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Practice for Positive Relationships: 2: Reaching out to Families


Practice for Positive Relationships 2: Reaching out to Families

Reaching out to Families

The process to develop this issue of Practice for Positive Relationships was led by Yvonne Wright, seconded to the Scottish Executive from her role as Headteacher of Clackmannanshire Schools Support Service.

Special thanks to all those whose experience informed this briefing, and in particular to members of a dedicated working group:

Peter Kaye Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists
Evelyn Livingston Nethermains Primary/Carronshore Primary, Falkirk
Karen Knamiller Barnardo's Scotland
Steve McCreadie Aberlour Childcare Trust
Graham Short East Ayrshire Council
Alan MackenzieSSTA
Alana Ross and Helen ConnerEIS
Catriona MasonAHDS

Throughout this publication, the term 'parent' is used to refer to a child's or young person's parent, carer or guardian.


Practice for Positive Relationships is a series of brief introductions to good practice, exploring what school staff, school communities and education authorities are doing to promote positive behaviour in Scottish schools.

There is a wealth of good practice in Scottish schools, and this series enables practitioners to share their experience and learning with the education community, with each issue featuring a particular area of school life. The Scottish Executive has worked with colleagues from local authorities, teacher unions, schools and voluntary sector to develop the series.

Want more information?

Visit the Better Behaviour - Better Learning website at www.betterbehaviourscotland.gov.uk

If you have your own practice experiences to share, contact the Executive's Positive Behaviour Team. You can find details of your local contact on the Better Behaviour Scotland website (above).

The Parents as Partners in Learning website provides further information and resources to help schools to communicate effectively with, and involve, parents.

how to navigate this issue


Consider how your school communicates with parents?
Design a CPD input or frame a staff discussion to develop your approach?
Revisit the principles of a solution oriented approach?
Reflect on what parents may want and need from school communication?
Consider how you will build relationships with families with differing needs and circumstances?

on building relationships with families

Both school staff and parents need to see the benefit of communication

When school staff have an awareness of family background, they can find it easier to understand the issues children and young people may be experiencing at home. These issues are often manifested in their behaviour and attitude.

Parents who recognise that professionals in school respect them and value their own views on their child are more likely to trust professionals and share information. Feedback and follow-up helps them to understand how the school has responded.

Good relationships with parents start early

It is easier to build a positive relationship with parents when the starting point is positive communication about their child. Primary schools can begin to build relationships with parents when children are in pre-school. Secondary schools can begin to build relationships with parents when
children are in associated primaries and preparing for transition.

All staff are active participants in a whole school approach

Scottish schools have at their heart a vision of enabling all children and young people to thrive and achieve their full potential as learners and as members of society. This means working with the 'whole child', including taking account of the child's home life and significant relationships. All school staff share responsibility for meeting the education, care and welfare needs of children and young people.

Each member of staff will have current insight into the needs of the child and family, but it is important to share information and allow parents to connect with the staff they feel most comfortable with. When preparing for a child's transition between schools, services or staff, parents should be encouraged to participate in supporting the child and sharing information as a partner in the process.

Staff who understand parents' concerns and circumstances will find it easier to build relationships

Families have different cultures, structures and influences on family life.

Most parents will experience difficulties or frustrations in their parenting or in other areas of their lives at one time or another. Family circumstances can change suddenly and dramatically, whilst for some families, conflict, fragility or pressure may be more sustained.

Draw on resources within communities and families

Time invested in building relationships with parents and other adults who have a role in children's and young people's lives will pay off. We know that children do better when their parents support their learning.

Schools may tap into community resources and other council services to draw support, e.g. family learning, befriending/mentoring projects, self-help groups, specialist support and services dedicated to specific communities or identity issues. Schools are best placed to build positive relationships when they demonstrate their understanding of the culture and values of the communities that they serve.

