples of community networks contributing to successful engagement

At this school consultation and feedback to the community about school matters are ongoing. At fortnightly marae hui, the principal shares information and questions from the community are responded to directly. Teachers are responsive to requests and concerns from parents. They value the support, feedback and interest provided by parents and whānau. Teachers listen to parents and adjust programmes to directly benefit students. Students and staff enjoy a high level of support from the local community and schools in the wider region. The principal and board believe that the “positive wairua” within the school community is inclusive of all students and their families. The strong links with local kaumatua are an key factor in nurturing the well-being of students and their sense of who they are as young Māori learners. As the result of community cooperation, students readily access comprehensive medical services at a local clinic and through regular school visits from health professionals. The well-being of children and their families is recognised by the staff and the board of trustees as a key factor in supporting students to achieve and gain from education.

Decile 2, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in a rural area.

The involvement of Pacific parents and communities in school activities is a strong feature of the school. The board is made up of representatives from the Pākehā, Māori, Samoan, Cook Island Māori, Tokelauan, and Tuvaluan communities. Regular community meetings for specific ethnic groups include the parents and whānau of Māori, Samoan, Cook Island Māori, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan and Niuean students. These forums serve several purposes. For example they provide an opportunity for parents to discuss students’ well-being and learning, provision of first-language classes, board topics, fundraising and preparation for cultural events.

The school’s open-door policy means that parents feel welcome and can meet the principal and staff without having to make an appointment. Parents are very positive about the college’s efforts and results in reducing absenteeism and attribute the college’s communication with them including by text messaging as having positive outcomes.

Communication

Communication played a key role in the development and maintenance of successful engagement. Activities were tailored for specific groups and consideration given to using different ways to impart information. For some parents, face-to-face communication worked best and for others the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) such as email and interactive websites were more useful. In some schools, the more traditional means of communication such as weekly newsletters handed out for students to take home and twice yearly written reporting were complemented with more personalised and regular opportunities for sharing information.

Good use was made of formal and informal opportunities to relay information. Formal means included telephone calls, individual letters and interviews and meetings. Informal contact at sports events or the beginning of a school day added value to and strengthened partnerships, especially when these were in their early stages. Much of the communication activity that was most valued by parents and whānau or families was the opportunity to have regular one-to-one contact with their child’s teacher to exchange information.

Some schools had developed useful ways for teachers and parents and whānau to communicate on a daily basis through communication notebooks or diaries, telephone calls, text messages and emails. The use of ICT such as email, text messaging and interactive websites broadened and enhanced the ways that schools and parents communicated with each other. Rather than replacing traditional forms of communication, ICT offers a means for school to reach parents whose busy lives prevent them from having regular face-to-face contact with teachers. Effective forms of communication bridge the gap between home and school.

The regular and personalised nature of this communication contributed to its effectiveness. Parents appreciated informal contact as a way of building a relationship that enabled two-way sharing of information about their child. They responded well to communication strategies that allowed them to express their views and contribute to their children’s learning.

Communication processes that took into account the language and cultural diversity of parents and whānau and families were more successful in developing partnerships with a wide range of parents. The availability of school personnel to listen to parents was vital, as was having school staff who could relate to parents from diverse cultural backgrounds. In some schools, language barriers were overcome by the use of interpreters at meetings and through the translation of newsletters and other information into the languages of groups in the school community. Such services made it easier for parents to attend and participate in meetings, and to gain an increased understanding of their child’s progress and achievement in, what for many was, an unfamiliar education system.

Further examples of communication contributing to successful engagement

At this school parents seek information about their child’s education through a variety of means including: newsletters, email correspondence; and the school’s website. Parents find the articles written by the principal about different educational matters to be informative. They also respect the way many teachers make their email addresses available so that they can contact them with questions about their child’s progress. The school website, although not used by all parents, is valued for being another communication channel for parents who want to know something in particular.

Decile 9, Years 7 to 8 intermediate school in an urban area.

The school engages parents from wide multicultural backgrounds. Translators are available to assist parents to understand curriculum and school processes, and provide active engagement with the school’s language centre teachers through cultural meetings, and informal means. On a practical side, newsletters are translated for two major groups in school population. Burmese parents of children who arrived as refugees are especially appreciative of the school’s efforts to teach their children and help them to help their children at home. An Asian board of trustees member also assists with translating for a significant Chinese community. The school has a parent-school liaison person for each class. A new school parent is telephoned by the parent liaison person and invited to a meeting at the school. This helps new parents to know what the school expects of them and how they can contribute and get involved.

Decile 6, Years 1 to 8 full primary school in an urban area

This school uses a wide range of communication methods including the school website and related software, emails to teachers, telephone calls and the quarterly newsletter. Ninety percent of the school’s families have access to the internet. Web-based and other software methods are used to give parents and whānau information about learning programmes and homework. Parents report that the school’s website and the use of email are particularly helpful. They are kept informed about forthcoming school activities and two-way communication is fostered.

Decile 5, Years 9 to 15 coeducational secondary school in an urban area.