Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Working with Parents in FE, what works?

There's a growing consensus in Further Education that we must enable our students to become adults, in charge of their own paths to learning and developing their enthusiasm for lifelong learning within the current educational system. In theory this works, with a lot of students working towards gaining qualifications that will help them within the working world. We need to be careful however, as with the demand for students to complete compulsory aspects of their programme, there will be a shift in the dynamic between the FE lecturer and the student.

With compulsory English and Maths, getting the parents on board with you is of great importance in the early parts of a child's education, this ensures that we can ensure that both sides are "singing from the same hymn sheet" regarding the views of the educational establishment and the parents at home. There will be circumstances which means that this doesn't make much difference to the majority of the behavioural issues that you encounter, however for the majority that want their children to complete their English and Maths, this could be the difference between grade boundaries.

There is a massive caveat here though if the student is 18 or over. According to the Data Protection Act (1998), you will need the consent of the student before you make contact about their education to their parents so make sure you get this first. This could have serious legal implications for your workplace if this is not followed and you should receive Data Protection training regarding this fact.

Be sure to read up on Data Protection information before dealing with parents (image courtesy of pexels.com)

I believe parent-teacher relationships are vitally important to a students learning experience, a prime example is the publication date of this post. As we are in the Easter holidays, it is vitally important for GCSE students to start or to progress within their English or Maths revision, they all need to start somewhere and giving the tools that students will need for their exams to the parents will make our jobs easier, achieve higher success in exams and promote a culture of lifelong learning to the students attempting these qualifications.

I am going to propose some actions that you should consider regarding parent involvement to your student's education in compulsory subjects such as Maths or English. As a further education provider, we need to become hubs in our local communities so that people feel confident when they step through the door that they are safe, comfortable and relaxed in learning new skills. The way we develop this is in how we market and promote our establishment to the wider community but I will save that for another blog post.

Parent-Teacher Relationships can bridge the gap in a child's educational journey (image courtesy of pexels.com)
Here are some things that you could do to promote a healthy parent-teacher relationship in your students, no particular order, but feel free to give them a try:

1) Update your parents on your students progress in a different way

How many of you are sick of doing reports? Yeah? Me too. Reports are a funny thing because although they can be useful, usually people (including parents) lose interest in them within a few minutes to give them much thought. I suggest an easier and up to date way of contacting those people to ensure that you are getting them to think about their students journey.
Postcards! Yes Postcards!
A massive change in my students eyes when I realised that I send postcards home to parents for students that do particularly well within their Maths exams, or within their own work. Some students feel empowered by this and it is also a great way to show that you care about your students progress (one of my students shared her postcard to her Facebook friends! Free marketing for your workplace!)

2) Hold a parents evening near the start of the year

This is important because I believe that if you had a parents evening near the start of the year then you can introduce yourself, show the qualification that their children are working towards (not many parents know what a functional skill is) and how they are going to do it. It is also a great opportunity to share access to your own VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which can be assessed remotely from home.
Although some parents will use this, others may opt for a more personal approach in regards to their own questions regarding their students learning, give your email address out if you must (but only if you are preparing yourself for email bombardment later down the line), a telephone number is preferable, you can usually get things solved much quicker over the phone then through an email thread!

Your engagement with a parent could impact your student's future (image courtesy of pexels.com)

3) Suggest the parents sit their GCSE alongside their child

Not usually conventional, but adult education is huge within further education. There is a growing demand within local communities and colleges should capitalise on the free GCSE English and Maths deal that is currently available.
Some parents will take you up on the offer, it is a great way to ensure that parents are seeing how difficult the syllabus can be as well as giving them an opportunity to socialise, learn and consolidate their own learning of Maths or English.
Why pay for a private tutor, when you can do it yourself? You cannot lose.

4) A phone call goes a long way

Parents who will want contact make themselves known fairly quickly in the academic year. Both negative and positive. The main thing is to treat them as your customers, if you have a rude one, then pass them onto your manager. If you have the pleasure of dealing with co-operative and supportive parents, then the occasional phone call won't hurt.
This doesn't even need to be for a long time, 2 minutes just to update them on their child's progress, the conversation structure should be like this:

a) How their attendance has been.
b) How their application to the subject is.
c) What could be done to improve either of these.

You wouldn't physically have the time to do this with every single student, however for those who are insistent on contact, then it certainly does make a difference to know you've listened to them and respected their wishes.

What are your thoughts on parent-teacher interactions within FE? Do you think we need to be more like a secondary school? What challenges do you face with parents in FE? Leave a comment below, or follow me on Twitter (@feguidebook) for more educational ideas worth sharing

Hope you are all enjoying your holidays!

- Matt
@feguidebook