Parents will respond to staff who show care for their children

Direct, honest and respectful communication may give the best chance to protect relationships even where school staff have to address issues that parents find distressing and difficult, for example about their child's behaviour. Some parents will remember their own negative experiences of school or professional involvement, and feel that these are replayed or reinforced when their children experience difficulties. It is important to clearly state at the beginning of a meeting that the staff will have the interests of the child as their central concern and that they therefore share the same viewpoint as the parent. Managing relationships and sustaining contact with parents, perhaps through prolonged or repeated concerns, may present real challenges for schools. Prior investment in building relationships makes it easier to address problems when they do arise.

Support all staff to support children better

Staff who address complex and emotive issues with families will themselves require support in order to be confident and effective in their role. They require re-assurance and continued guidance in order to maintain their objective view of the child.

Children, young people and families may make a conscious choice about who they share information with, and this may include younger and less experienced staff, home-school link workers and additional support staff. Effective support may include senior management support, peer support, opportunities for reflection, de-briefing and staff welfare and support systems.

And if it doesn't work …try something else

Schools which are most successful in building relationships with parents take a flexible, creative and reflective approach. They learn from what does and does not work, and listen to individual parents about what will suit them best.

means children do better

We know that children and young people achieve better outcomes when their parents are involved in their education - evidenced in their attendance, behaviour and attainment. The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 sets out a framework for involving parents in their child's learning in three main ways:

  • Learning at home:
    Parents are the first and ongoing educators of their own children. They should receive information and support to help develop their child's learning at home, in the community and at school.
  • Home/school partnership:
    Schools must be open to the involvement of parents and consider ways of providing information that help parents engage with school and their children's education.
  • Giving parents a voice:
    The Act gives parents the opportunity to express their views, to share their experiences and for schools to listen and learn from them.

The Act means that approaches to involving parents must be reflected in local authority strategies and school development plans. Schools can evidence their approach by having a clear statement on how parents can be involved in their child's learning and in school life, a clear communication strategy and a transparent, effective complaints procedure.

A Toolkit and guidance on the Parental Involvement Act is available at the Parents as Partners in Learning website

This issue of Practice for Positive Relationships concentrates on good practice in building relationships with individual families, with a special focus on those schools may find harder to reach.

Reaching out to families - the first principles

Parents will respond best to school staff who really get to know them and respond sensitively to them as individuals. The quality of relationships and dialogue between school staff and parents are in turn helped by a school community where values and positive attitudes are clearly visible.

The way that we view and relate to parents has an enormous impact on our approach to communication and relationship-building. Communication happens between people - school staff, children, young people and parents all contribute to the outcome. Experienced practitioners are practised in varying their approach to get the best from their relationships and contact with families.

Introducing the 'Parent Compass'

The mapping tool provided overleaf may help schools to assess the quality and breadth of their relationships with parents. It is designed to be used alongside the 'Discussion Points' that follow. Together, they may help staff teams to consider how they approach their contact with parents.

"A big open message from the headteacher tells you that school really wants parents involved."

"Most parents want to support their child and want them to be successful at school. In some cases the relationship might have become quite negative but we can still find some positive feature that we can build on."

Every professional will at some time experience very positive relationships with some parents and more negative or challenging encounters with others. Professionals may experience a mixture of positive and negative encounters with the same family, depending on the issue, who they speak to, which professional is involved in the communication and on factors such as timing and how people are feeling. Relationships may move around the compass according to the situation or as trust develops. Progress towards 'parents as positive partners' may not be linear or straightforward, and there may be legitimate reasons for being in a number of 'places' on the compass, i.e. for the school to provide basic information for parents, as well as enhanced engagement in school life or flexible opportunities to discuss their child's progress.

The compass may help staff to consider what is required to change the 'type of relationship' they experience with a parent by considering how communication, opportunities for access and attitudes towards parents can be adjusted.

Campsie View School (East Dunbartonshire) uses a home-school diary for each pupil to develop links between home and school. Teachers comment on the day's activities, and parents can feed back what has happened over the weekend. The diaries contain information about family members and family life, to help school staff to see the bigger picture.

