We’re fortunate to have a helicopter view of the sector.  Every year we engage with scores of schools and, through our surveys and research, hundreds upon hundreds of parents. 

Our surveys point to underlying challenges and tensions, whether it is worries about affordability or parents’ definition of “value-for-money”, their altered and increased expectations since COVID or social media super-charged complaints. With a General Election looming and independent education in the crosshairs of campaigning, it has never been more important to get ahead and do everything possible to show your school in the best light.   

Thankfully, as well as adding colour and data to schools’ understanding of parental opinion, our research data bank also shows how some very simple steps can have a hugely positive impact on parent mood and morale, and both reinforce and renew their connection to the school community. 

Looking ahead, we set out some of the actions you can take over the coming weeks, which our consultants have observed time and time again can lead to a successful end to the academic year. 

Support for transition 

This term, many children and their parents will be getting ready to leave one part of your school and transfer to another, or they may be leaving your school to attend another institution.  Change is difficult, and moving at any stage can be challenging, so whatever their decision, help them.  That’s the first thing we advise. 

It is also important not to fall into the trap of taking your current families for granted and seeing their progression to the next stage as automatic, or their understanding of ‘how it all works’ as instinctive. We receive a lot of feedback from parents with children moving into senior school or sixth form, for example, who tell us their transition experience could have been better.   

First of all, start early: support transition to the senior school from as early as Year 3 or 4, and to the sixth form from Year 9 or 10.  Parents and pupils are telling us that they are already making plans that early. 

You are doubtless very good at getting the transition right for pupils, but what about the parents who, in general, are more anxious and demanding than before?  For pupils, taster days and opportunities to meet their teachers and peers are the norm.  But how much of this are you replicating for your parents?  They tell us they appreciate being walked through a ‘typical day’, visiting the setting, meeting staff and, indeed, other parents.  They also value a heads-up on the practical things – where to get information, how to ask questions, and when and where to sign up.   

This is a quick win that will pay dividends on those WhatsApp groups later, so get it right this term and make plans now for the start of the new academic year. 

School report 

This term there are likely to be check-point exams and assessments and these are likely to feature in the reports you send to parents.  The impact of these reports is easy to underestimate. 

Our research shows that parents often have strong views about them and that they matter a lot.  Indeed, the school report is an excellent opportunity to show how you add value: the close observations of teachers who really know their students and how to get the best from them, the tailored tips about how each child can improve now and in the future, the nuanced insights about behaviours and motivations.  This is the richness of feedback parents want to see, so really maximise the opportunity of the end of year report.  

Here are our top 5 tips for producing reports that meet the expectations of parents:

  1. Explain grading in advance or alongside, clearly 
  2. Ensure comments are clear and well-evidenced  
  3. Avoid announcing big swings in performance or other surprises in the report 
  4. Pick up the phone where it would be helpful  
  5. And do not, EVER, allow SPAG errors.

Another observation we would like to share relates to the timing of reports.  Is the end of the school year a good time?  Just when a child breaks for the holidays and when 7 or 8 weeks, and perhaps numerous adventures, are to pass before the student can do anything about it?  Why not issue just before the start of the Autumn term? 

Parents’ evenings 

In our parent research, how a school responds to students’ progress is always a hot topic, and parents’ evenings are very often picked out for criticism. 

During COVID, we all got used to seeing our child’s teachers and tutors online, and there’s no doubt that going digital has brought new convenience, appreciated by many, particularly working families. One of the lockdown’s popular legacies is virtual parents’ evenings. However, our research shows this sparks a marmite response.   

“I think parents’ evenings should be in person.  Covid is over and while the online format is obviously easier in some senses, it is not as effective in terms of real discussion and making a connection with teachers as in-person meetings are.” (Senior school parent)  

“Parents evenings: very short window for a conversation with the teacher.  Maximum 10 minutes with auto cut off at the end but usually less due to late start.  The school should recognise the importance of interaction with parents and make the teachers more accessible.” (Prep/Junior school parent)  

“As parents we feel disconnected to the school, kept at arm’s length.  Too many online arrangements and not a community feel.” (Senior school parent)  

“The online parents’ evening appointment system is excellent.  It allows for access to all teachers, which is not always possible at a face-to-face event.” (Senior school parent)  

Many schools have adopted a hybrid approach, to cater for all preferences and tastes. There’s no doubt, however, that electronic communications can never build rapport like a face-to-face conversation, so in the vernacular of the times, do aim for a ‘blended’ approach, and continue to hold in-person events as well as the virtual variety.  

A fond farewell 

Treat each leaving cohort as treasured friends.  You only have one chance to make a last impression! 

Be generous in your gratitude to parents, who have supported your school financially, emotionally and reputationally for many years.  Give time to each family.  Say goodbye well.  Their word-of-mouth and support will continue to serve the school if you do. 

And commit to the relationship with your new alumni who, don’t forget, are your ambassadors, careers network and donors of the future.  You can get them into the habit of giving to the school by encouraging them to club together to make a leavers’ gift to your school, something of their choosing that they would like to give to the year below.  Whatever you decide, invest in making this rite of passage feel meaningful, personal and worthwhile, and if you don’t have any traditions for saying goodbye, then perhaps now is the time to start some. 

Arrange for some form of ‘exit’ research – this is an unrivalled, rich seam of genuine feedback from which to learn.  Our school clients always benefit from the suggestions we pass on and delight in the praise and gratitude we obtain from leavers’ families. 

A rousing finale 

Speaking of endings, the head’s end-of-year letter or speech (if you hold a foundation day or something similar) is a standout, state-of-the-nation moment not to be wasted.  Just as the end of term stirs emotions of euphoria and affection in your common room, so it does around the kitchen tables of the children attending your school.  So give them something to inspire!  Share your triumphs, passion, pride, and plans for the future.  And, critically, tell them how and where you add value.  From what we see, this is even more important right now, when parents are in financial forecasting mode and wondering if the pinch in their pocket is worth the pain.  This is your moment to convince them it is.   

Enjoy the last few weeks of term and use the time well to reinforce and renew your connection with your community. 

If you would like to discover how we can help you better understand and leverage your school’s relationships with parents, please get in touch.  Click here to book a call with one of our team.