Since March 2020, most parents have had no choice but to become more involved than ever before in their child’s learning.

Schools were ordered to close in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic saw many parents juggling careers with simultaneously monitoring their child’s learning from home. If anything good came out of those long months of disruption until the autumn term finally swung around, it’s that both teachers and parents had the opportunity to appreciate more fully the importance of a strong home/school partnership built on trust. But the increase in parental involvement in children’s learning ought to give them proportionally more of a say in decisions that directly affect them.

41% of parents feel able to have a say on school decisions that affect their child's education.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have had a profound effect on family life and created stress and anxiety. At Parentkind, we have regularly checked in with parents with a series of polls to see how they are coping, what impact the disruption is having on their child's education, and what concerns remained outstanding.

Photo of a classroom full of empty chairs & desks
Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Some results were encouraging. As schools prepared to close for the summer holidays, we found that over half (53%) of parents felt more engaged in their child's learning compared to before lockdown. The new academic year is traditionally a great time for schools to keep parents actively involved in their child's learning. In the era of Covid-19, it’s harder than ever before, as even mixing and mingling at the school gates has become impossible.

Parentkind wants to see parent voice amplified in the national debate about education.

For any school leader wishing to overhaul their parental engagement strategy, our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools offers an effective parental participation framework for maximising the potential your parent community has to offer. It suggests prioritising support to parents and families with highest need, while also offering a variety of methods to engage and communicate with parents. It is important to make them aware of the different ways they can contribute, whatever their background and skills, and whatever time they can spare. Taking these factors into account will ensure that parent voice is democratised to as wide a cross-section of the parent community as possible.

But it is undeniably unfortunate that, at the same time that many parents are increasingly aware of the vital role they play as their child’s primary educator, there are more obstacles than ever before in the way of forging connections with the school and building relationships with teachers, parent groups and other parents.

There is an accountability gap between parents wanting to be consulted or have a say on decisions that affect them, and the amount to which they feel policymakers listen to them.

We also keep a close eye on how involved parents think they are. Our Annual Parent Survey 2019, which approaches ABC1 and C2DE parents, found that only 41% of parents feel able to have a say on school decisions that affect their child's education. 56% agreed that they would like a say in their child's education at government level, and 51% said the same at Local Authority or Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) level. Despite the high numbers wishing to influence decision-making, only 23% agree that the government listens to parents on what they want for their child's education, and 27% agree at LA/MAT level. This means there is an accountability gap between parents wanting to be consulted or have a say on decisions that affect them, and the amount to which they feel policymakers listen to them. We regularly suggest in our feedback to decision-makers that extra efforts are made to make consultations more accessible to parents, and to consider tailoring questions relevant to their lives, so that parent voice can be amplified in outcomes. Now is the time to close the gap and ensure government, LAs, MATs and schools are more accountable to parents, and consider them a valued and equal stakeholder with the ability to influence decisions affecting them.

The time has come to ensure that with increased parental responsibility comes an increased right to participate and to have a say.

Parentkind wants to see parent voice amplified in the national debate about education, and we felt that was more important than ever when the government in England wanted to re-introduce draconian parental fines for non-attendance during a time when the pandemic is far from over. It’s vital that policy- and decision-makers listen to the concerns of parents about how we manage risk and arrive at acceptable levels of safety while also ensuring that children’s learning and parents’ professional lives can continue with minimum disruption.

Parentkind has recently become the secretariat for the Parental Participation in Education APPG, chaired by Ian Mearns MP. When the group meets, we discuss our research findings, raise parents’ key concerns, and hear from other education experts about how we might all seek to adapt our approach to the home/school partnership.

As well as raising parental concerns, we want to see genuine consultation with parents become a key part of decision-making at every level of influence. Looking beyond the additional pressures the coronavirus crisis has heaped on parents and the teaching profession alike, there is a golden opportunity to bring homes and schools closer together, recognising the value of the home/school partnership and embracing its potential. Such collaboration may be the only way of mitigating as much as possible any lost classroom learning, and the swiftest way to ensure oversight of increasing amounts of remote online learning as local shutdowns become a fact of life, most probably throughout this academic year.

Parents are more involved in their child’s education than ever before, and they say they have never felt more invested in it. The time has come to ensure that with increased parental responsibility comes an increased right to participate and to have a say.

This piece is part of the "Democratic Response to COVID-19" series curated by Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University.

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Kerry-Jane arrived at Parentkind in February 2018 from Tomorrow’s People where she was Director of Fundraising and Marketing.  Prior to that Kerry-Jane worked as Director of Resource Development & Communications for International Medical Corps UK. She has 20 years’ experience of working within the charity section in roles at Maggie’s, Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation, driving successful funding operations, generating income from multiple sources, building and leading teams, business development and marketing. As a ‘professional’ auntie, sister to a Teaching Assistant and daughter to a lecturer, Kerry-Jane is enthusiastic about education and the critical role families can have in a child’s learning.