The school also gives achievement awards through regular assemblies and sends home copies of awards with school diaries so that parents know how their child is doing.

How do we view parents?



Here are some discussion points which can be used alongside the 'Parent Compass' to generate dialogue, to reflect, for self-evaluation, Continuing Professional Development or parent consultation.

  • When and how does your school communicate with parents?
  • What opportunities for access to school staff and school life do parents have?
  • Where on the compass would you place most of the relationships you have with parents?
  • Where will you be in three years time?
  • What is the balance of positive and negative feedback that you give to parents?
  • What is the balance of formal and informal communication?
  • How many of your parents feel comfortable coming into school? What thoughts and feelings might they have about being in school?
  • What more flexible opportunities for dialogue are there? How do you make the most of these?
  • Think about the spaces in school where you meet parents. How are they set up and how does this influence communication? What conscious decisions do you make about your use of space?
  • What do parents think about the school and their involvement in school? How do you know this? How do you check your understanding of parent perceptions?
  • What do parents 'say' through their behaviour (perhaps through their lack of engagement)?
  • How do you vary your approach to parent contact to meet the different needs of families?
  • Think of an example where your relationship with a family has moved across the compass - what factors influenced this?
  • Think of a time when you were proud of the work that you did with a family - what changes did you see and what did you do that made a difference?
  • In general, what can school staff do to move on their relationships with families?

Principles of a

Here are some general principles of a solution oriented approach that can help professionals to build relationships with families.

Building on strengths

  • People generally want things to get better - that includes parents, professionals and children
  • Everyone has a wealth of resources within them and around them - that includes parents, professionals and children
  • There are always exceptions to the 'problem' - look for what is good and what works

Accepting and listening

  • The 'problem' is the problem - not the parent, or the child, or the professional
  • Use parents' own view of what will work, let them tell you of the exceptions

Creativity and flexibility

  • Change is inevitable and happens all the time - things can get better, circumstances and needs can change
  • Big problems don't always need big solutions
  • Understanding the cause of the problem is not always necessary if you can find a way forward
  • If it works, do more of it, if it doesn't, try something different

"We spend a lot of time gathering information which might include visits to the family, interviews with the young person, speaking to teachers and other professionals who have been involved in the young person's life. We also spend time observing peer interaction, for instance in the playground or the classroom, which is really useful in gaining an understanding of the child.

The assessment phase allows us to identify issues, barriers to inclusion in school, to establish a baseline for measuring change, to decide on appropriate interventions, to engage positively with parents recognising them as experts in respect of their child and to find out the child's view of the world through speaking to the child.

In most cases we identify an array of often complex issues which need attention. The assessment phase is also about looking for strengths and positive relationships and influences which we can build on."

St Marnock's Primary School (Glasgow) involved their P1 parents' group in workshops based on The Motivated School programme. Parents invited other parents to an evening event to share what they had learned, and now plan a monthly support group for any parent who wishes to develop techniques to motivate their child.


Schools communicate with parents on different levels and in different ways. General communication must involve all parents, whilst some communication will involve only a few. The general communication that takes place sets the tone for more complex, formal or longer-term communication, for example multi-agency assessment, planning and support.


In examples of good general communication with parents, Scottish schools are:

  • Making opportunities to meet parents at flexible times
  • Establishing opportunities for informal contact and dialogue with parents
  • Meeting parents individually before their child joins the school
  • Developing newsletters with parents and pupils, and hearing feedback from a wider group
  • Creating comfortable reception areas that display positive messages about the school and convey a warm welcome
  • Providing 'customer service' training for reception staff
  • Being creative about how, when and where they hold parents' events
  • Providing details on key staff roles with photos and contact details, in the school handbook and newsletter updates
  • Communicating with parents when children achieve in school, e.g. by sending letters, certificates and awards by post or by holding 'award ceremonies'
  • Ensuring that events and activities take account of cultural and religious festivals that may affect the involvement of parents
  • Aware of barriers to participation and communication that parents may experience (e.g. access, cost or language difficulties) - they make arrangements to provide appropriate support

