One size doesn’t fit all: Engaging parents with education

One size doesn’t fit all: Engaging parents with education

News article from November 10, 2017

                      Harbinger Primary School

A blog post from our fantastic new Fundraising Assistant, Annabel Rose.

I’ve just started working at School-Home Support. The team love talking about the impact our work has and the difference it makes to the lives of children, but it’s been harder for me to imagine exactly what our school-based practitioners do and just how important it is. Thankfully, I was able to go to one of our See the Impact events within my first few weeks. These events are designed to allow supporters to see for themselves how we tackle educational inequality.

The event this month was at Harbinger Primary School – the oldest school on the Isle of Dogs, built 109 years ago. I soon discovered that seeing our work in real life was an incomparable experience – case studies, reports, and statistics don’t even come close!

We often imagine that education just involves children and their teachers but by the age of 18, children have spent just 9% of their waking hours in a classroom: their home environment is therefore crucial for learning.

However, there are barriers. Barriers to parental engagement include parents having negative experiences of education themselves, or lacking English or literacy skills. Issues such as ill-health, poverty, and domestic violence also prevent parents becoming involved and engaged in their children’s education. Without parental support, children’s attendance, attainment, aspirations, and wellbeing are at risk. – Jameela Matthews, SHS Parental Engagement Coordinator.

I know our work is bespoke to each school, and that doing ‘whatever it takes’ to get children into school isn’t about a one size fits all formula. Successfully challenging educational inequality depends on an approach that responds not only to the needs of individual children and their families, but also considers the issues within each school and its wider community.   

Listening to Harbinger’s Headteacher, Mandy Boutwood, emphasised just how important it is that SHS provides tailored support. Mandy offered us a unique insight into the specific challenges the school faces. Mandy explained that for Harbinger, parental engagement is the key issue – parents’ interest and participation in their children’s learning has a greater impact than the barrier of having English as a Second Language (the reality for an above average proportion of their pupils). We also heard how Mandy struggle[s] to imagine school life without Marina, the SHS Practitioner, especially as “supporting families would involve loads more work for the schools’ teachers and staff, and this would definitely detract from time they would otherwise spend on teaching and learning”.

For SHS Practitioner Marina, there is no such thing as a typical day. She deals with issues such as homelessness, poverty, and parenting difficulties while finding time to “maintain an approachable presence in the playground, offer one-to-one support, and respond to emergency issues. I was struck by how varied her work is, and how it is uniquely shaped around the needs and requests of the parents at Harbinger.

Two parents joined us to share their very different stories.

One mum told us how Marina had been there when poverty was a real issue. The family couldn’t afford food, so Marina helped Mum access a local food bank, and then went on to help her find and apply to other jobs. Improving Mum’s parenting skills was also another key priority. Crucially, Marina helped Mum plan for the school holidays; a time without Marina and Harbinger’s regular support and free school meals. Marina helped Mum to find local activities, and also applied to the SHS Welfare Fund to secure funding for her daughter to attend a playscheme where she could socialise and learn.

Another mum explained that Marina’s impartial and approachable presence empowered her to talk about the abuse she was experiencing at home. Family relationships account for a significant amount of our case work, and SHS Practitioners are specially trained to deal with the complex issue of domestic abuse. Marina was able to help Mum access specialist help, kept in close contact by phone, and accompanied Mum on confidence-building trips beyond the Island (astonishingly Mum had never left the Isle of Dogs on her own). Marina continues to work with the Mum to find a more long-term solution, and things are continuing to get better.

School-Home Support gets children in school, ready to learn, whatever it takes. See the Impact showed me what that really means – whatever the parents of Harbinger need to be able to support their children’s education, Marina helps them to make it a reality.

Thank you very much to everyone at Harbinger for welcoming us to your lovely school, and to Mandy, Marina, Jameela, and the parents who spoke so powerfully about all School-Home Support does so children can thrive.

We will be hosting our next See the Impact event at a school in South London in February. If you are interested in coming along, please contact Annabel at or 02074265000.


Back to the list of news articles