Phil Malsbury explains how his school improved its dialogue with parents and carers
We have always had a reputation for being a warm, open and friendly school. Indeed, this was a key reason why my wife and I chose to send our children here and why I also volunteered to join the school’s governing body three years ago.
It quickly became very clear to me (and others) that our governing body was somewhat behind the times and in need of some significant transformation. This was reinforced when an Ofsted inspection rated the school as ‘requires improvement’. The role of governors was pulled out as a key area for improvement.
When we carried out a review of our existing communication channels, we realised that the communication between governors and parents was, at best, infrequent and more often than not tended to be one way – governors to parents. We all know that an important requirement for any governing body is to have tangible evidence showing that we have invited views from relevant stakeholders, recorded the main issues raised and taken appropriate action in response.
We set up a working group that came up with a number of ideas. The first step was to update the school’s website as this is a (or some would say the) key information portal for parents. We updated governor details, added more information about governors and, most importantly, added contact details for the chair (via the school office).
The school already had a very successful school/parent forum that meets termly but governors were not involved. A standing invitation was extended to governors to ensure that they could hear first hand any concerns that parents raised and how the school resolved them. We were mindful that we do not get involved in operational concerns but we have found it a fantastic forum for building awareness of parents’ concerns and also for parents to understand more about the governors’ role.
More frequent updates Instead of using the school’s newsletter, we now send our communications to parents via ParentMail, which the majority of parents subscribe to. This lets us update parents on a more frequent basis when we need to.
Our second step was to stand at the school gate when the children arrive. I have always been a big fan of teachers being on the school gate in the morning, as I feel this helps foster a sense of belonging and openness. One of our governors stood at the gate with one of our teachers and parents responded warmly. It’s something that we will do again, albeit on an infrequent basis.
Our biggest impact though has been attending parents’ evening. Having attended as a parent, I knew how much waiting around there normally is (understandably so). We wanted to fill that gap with governor interaction. This gave us the opportunity to chat to parents and their children to get their views on the school. We also handed out our termly newsletter which gave us something tangible to share with parents. Finally, we encouraged parents to use ParentView to express their views via the school’s iPads.
We want to continue our interactions with parents via our newsletters and ParentMails and regular updates on the school website. We are also looking to get more involved in some of the other popular school events such as the summer fayre.
It can be quite intimidating making yourself known to parents at these events but the head and the teaching staff have supported us immeasurably. We are all working towards the same goal in helping us to become an outstanding governing body and helping our children to do the best that they can.
As a postscript, since the Ofsted visit in 2013, we have become an academy (by our choice). We have had an independent review of governance by NGA and an external independent review of the school.
In both cases, the improvement in governors’ effectiveness has been explicitly highlighted (as well as an improvement in the school as a whole), which was immensely gratifying and in part is due to our improved communications with parents.
Phil Malsbury is chair of governors at Mayfield Primary School, Kent