Senior staff in All Saints Secondary School (Glasgow) were concerned about low levels of participation in their parents' evenings. They reflected on the barriers that might prevent parents from attending, for example concerns about safety and travel in a large, urban catchment area, and when events are held at night times. Instead of a 'one size fits all' approach, the school ran one evening as normal, to suit working and more mobile parents, one in the afternoon and one in the morning, in a primary school within the learning community, but closer to where some of the parents live.

The school involved parents with English as an additional language in translating the school handbook and in producing oral versions in different languages, for parents with less confidence in reading. This means that parents hear the handbook being read out by another parent.

The school has also identified a number of key supporters amongst the parent group who hold 'living room consultations' with other parents, and bring feedback to the school. They find that some parents are more comfortable giving their views to another parent in an informal setting, so this gives them indirect access to parents who would not normally participate. Key supporters receive expenses so that they can cater for their 'group' or take them to a café or another venue where they feel comfortable. The Learning Community Principal can ask key supporters to check opinion on a range of issues where consultation is needed, and can be in touch with how parents are thinking and feeling about the school.

Hillhead Primary School (East Ayrshire) found letters and appointments ineffective in communicating with some of their parents. They also found some parents to be reluctant to come into school, perhaps because of their own negative school experiences and distrust or fears of professionals, especially where there were difficulties at home.

The headteacher made a conscious decision to be visible in the playground at the beginning and end of the school day, sometimes bringing a child out to the parent, holding his or her hand. She used positive feedback to begin dialogue and relationship-building. Parents have begun to come into school, including coming to breakfast club and parent drop-in. More involved parents have made the link into adult learning, however the school has continued to find its flexible, 'open door' approach to be most effective in meeting parents' needs.

"This year in one primary school I visited the parents of all children who were about to start P1 in August and then attended and participated in induction meetings for these parents. I hope this will form the basis of ongoing contact with this group of parents which can be built on as their children move on through school."

In examples of good enhanced communication with parents, Scottish schools are:

  • Holding meetings in comfortable, confidential spaces, giving refreshments and time to talk
  • Where a meeting is planned, preparing the parent and providing information about why the meeting is happening, who will be there, when it will take place and for how long and what will be achieved or may happen next
  • Inviting parents to help plan a meeting with their child, using their knowledge of the child to best effect
  • Planning meetings to start with positive feedback on the child's strengths
  • Using a visual representation of the meeting and what it will cover, to help the parent and pupil to follow what is being said
  • Following up meetings with regular phone calls or visits - to check everyone's progress on agreed action points (professionals, parents and the child or young person), to discuss positive progress and to hear about further support needs
  • Ensuring key members of staff are familiar with, or know where to refer for help with, benefits, housing advice, health and welfare support
  • Ensuring that there are clear arrangements in place to resolve issues or complaints with parents - quickly, and whenever possible at school level

Top ten tips for managing complaints

01. Keep it simple - avoid long forms
02. Use face-to-face contact and the telephone - don't automatically send a letter, most parents like to talk
03. Listen for positive comments made and feed them back
04. Find out straight away what would help
05. Be clear about what solutions you can offer
06. Where appropriate, a quick apology is better than a long letter
07. Give personal and specific replies - a standard reply will only make things worse
08. Use one point of contact
09. Let parents know about improvements made as a result of their complaints
10. Remember that complaints can mean that parents trust the school to take them seriously

Clackmannanshire Schools Support Service prioritises dialogue with parents by ensuring that parents/carers are telephoned weekly by their child's teacher and visited at home at least once a term. This positive contact ensures that staff develop good, ongoing professional relationships with parents, meaning that home-school links are strong enough to resolve difficulties when do they occur. Parents/carers are encouraged to contact and visit the base if they wish, with continual emphasis on working together for the benefit of the child or young person.

