CHAPTER 6 INFORMATION FROM AND CONTACT WITH TEACHERS AND THE SCHOOL
As noted in the introduction to Chapter 5, research has shown that where parents are more involved with their children's education and learning, their children have more positive school experiences and do better than those children whose parents are less involved. Variations in parental involvement in school activities has already been addressed. However, the school itself has a key role to play in communicating with parents and seeking, encouraging and ensuring their involvement in their child's school experience and the broader life of the school.
Curriculum for Excellence encourages schools to form 'positive partnerships' with parents, to adopt clear, open channels of communication regarding their child's progress as well as getting parents involved in personal learning planning with the aim of building strong relationships and encouraging involvement in the child's learning and progress. Part of building this relationship relies on how effectively schools communicate with parents. Education Scotland, the national public body charged with supporting quality and improvement in learning and teaching, states that: "the better the information schools provide to parents, the more they can support their children's learning and the school" (Education Scotland, 2012).
Indeed, qualitative research on improving parental involvement undertaken in Scotland (Russell and Granville, 2005) found that parents depended on effective channels of communication to know where and how they could be involved. The same research also indicated that numerous different methods of communication were practiced by schools and that they varied in effectiveness. In general, communication was deemed to be more effective at the primary, rather than secondary, stages.
This chapter considers some of the data GUS has collected around school-parent communication including data on how and what information parents receive from their child's school and their contact with teachers at the school. All data in this chapter are taken from the sweep 6 interview with the birth cohort at which point around two-thirds of the children were in P1 and one-third were in P2.
6.2 Key findings
- The vast majority of parents had received information from the school about their child's progress or learning. Around three-quarters of parents had received a school report.
- Parents in more advantaged circumstances were more likely than those in more disadvantaged circumstances to report having received information about their child's progress.
- 94% of parents reported that they had attended a parents' evening since their child had started P1. Those from more disadvantaged circumstances were slightly less likely to have attended than those from more advantaged circumstances.
- Most parents found parents' evening very useful (60%) or quite useful (36%) with no significant variations by parental characteristics.
- Almost half (48%) of parents indicated that they had talked to their child's teacher outside of a parents' evening. The contact was more likely to have been initiated by the child's parents than by the school though in around one-third of cases (32%) neither party had initiated the meeting suggesting that it occurred on a more informal basis.
- Degree-educated parents were more likely to have had such contact than parents with lower or no qualifications. It was also more common for parents whose child attended a smaller school and for parents with some concerns about their child's development or adjustment to school.
- Amongst those who had not had such contact, the majority said they would find it either very (76%) or quite easy (22%) to approach their child's teacher.
- 65% of parents reported that they had received information/advice on how to help their child with learning at home (excluding doing homework). 73% of parents in the highest income group reported receiving this advice compared with 58% in the lowest income group.
6.3 Type of contact with school
Parents were asked about the different types of contact they had had with their child's school. The results are shown in Table 6.1. The most common form of contact with the school was information about the child's progress (84%), followed closely by information about their child's learning (83%). Around three-quarters of parents had received a school report. It is worth noting that this data is affected by the point in the school year at which the interview took place. Data collection for GUS is undertaken over a 14-month period and parents are therefore interviewed at different points in the school year. For some parents, at the time of the interview the child had not yet completed a full year of school. As such, these figures do not necessarily reflect the proportion of parents who 'ever' receive such contact over the course of a full school year. However, even if the analysis is restricted to those families interviewed in the last (summer) term (between April and June) the figures remain very similar suggesting that some parents have not received this type of information from the school, or did not recall receiving it.
