Working in partnership

Creating a culture of partnership

In Rotherham, we have developed The Rotherham Charter, known more widely as The Four Cornerstones, which we believe are essential for ensuring that good practice in equal partnership working with children, young people, parents and carers happens meaningfully.

The cornerstones are:

Welcome and care
Value and include
Work in partnership

We recognise that when these principles are integrated into practice, trust is affirmed and progress in realising the best outcomes for children and young people is made. Without trust, systems, partnerships, organisations and families cannot work together effectively and meaningful partnership work is rarely achieved.

A vital precursor to staff commitment to working with parents, carers, children and young people is for them to examine their own attitudes towards, and readiness for, this involvement.

Whilst many parents and carers are positive and supportive of school, others may find this more challenging. Parents and carers are individuals who could have firm ideas on education, the parameters of behaviour and the teaching profession, influenced by their own experiences.

Teachers may have encountered parent and carers who seem uncooperative or who appear critical of the school, colleagues, their child or young person’s behaviour or the behaviour of other children and young people. This could be for a range of reasons. Some parents, carers, children and young people may have had unhappy experiences of trying to work with a teacher. Other parents and carers may have had a difficult time themselves at school and so have formulated a negative opinion. It is important to be sensitive and open to all these possibilities.

An angry or critical parent, carer, child or young person is likely to be an upset one. Acknowledging this might help with trying not to take comments voiced in frustration personally and can be a first step towards creating a stronger relationship.

  • Invite parents and carers to be involved through day-to-day opportunities throughout the school year such as open evenings, concerts, visits, trips, assemblies, photographs and sports days as well as via formal events.
  • Use a variety of verbal, written and electronic communications to provide information that is accessible for all parents and carers and to draw in those are not seen regularly in school.
  • Create opportunities for parents and carers to support school life, e.g. through mentoring, school outings, school associations, extra-curricular activities, parent helper schemes, volunteering, reading partners, adult learning opportunities, shared responsibilities and governance.
  • It is recommended that parents, carers, children and young people have the opportunity to identify their own needs and to make suggestions about how these needs might be addressed.
  • Identify strategies which the school can use to gain feedback from parents, carers, children and young people about the way in which it involves and works with them.
  • Think carefully about how you talk to parents, carers and children and young people and how you encourage parents and children to talk to you; as well as being role models, choice of words and body language in particular can be very powerful and convey strong messages.

Welcoming a new child or young person with identified SEND

There are times when more things need to be taken into consideration for parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities, particularly at certain times such as transition.

It can be a time of considerable anxiety and produce intense feelings of emotional vulnerability for both the child or young person and their parents or carers.

Don’t assume you share the same priorities, take time to check.

  • Use a pen portrait to gather detailed information about the child or young person.
  • Ask the parent or carer to provide a careful and objective explanation of the child or young person’s needs.
  • Look at the provision on offer and consider what strategies and principles may be needed.
  • Offer home visits as part of the school strategy to support or send a personal invitation to visit the school.
  • Consider parents and carers’ own barriers and learning needs.

Emerging needs – working in partnership from the start

It is important that schools generate ideas about what they might be able to do to overcome any obstacles and barriers. All parents and carers can feel vulnerable at any given time and find it harder to engage with school. However, some parents and carers might have a negative view of what teachers and schools are like before they step inside the building. Some parents and carers rarely visit their children or young person’s school, whether for parents’ evenings or school events. The reasons some parents and carers might feel uncomfortable coming into school can be many and varied. These can include their own negative experiences but it is unusual for it to simply be a lack of interest in education or in their own child or young person.

Parents and carers are likely to reflect a diverse range of backgrounds encompassing race, values and culture and their previous and current life experiences may include poverty, hardship or issues affecting their wellbeing such as substance abuse, mental or physical health needs or a transient home life.

Some parents and carers, for example if they have grown up feeling they have been let down by the education system, or were not encouraged to fulfil their opportunities for learning, may equally feel very concerned their child or young person does better than they did. They might feel like outsiders themselves and experience their own needs but still be committed to their child or young person getting a ‘better deal’. However, they might bring their own experiences of learning with them to meetings with staff which can lead them to feel anxious. Parents and carers with literacy needs, for example, may be also be worried they will be ‘put on the spot’ and present an overly assertive or anxious front to mask this instead.

Barriers to parent carer involvement can stem from school or parents and carers. However, positive attitudes and creative ways of working can make school seem more welcoming and can be valuable in making parents, carers, children and young feel included.

  • Highlight local support groups to parents and carers.
  • Develop a buddy system in which parents and carers of children and young people already at the school befriend new parents and carers.
  • Set up opportunities for parents and carers of children and young people in a year group to share ideas with each other and with staff working in those year groups.
  • Keep open agreed lines of communication, to develop a feeling of mutual trust with parents and carers.
  • Establish a key worker to form a positive relationship with the family to gain trust and begin to understand the difficulties experienced.
  • Be persistent if parents and carers do not respond to invitations from school, e.g. look for a variety of creative strategies to encourage the parent or carer through the door.
  • In order to feel confident in school’s ability to care for their child or young person and meet their needs, there needs to be trust; relationships are fundamental to this, so schools need to consider how they present themselves and how welcoming the setting feels from the start.

Planning and working together

Making time to come together is important but even when feeling confident in their own skills, some parents, carers, children and young people may find meetings very daunting and unfamiliar. It can be helpful to provide them with an opportunity to formulate the questions they may want to ask with a familiar member of staff before a meeting.

At the meeting, after a positive welcome, focus on strengths and what is going well, so that you celebrate success. Value the opinions of parents and carers and seek their thoughts on their child or young person’s progress. A constructive approach with a focus on clear outcomes will help bring everyone together.

  • Offer support when necessary with phone calls, forms or internet navigation.
  • Be clear on what school is expected to provide via school support (graduated response) and provision from the start.
  • Involve parents, carers, children and young people in developing and updating pupil profiles; ensure sufficient space for parent and carer comments.