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View from the Top: Fergus Llewellyn on the importance of parenting partnerships

Our latest instalment of View from the Top comes from Fergus Llewellyn, head of Cumnor House Sussex. In his article below, Mr Llewellyn gives us his thoughts on the importance of a school's relationship with its parent body – and how these partnerships can help a pupil thrive.

We all want to be the best parents that we can be; and we live in a culture that drives improvement of self, and there is a host of literature and social media that can help inform us how to get there. As we emerge from a pandemic, with remote and hybrid learning still echoing around our psyches, parents are both more involved with their children’s journey, but also feeling perhaps more anxious than ever before. I hope therefore that the following three brief thoughts might help us understand how stronger and more positive parent partnerships can be forged during your child’s educational journey.

Firstly, the days of keeping parents at arms’ length should be long gone. No parent wants their child’s school to fail; they are all cheering the school on, willing them to succeed. Parent bodies are full of a vast array of talent, expertise and diverse thinking and schools should be finding ways of creating informal opportunities for creative thinking and problem solving. A school should help parents to feel supported in their parenting journey; in return, there is so much untapped potential in our parent body to help schools drive up their standards and provision. Here at Cumnor, for example, I often run Parent Focus Groups when we are thinking about making changes, and the ideas and feedback have proved invaluable to us as an organisation.

Good schools should also be firmly committed to providing parents with all the crucial information they need in a way that they can best digest it. The school calendar and weekly newsletter should be the bare minimum, and good schools now rely on a wealth of digital resources as well as in person gatherings to keep parents involved and informed. Such information is not limited to a school report or parents’ meeting. It should involve understanding the whole journey their children are on, not just academically, but socially and emotionally. More than this, schools should be providing parents with access to experts who can provide them with research, advice and thinking about the key parenting issues of the day. Never is this more needed than in a post-pandemic world where change and uncertainty is high.

Finally, the informal moments and interactions at school are invaluable and allow for more natural and more authentic relationships to develop, meaning that little problems can be discussed and solved before they become big issues within a lengthy email, with all the angst that then ensues. For example, here at Cumnor, we are fortunate to have a Bistro that welcomes parents in to meet for coffee at drop-off and chat informally with Senior Leaders about whatever is on their minds. These continual interactions build trust and transparency, helping parents feel reassured that their child is in good hands, that they are known and valued, and that our school messages are consistent.

Like all good partnerships there is always give and take, but good partnerships are built on understanding, involvement and trust, all of which most crucially allows our children to flourish.