Table 6.1 Type of contact parents have had with the school
|Percentage of parents|
|Information about child's progress||84|
|Information about child's learning||83|
|Attendance report (incl as part of school report)||45|
|None of these||4|
There were some differences in the extent to which different parents reported receiving different types of information. For example, parents in more advantaged circumstances were more likely than those in more disadvantaged circumstances to report having received information about their child's progress. Ninety-two per cent of parents in the highest income group said they had received such information compared with 77% of parents in the lowest income group. Similar patterns can also be seen according to area deprivation; those living in deprived areas were less likely to receive progress information. This suggests that either the schools which children in more disadvantaged circumstances attend are less likely to provide this information, or that these parents are less likely to take note of such information when it is distributed, or indeed that it is less likely to reach them by whichever means it is sent.
6.4 Parents' evenings
Parents were asked a series of questions about parents' evenings. Virtually all respondents (94%) reported that they had attended a parents' evening since their child had started P1. Whilst attendance was high for all parents, those from more disadvantaged circumstances were slightly less likely to have attended than those from more advantaged circumstance. For example, 91% of parents in the lowest income groups had attended a parents' evening compared with 97% in the highest income group.
Those that attended were asked the main reasons why they had done so (Table 6.2). The most prevalent reason for attending parents' evening was for parents to find out about their child's general progress (81%). However, around one-fifth (21%) of parents were also interested in ensuring that the child had settled in well and made friends. Finding out what was going on at school (10%) and visiting to familiarise themselves with the school or teacher were less important. There were no notable differences in the reasons given by parents with different background characteristics.
Table 6.2 Main reasons for attending parents' evening
|Percentage of parents|
|Progress in general||81|
|Settling in and making friends||21|
|Find out what child is going at school||10|
|To visit/get to know our child's teacher/school||8|
|To find out how to support my child at home||4|
|Expected to go||4|
|To see that child is happy||4|
|So that I/we are involved in child's education||3|
Note: Parents could choose more than one reason for attending the parents' evening so totals will not equal 100%.
Respondents were asked how useful they found it attending the parent's evening. The majority found it either very useful (60%) or quite useful (36%) with no significant variations by parental characteristics.
The reasons parents gave for finding the parents' evening useful are shown in Table 6.3. The most common answer given - by around one-third of parents (33%) - was that they had found the evening useful as a means of obtaining information about their child's progress at school. A further fifth (27%) said that it gave them reassurance about their child's life at school.
Some reasons why parents did not find the evening useful included there not being enough time (4%) and/or that they were not given the information they wanted (3%).
Table 6.3 Main reasons for finding parents' evening useful
|Percentage of parents|
|Information on child's progress in general||33|
|Gave me reassurance||27|
|Teacher was able to explain things (provide right information)||18|
|Opportunity to see the child's classroom, work and find out what child is doing at school||17|
|Opportunity to meet teacher (and check teacher out)||12|
|Given advice on how to help child||9|
6.5 Additional contact with teachers
In addition to questions on regular parents' evenings, parents were also asked about any other times when they had spoken to any teachers about their child since he or she had started P1.
Almost half (48%) of respondents indicated that they had talked to their child's teacher. Degree-educated parents were more likely to have had such a meeting than parents with lower or no qualifications. Fifty-three per cent of degree-educated parents reported having spoken to the child's teacher other than at a parents' evening compared with 46% of those with no qualifications. Parent's whose children attended smaller schools were also more likely to have spoken to their child's teacher - 58% whose child was in a school with under 100 pupils on the role had done so compared with 43% whose child was in a school of 300 or more. This suggests it may be easier to approach and develop informal relationships with teachers in smaller schools.
Figure 6-A Percentage of parents who had additional contact with teacher by concerns about child's adjustment to school and child's development
Bases: Adjustment scale: below average - weighted = 2416, unweighted = 2440; average or above - weighted = 915, unweighted = 895;
Child has adjusted well to school: agree/agree strongly - weighted = 3064, unweighted = 3085; disagree/disagree strongly - weighted = 93, unweighted = 95;
Concerns about development: no concerns - weighted = 2653, unweighted = 2697; some concerns - weighted = 693, unweighted = 652.
