Following further feedback and amendments from many people, this checklist was last updated on 14 July 2011. We also invite you to provide your feedback about this latest draft.
During 2011-2012, the checklist will also be illustrated via video interviews with parents, teachers, principals and students together with useful links to local school community initiatives.
With the input of many parents, teachers, principals, students, DEECD and the Family-School & Community Partnerships Bureau, VICCSO and Parents Victoria jointly prepared this section.
To use the checklist, you may want to convene a group of people in your school to explore what has been achieved and what needs to be done to bring about further improvements - notwithstanding, of course, the basic issue of adequate resources and support for schools to work on the many things that they would like to do.
Some schools have also created a family-school-community partnerships team (involving parents, teachers, school leaders and students) to plan for, and progress, improvements over time.
Power of partnerships
Decades of research and practice in schools make it clear that:
- Where parents, teachers, students and community members continue to learn from each other and really work together, the gains in student achievement can be significant
- The family-school-community partnership is among the most powerful improvement levers that a school has access to.
The research also suggests that these partnerships need to be much stronger - if partnerships are to become a source of major gains in student engagement and achievement.
All schools have obviously come a long way from the 'no parents beyond this point' approach of many schools in the 1960s.
However, parents in some schools can be welcomed more as helpers, fund-raisers and homework 'enforcement officers' than as co-educators and equal partners in shaping a school's directions.
Schools also face barriers in fully engaging families, including a lack of time and limited resources for family and community outreach work. Nonetheless, schools that succeed in engaging families from diverse backgrounds share certain key practices.
Good practice - a checklist
Based on the pioneering work of many parents, teachers and principals and noting that no one school has the resources to do all of these things, what are these very best practices?
To answer this question and to look at what your school is already doing well and what it may want to work toward in the future (and include in a family-school-community partnerships policy), your school may want to, over time, explore the following:
- A welcoming school. What is done to make all parents feel welcome at the school? Through the school newsletter and website? Through the office staff? How? Is the reception area comfortable? Are there places for parents to meet?
- Information in an entrance area. Is there a good-sized, up-to-date noticeboard in a prominent position with relevant information (including school councillors and parent group members and their photos, staff photos, latest news, etc.)?
- Parent clubs. Parent clubs or associations operate in most schools in Victoria. Parent clubs can help develop and implement school policies and the school's strategic plan, engage with parents and families and strengthen ties with the community. Does your school have a parent club? Is it a member of Parents Victoria (the umbrella parents' organisation)?
- Volunteering. Parents have traditionally volunteered in many ways in schools such as being on school councils and offering assistance with classroom reading, classroom support, excursions, working bees, fundraising and other events. Does your school promote information in its newsletter or on its website about what volunteer help is needed?
- Communication between home and school. How often do our teachers and parents (together with, importantly, students) talk together about how improvements in learning can be made? What is planned to further improve communication? Does the school have a policy for teacher and family communication?
- Contact with teachers. What is the policy for telephone and e-mail contact with individual teachers so that contact can be handled efficiently and effectively? To ensure that teachers are not overloaded, how is this handled?
- Values and behaviour. Is there a well-publicised policy about the school's values, behaviour and relationships? Does the policy apply to all school community members? How is the success of the policy monitored - and by whom?
- Conflicts and complaints. Are conflicts and complaints managed well? Is a proper process for handling any concerns or complaints made clear in a leaflet?
- Curriculum information. Does your school provide clear guidelines about the curriculum as a whole and the expectations for students at each year level?
- Technology use. Are we using e-mail and other technologies to facilitate fast, effective communication between teachers and parents? Are we using technology to let parents know immediately when students are absent, to offer tips on learning and to provide other information? Are wikis used in subjects?
- Technology planning. Does the school have a technology plan that reflects the ideas of the whole school community? Does the school know which families are excluded from the use of these technologies? What is being done to change this? Is there a school technology team that brings together teachers, parents and students to plan for future improvements?
- Homework and reporting. Can parents access online, real time data for their children? Does your school have a homework policy and how is homework practice monitored and improved? Does the policy include technologies such as wikis (which can be accessed at home) and collaborative learning practices such as student study circles, peer tutors and homework clubs?
- Learning at home and in the community. What is being done to help keep parents informed so that families create an environment at home that complements the learning at school? Do families in our community talk regularly with children about what they’re learning in school?
- How does the school support this? For example, some schools utilise parent-teacher interview times to run or advertise sessions for families wanting to learn about new programs, technologies and skills to support students.
- Whole-of-education links. Does your school have high-quality after-school and holiday programs? Does your school have strong links with other schools (e.g., as part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools)?
- School councils and boards. Do we have strategies for involving parents in the school council and its sub-committees? Does our council have a good mix of parents from diverse backgrounds? What are the barriers to getting more parents involved and how can we overcome these barriers?
- Sub-committees. School councils rely on the work of sub-committees. Parents and students - with knowledge, skills and interests in particular areas (including teaching and learning, policy development, community relations and buildings and grounds) - can obviously make a meaningful contribution to all sub-committees. Is this happening at your school?
- Time for participation. How does the school promote the purpose of, and time commitment to, sub-committees? Some of the most effective sub-committees may only meet 3-4 times each year. Parents may be deterred from involvement - if they believe that they will not have time for it.
- A practical policy. Does the school have a written policy and strategy for building real family participation in the life of the school? How is the impact of this strategy monitored?
- Family involvement in school planning. Are families really engaged in conversations to set the future direction for the school? Are they able to participate early in a strategic planning process to ensure shared ownership of the plan? Or do people simply 'sign off' on something that is largely owned by others?
- Do we have shared school-family-community goals in our strategic plan? For example, the goal that all students become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens. Or the goal of building positive, confident adolescent identity and self-esteem. As the basis for parents, teachers and students really working together!
- A school planning forum. Does a group of teachers, parents and students co-develop the agenda for a planning forum? Are such events well-promoted (with a personal letter to each family)? Are teachers - and parents and students - asked beforehand to do presentations and lead group discussions?
- Supporting high achievement for all students. Parents along with teachers are powerful advocates of opportunities for all students. They may question 'high achievers' programs that may imply that: (a) intelligence is a fixed personal capacity that can be assessed in a test for grade six students and (b) only the few, not the many, are capable of high achievement.
- Students' success. Aspirations rise when students taste success. Are there different opportunities for all students to experience some kind of publicly visible success?
- Supporting student leadership. What are the opportunities for all students to play a leadership role? For example, as student team leaders, sporting coaches, peer support leaders, peer mediators, technology leaders and so on.
- Grandparents, senior citizens and other community members. Are grandparents, senior citizens and other community members guest lecturing, mentoring, working with groups of students or helping in other ways in or outside of the classroom? If some of the grandparents/senior citizens were once students at our school, do we have an alumni group?
The family-school partnership can make a major difference - indeed, arguably, as noted above, it can be among the most powerful improvement levers that a school has ready access to.
However, although the benefits clearly outweigh the challenges, no school can possibly tackle all of these issues at once. Family engagement will also not happen without the time and commitment of both families and schools.
As well, it requires adequate resources and support. But it is not only a matter of resources. It is also a shift in thinking for some.
The above questions suggest that all schools and education systems can build on what is already working well and develop new ways to place families at the centre of all that they do.