The extent to which schools engage with everyone in their community, not just those already involved and engaged, is the focus of this study. This report presents the views of parents from diverse communities about their involvement with their children’s schools. It discusses their expectations, what worked well for them and what made engagement difficult, and it includes their ideas about what schools could do to strengthen engagement. This report complements the evaluation reports:Partners in Learning: Schools’ Engagement with Parents, Whānau and Communities, June 2008 and Partners in Learning: Good Practice, September 2008.

The composition of individual school communities in New Zealand reflects the changes taking place in the wider community. Schools with widely diverse communities, and those that are undergoing significant change, face opportunities and challenges about how best to involve parents and whānau in developing mutually supportive learning relationships with and for students.The Ministry of Education’s publication Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES) defines diversity from a student perspective as follows:

Diversity encompasses many characteristics including ethnicity, socio-economic background, home language, gender, special needs, disability, and giftedness.Teaching needs to be responsive to diversity within ethnic groups, for example,diversity within Pākehā, Māori, Pasifika and Asian students.[1]

ERO found, overwhelmingly, that all parents expect the best education for their children regardless of their background or where they choose to have their child educated. Parents have high expectations of schools and particularly of teachers. They want to be involved with schools and they want schools and teachers to engage and support their child to achieve success, not just academically, but in other ways as well.

Engagement works well when relationships between parents and the people at the school are developed and nurtured in ways that respect diversity. Parents appreciate regular communication that is both formal and informal. They like positive feedback about their child but they also want to know sooner rather than later if there are concerns about learning or well-being. Home-school partnerships are strengthened when parents have opportunities to share in their child’s successes and to help their child with learning activities at home.

During this evaluation parents told ERO about the factors that make engagement with their child’s school difficult. These included poor communication and school practices that did not include or respect the diverse groups that make up each school’s community. When expectations between parents and the school were not clearly defined this created barriers to the development of partnerships focused on children’s learning and well-being.

Parents and whānau identified ways that schools could improve engagement. The need for better forms of communication and support emerges as a key issue for parents. Many parents’ comments were about improving their relationships with their children’s teachers, and their concerns about the quality of their child’s relationship with his or her teacher. ERO found that the development of shared understandings and expectations between home and school is crucial to successful engagement.

This report discusses expectations, relationships, communication, learning partnerships and getting involved in schools and presents an overview of the findings from each of the parent groups ERO met with, in relation to: what parents expect of schools;

  • what parents think schools expect of them;
  • what works well;
  • what makes engagement difficult; and
  • what would help improve engagement between home and school.