Parents with some concerns about their child's adjustment to school or their development more generally were more likely to have spoken to a teacher than those who had no such concerns. As shown in Figure 6-A, 57% of parents whose child had score below average on the adjustment scale (discussed in section 4.5) had spoken to the teacher separately from a parents' evening compared with 44% of those who child score average or above. Similarly, 63% of parents who noted some general concern about their child's speech, behaviour or other development had spoken to a teacher compared with 43% of parents who had no development concerns. It is likely, therefore, that these concerns will often form the basis for the meeting.
Those who had had additional contact with the child's teacher were then asked who initiated the contact. The results are shown in Figure 6-B. The contact was more likely to have been initiated by the child's parents than by the school. Forty-four per cent of parents who had an additional meeting said they had asked for it whereas just 11% having such a meeting at the request of the school. In around one-third of cases (32%) the respondent reported that neither party had initiated the meeting suggesting that it occurred on a more informal basis perhaps at an unrelated school event or in the playground at the end of the school day. The likelihood of this more informal discussion is, as may be expected, greater in smaller schools and, thus, also for parents living in remote and rural areas. Forty-four per cent of parents living in rural areas said that neither party had initiated contact compared with 31% in living large urban areas and 27% in other urban areas. Similarly, half (49%) of parents whose child attended a school with fewer than 100 pupils said neither party had initiated contact compared with around one-third (28%-32%) of parents whose child was attending a larger school.
Figure 6-B Who initiated additional contact with teacher?
Base: those who had spoken to child's teacher other than at parents' evening, weighted = 1739, unweighted = 1736
Compared with parents who had no concerns about their child's adjustment to school, those who did have concerns were more likely to have initiated contact themselves. Amongst those with more general concerns about development, there was a greater likelihood that the contact had been initiated by the school, or by both parties compared with parents who had no concerns. For example, amongst those who had spoken to a teacher outside of a parents' evening, 20% of those who had some concerns about their child's development said both parties had initiated the meeting compared with 10% of parents who had no concerns.
Those parents who had met the child's teacher were asked how easy they had found it to approach the teacher. The vast majority found it either very (83%) or quite easy (14%). With such a high level of agreement, there is little notable variation according to parental characteristics. However, parents in rural areas and those whose child was attending a smaller school did report greater ease in approaching the child's teacher than those in urban areas and those whose child was attending a larger school. For example, amongst those who had had such contact, 87% of parents living in rural areas said it had been very easy to approach the child's teacher compared with 69% living in large urban areas.
Those respondents who had not spoken to the teacher, were asked how easy they would find it to approach the teacher. Similar patterns were seen in the response to this item with the majority saying they would find it either very (76%) or quite easy (22%) to approach their child's teacher.
6.6 Advice on helping child learn at home
Respondents were asked if, since their child had started school, they had received any information/advice on how to help their child with learning at home (excluding doing homework). Almost two-thirds (65%) of parents reported that they had received such help/advice and virtually all who had (97%) stated that they had found the advice to be either very or quite useful.
The data show differences in the extent to which parents with different characteristics reported receiving such advice from the child's school. As shown in Figure 6-C, on the whole, parents in more advantaged circumstances were more likely to report having received such advice than were those in less advantaged circumstances. For example, 73% of parents in the highest income group reported receiving this advice compared with 58% in the lowest income group. It is unclear whether this indicates that more disadvantaged parents are less likely to receive the information - either because it is not issued by the school, or when it is, it does not ultimately reach them - or they are less aware of the purpose of the information when it is received.
Figure 6-C Percentage of parents who had received any information/advice on how to help their child with learning at home by household income, parental education and area deprivation
Bases: Income: highest income - weighted = 583, unweighted = 686; lowest income - weighted = 869, unweighted = 683; Parental education: Degree-level - weighted = 1023, unweighted = 1187; no qualifications - weighted = 309, unweighted = 220; Area deprivation: least deprived - weighted = 702, unweighted = 819; most deprived - weighted = 796, unweighted = 610.