The service uses solution-focused meetings which enable parents and their children to share the experience of solving problems. The approach is time-limited, focused and positive, allowing everyone who is involved with the child to input. Where necessary, Support Service staff will assist in practical arrangements, e.g. transport, to enable parents to attend.

Clackmannanshire Schools Support Service provides off-site provision for primary and secondary pupils and close support for reintegration into mainstream.

In examples of good intensive communication with parents, Scottish schools are:

  • Meeting parents out of school, in their home or in another location, when this is the most secure and comfortable place for the parent
  • Helping parents feel comfortable in school buildings by ensuring privacy for meetings and discreet areas to wait or talk with support staff
  • Developing a supportive school ethos by allowing other services to provide services for parents in the school, such as money and welfare advice services, adult learning, food co-ops and self-help groups
  • Using these as an opportunity to get to know parents under different circumstances
  • Using a communication system that allows parents to 'fast track' to their key member of staff when they need to, without giving receptionists more information than is required about the family or pupil situation
  • Providing parent friendly information about formal processes or systems (e.g. child protection, school exclusion or planning to meet additional support needs), including advice on parents' rights and ways that parents can best support their child
  • Inviting parents to bring along a supporter of their choice when they come to a meeting

Education authorities have supported schools, teachers and other professionals to work effectively with parents by:

  • Developing leaflets explaining the range of support services available to children and how they are accessed
  • Developing and/or using leaflets that explain procedures such as exclusion and action on attendance that are simple, offer partnership with the school and set a tone for problem-solving
  • Ensuring that all partner agencies working with the authority and schools have shared values and understand what each can do and how they work
  • Providing training on a multi-agency basis to promote shared values, positive relationships amongst service providers, mutual understanding and respect
  • Ensuring multi-agency planning structures are understood by all staff who are aware of referral, assessment, planning, follow up, monitoring and review processes
  • Preparing staff with training in Restorative Practices, de-escalation techniques and Solution Oriented approaches

"Restorative Approaches give us a way of working, talking and being that underlies the range of things we do in school to promote positive relationships. We use a script, displayed around the school, to reinforce the principles and the language.

Restorative Approaches have helped us to reflect on the language we use and on how we do things, including how we cover the more difficult ground with children and parents. Through staff training, spending time as a team really reflecting on what we want for our children and families and the way we conduct our daily practice, staff are increasingly showing the skills and qualities that help them to build relationships with parents. They are calm, respectful, listening, communicating, flexible, self-aware, problem-solving and consistent in doing their best for the children."

Practice for Positive Relationships

There is no single definition of a 'family' in today's society. There are many different kinds of parents and many different approaches to family life. Professionals must avoid making assumptions about families or stereotyping their needs. However, it can be helpful to understand some of the circumstances and issues that shape parents' concerns, to be aware of how best to develop positive relationships with them.

The following 'cases' begin to suggest the diversity of parent and pupil circumstances which school staff may encounter. Schools may wish to use these, alongside the practice questions and practice suggestions provided, for reflection, CPD or to consider their approach.

The Safe and Well handbook for school staff includes an A-Z of practice issues for special awareness. This includes information that school staff may find helpful in relation a range of factors affecting children and families (e.g. imprisonment, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, additional support needs and young carers). School staff may find it helpful to consider the 'cases' alongside education authority and school policies and procedures in relation to behaviour, attendance, additional support for learning, parental involvement and child protection.


Paul is 4 1/2 years old and due to start primary school. Paul's mum is concerned as he has specific learning and medical needs. He finds interaction with others difficult and is used to being with his support assistant who will be staying in the nursery sector when Paul moves on.

Mum is concerned about the difference in the size of the school, the number of pupils in class and support structures for Paul both in his learning and to support his medical needs.

Practice questions

  • What has happened?
  • What are the main issues?
  • How are Paul's parents affected? How might they feel?
  • What do they need from school staff?
  • What strategies might you use to build a relationship?
  • How might Paul feel?
  • What ways forward can you suggest?
  • How will you find out what Paul/Paul's parents think will work?
  • How will you know if you have been successful? Who will know? What will you see?

Good practice suggestions

1. Hold an early meeting to plan for transition. Gain input from Paul's parents and the key professionals supporting him.
2. Invite parents to the school to look around and meet key staff informally. Provide an opportunity for Paul and his parents to see the infant area of the school.
3. Arrange for the P1 teacher and support assistant to visit the nursery and build a relationship with Paul and staff currently supporting him.
4. Organise a training session for all staff on specific medical conditions and appropriate support. Involve health professionals in delivering this.
5. Continue the partnership with Paul's parents and nursery staff. Carefully plan transition - plan short visits to school with identified targets, before Paul follows the main transition programme along with his peer group.
6. Reflect on how Paul may be helped to build or keep positive relationships with his peers. Consider team building games and other opportunities for the children to practice their communication and relationship skills.
7. Parents may provide an information 'booklet' on how they manage aspects of Paul's life at home to ensure continuity of approach. This may be developed into a home-school diary.
8. Some Scottish schools have successfully used Nurture Groups to promote children's social, emotional and behaviour skills, targeting children showing early signs of emotional and behaviour difficulties. Nurture Group principles may enhance inclusive practice at whole class or whole school level.

"We promote positive relationships through partnership working with parents and the local community. All parties are supporting our young people, enabling them to be fully engaged in a safe and secure learning environment."


Ciara, who is in Primary 2, was looking forward to the birth of her baby sister. She had helped her mum choose the layette and other nursery items. Sadly the baby has been still-born and the family are finding it hard to come to terms with their loss.

During the weeks that followed, Ciara has become sullen and withdrawn in class and has been moody when out at break times.

Practice questions

  • What has happened?
  • What are the main issues?
  • How are Ciara's parents affected? How might they feel?
  • What do they need from school staff?
  • What strategies might you use to build a relationship?
  • How might Ciara feel?
  • How might she feel about the school communicating with her parents?
  • What ways forward can you suggest?
  • How will you find out what Ciara/Ciara's parents think will work?
  • How will you know if you have been successful? Who else will know? What will you see?

Good practice suggestions

1. Try gently to make the family aware of Ciara's school situation. Provide a single and consistent point of contact - someone who knows the family and who the family prefers to work with.
2. Invite parents to come in when they feel ready for an informal chat or offer to visit them if they would find it helpful.
3. Provide an opportunity for Ciara to talk about her feelings with someone she trusts.
4. If a Seasons for Growth Group or other bereavement/loss counselling group is available in school, provide information about this and any other supports available to the child and family.
5. Seek parental agreement to notify teachers who work closely with Ciara about her situation in order that she can be treated with understanding and compassion.
6. Monitor Ciara's progress in learning. Individualise and provide support for her learning as appropriate. Develop her personal learning plan, involving her parents in the process.

"If a young person or family in our school community suffers a loss or bereavement of any kind, then we are all affected. It concerns us all."


Simon is 13 years old and in S2. Since his transition from primary, he has been excluded from school on a number of occasions for behaviour that is considered 'cheeky' and 'defiant'.

Simon's mum is concerned that he is now falling behind in his work. Although Simon does well in some classes, incidents that have led to school exclusion have usually occurred in History.

Simon's mum feels overwhelmed during meetings about Simon's behaviour.

Simon's mum and dad are separated, but Simon has a good relationship with his dad.

Practice questions

  • What has happened?
  • What are the main issues?
  • How are Simon's parents affected? How might they feel?
  • What do they need from school staff?
  • What strategies might you use to build a relationship?
  • How might Simon feel?
  • How might he feel about the school communicating with his parents?
  • What ways forward can you suggest?
  • How will you find out what Simon/Simon's parents think will work?
  • How will you know if you have been successful? Who else will know? What will you see?

Good practice suggestions

1. Invite Simon's mum into school with a friend or supporter, to listen to her views. Begin to build a better relationship. As she finds meetings difficult, involve home-school link staff in preparing her beforehand.
2. Track Simon's difficulties in school, perhaps making use of the school's Management Information System. Identify patterns (e.g. incidents occurring in History). Identify support for the relevant class teacher and for Simon, e.g. in-class support, target-setting for Simon and CPD for the class teacher.
3. Simon's History teacher may seek confidential, peer support from the school's Behaviour Co-ordinator.
4. A 'round table' meeting with all of Simon's class teachers may be useful in identifying what works best for Simon and establishing a consistent approach in relation to his behaviour.
5. Use a solution-oriented approach and build on knowledge provided through tracking to work with Simon, his mum and other relevant agencies to plan support. As Simon has experienced ongoing difficulties, a multi-disciplinary response may be needed.
6. Ensure regular contact with Simon's mum, particularly good news contact.
7. Use telephone or face-to-face contact where possible. Ensure that Simon's mum has a consistent, accessible contact. Take care to introduce new professionals and manage any transitions to new staff within the multi-disciplinary team.
8. Ensure that the school informs and involves Simon's dad in his education.
9. Monitor and review Simon's plan regularly. Ensure that Simon's parents know what is happening at each stage.

"Schools are increasingly imaginative in developing more effective interventions. Parents respond best when they are involved directly in planning."


Natasha is 15 years old, the eldest of three sisters, all at secondary school. Each has a separate carer. Natasha's mum has a severe alcohol problem. The three sisters have a history of running away to be together.

Natasha is very angry. She has poor control over her behaviour in classes and with other pupils. Although her behaviour can be very disruptive, she has good relationships with some teachers. Natasha actively engages one day per week in an arts workshop.

Natasha finds meetings involving her mum very stressful.

Practice questions

  • What has happened?
  • What are the main issues?
  • How are Natasha's parents/carers affected? How might they feel?
  • What do they need from school staff?
  • What strategies might you use to build a relationship?
  • How might Natasha feel?
  • How might she feel about the school communicating with her parents/carers?
  • What ways forward can you suggest?
  • How will you find out what Natasha/Natasha's parents/carers think will work?
  • How will you know if you have been successful? Who else will know? What will you see?

Good practice suggestions

1. The effects of substance misuse on behaviour and the often long-term nature of recovery create real challenges for schools trying to engage parents. Staff need confidence to keep the focus on the child and to be honest with parents, whilst maintaining a non-judgemental, sensitive and respectful approach.
2. Staff may require support and opportunities for reflection to cope with the frustrations and emotions that they experience when working with families who have complex needs.
3. Natasha's mum may need time, flexibility and understanding from school staff in order to build a positive relationship with the school.
4. Consider who needs to be informed of the situation in school and in what level of detail - balance respect for Natasha's confidentiality with the need for staff to support her appropriately. Involve Natasha in decisions about sharing information.
5. Offer Natasha information or support with sensitivity. Some young people affected by their parents' alcohol misuse may value the support of groups such as Alateen (contact Al-anon, 0141 339 8884) or organisations for young carers (see www.carers.net/organisations/YoungCarers.html). However, pupils may also feel ashamed or stigmatised in relation to their family situation.
6. Consider the family dynamic when arranging meetings for Natasha - carefully prepare Natasha and her mum, and discuss with them how meetings may be structured to enable them to have their say. Remember that Natasha may be confused between loyalty towards her mum and distress caused by her family situation.
7. The school may face challenges in involving both Natasha's mum and her carers, whilst keeping sight of Natasha. Develop an approach to suit the individual circumstances of Natasha and her family, where appropriate involving the resources of the multi-agency team who support her.
8. Be alert to child protection issues which may affect Natasha.
9. Use curriculum flexibility to build on Natasha's strengths, e.g. her interest in Art.


Jason is 15 and in S4. He is looked after and accommodated, and lives in a small residential provision.

Before Jason was taken into residential care about six months ago, teachers raised concerns about a sudden deterioration in his behaviour and approach to work. Since his move, Jason's behaviour has continued to be challenging, and there are increasing concerns regarding aggressive behaviour. He has had two recent school exclusions, leading to him being in the residential setting for lengthy periods.

Practice questions

  • What has happened?
  • What are the main issues?
  • How are Jason's parents/carers affected? How might they feel?
  • What do they need from school staff?
  • What strategies might you use to build a relationship?
  • How might Jason feel?
  • How might he feel about the school communicating with his parents/ carers?
  • What ways forward can you suggest?
  • How will you find out what Jason/Jason's parents/carers think will work?
  • How will you know if you have been successful? Who else will know? What will you see?

Good practice suggestions

1. The designated teacher for looked after children should ensure that Jason's parents and carers have opportunities to meet staff at times suitable for them, to give their views and to participate in planning for Jason.
2. Ensure that Jason has opportunity to work through his own views and feelings with a member of staff he trusts.
3. It may be helpful for a trusted member of staff to visit Jason at home, to gain a better understanding of his situation. Build a relationship with Jason's key worker.
4. Through the school's support mechanisms, develop a system for Jason that allows early intervention and support in situations that are likely to escalate.
5. Local authority departments and associated agencies have responsibility as 'corporate parents' to work together to meet the needs of looked after children and young people. Professionals should identify sources of support for Jason, including services in the community.
6. Exclusion should be considered a last resort. Restorative approaches may be used to help Jason to learn from what has happened, and to reintegrate into school following school exclusion.
7. Where Jason is out of school as a result of school exclusion, the education authority should urgently consider a structured programme of learning to meet the requirements of his care plan. The school should help Jason to continue his learning - in the short term, this may include providing homework, contact time and other structured programmes of learning.
8. Open up CPD opportunities to staff from partner agencies. Joint training develops relationships and understanding between staff and helps to promote consistency around the child.
9. Share information regularly with both parents and carers.

"We now know in the school that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly. The needs and aspirations of all our young people are personal. We need to take particular account of our looked after young people - plan personally and carefully, and monitor progress. The school has made real progress, including through the introduction of Person Centred Planning and has tried to adopt Restorative Approaches wherever possible. I think this has helped the school to value the views of others and has led to better practice."

Six things professionals can do to build positive relationships with parents

1. Show parents that they are valued
2. Identify and build on strengths and capacities
3. Nurture a consistent relationship and ensure that school staff are accessible
4. Take the family with you - help the family to see the purpose and benefits of engagement and explore what they see as issues, solutions and progress
5. Be clear and honest but show sensitivity at all times
6. Respond to parents as individuals and work from a growing understanding of their needs

Braidbar Primary School (East Renfrewshire) invites parents of children in the early years to meetings to explore the opportunities that they have to develop their children's early literacy and numeracy skills outside school.

During sessions, parents see and/or use current methodologies and teaching styles with particular reference to developing literacy and numeracy. They have opportunities to see how their children learn, but also to see how they, as parents, can extend their children's learning through day-to-day activities such as shopping, playing and watching TV together.

These sessions give parents the opportunity to establish partnerships with school staff in an informal, relaxed setting. The school makes use of authority resources, e.g. Bilingual Assistants and Family Learning staff, to remove barriers to participation. Sessions are evaluated using questionnaires, follow-up telephone calls, suggestion boxes and informal feedback, so that the school can continue to improve its approach.

mind map

Kirkhill Primary School (East Renfrewshire) has used the Solution Oriented School ( SOS) Programme to provide clearer focus and a more structured outcome for multi-agency and review meetings in school. The approach has also enhanced reporting arrangements and general communication with parents at parents' meetings. Staff have gained confidence in communicating with parents on a day-to-day basis. They have been able to use SOS questioning techniques to draw more effectively on parents' thoughts and feelings about what will work best for their child.