Perfecting school / parent harmony

Cherryl Drabble

Cherryl Drabble is assistant headteacher at Highfurlong School, an Outstanding-rated special needs school in Blackpool. She is the author of the book Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Bloomsbury Education), and has a Masters in Inclusion/SEND. Cherryl also holds the roles of CPD leader, initial teacher trainer, NQT mentor and assessment team leader.

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Image courtesy of author // The Doodles-endorsed dog treats. Image courtesy of author // The Doodles-endorsed dog treats.

All children need support both at home and at school, feeling happier and more secure when the two work collaboratively as one. This is when effective learning takes place; pupils grow in confidence and self-esteem and feel fulfilled. So, how do we as schools achieve this partnership and make it work effectively for our children?

Here at Highfurlong School in Blackpool, there are a number of ways in which we engage effectively with parents.

One very popular method is through our Enterprise projects. Twice during the school year, the timetable is collapsed and the entire curriculum is taught through enterprise. “Parents are proud often to the point of tears.”Each class is allotted a budget which has to be returned at the end of the project. They then conduct some research as a class group, before choosing a theme based on items they think they can sell. This year, Diamond Class chose to make small jars of dog treats! Pupils hit the internet to find the best canine deals, and then went out on the school bus, purchased them, and made posters in school to sell the treats. They marketed them very cleverly using our very own therapy dog, Doodles, who was allowed to test them - strictly for endorsement purposes (pictured top), of course...

Then time for the community engagement. We invite all the parents, neighbours and members of the local community to view and purchase the goods made by the children using skills from right across the curriculum. The parents thoroughly enjoy this opportunity to be a part of what their children have been doing in school, feeling privileged to be invited into school regularly to view the children’s learning at first-hand. We know this because they actually queue up to be admitted to school to see what the children have been making!

Another great example of how we bring the community to life is through our twice-yearly concerts. Highfurlong School’s Performing Arts leader is, to our great benefit, a very talented young lady who knows the meaning of the word inclusion. Every single child is included in one of her concerts, irrespective of any additional challenges they face.

We also have children joining us mid-way through the year who can no longer manage in mainstream schools. For their parents, this may be the first time their child has ever been involved in a concert or show of any kind; it might even be the first time that their child has ever been able to shine. Watching the concerts, parents are so proud, often to the point of tears. Our headteacher is regularly praised for inviting the parents in to share their children’s achievements.

Possibly the biggest success we have experienced in terms of building our school community has occurred with the introduction of our school Facebook page. Every school has some hard-to-reach parents, and Highfurlong is no exception. Those same parents, and the local community as a whole, love the personal touch we use for our Facebook. They regularly send messages telling us how they love seeing how much our children are achieving. We have some strict rules regarding the page.

For example, there is only one voice of Highfurlong. The message that goes out is written by the same person for every post, containing the same uplifting, praising and rewarding message every single time. Our children and young people work exceptionally hard, and we want the whole world to know about it. Children are never named in order to keep them safe online, but their work and achievements are regularly in the spotlight. Our Facebook page has been so successful that we have less than 100 children, but over 800 followers.

Through Facebook, we bring the community inside the school, giving locals the opportunity to engage with what we’re doing, to see how our special school works.

The final example of how we bring the community to life is through the use of Seesaw. We have many talented teachers here at Highfurlong, and Mr B is a shining example of a top-quality “People message us to say how much they love seeing children’s achievements.”middle leader. He recently introduced Seesaw to our school, and it has been a phenomenal success in terms of parental engagement. Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio that can be added to iPads and Android devices. It allows children of any age to create content and share their work through posts on the app. Families can also be invited to share, and can collaborate with their child’s work during the day. Similarly, children can post content at home during the evening and weekends, and their teachers can comment and encourage them from a distance. It is a method of introducing children to social media while ensuring they stay safe online, as they are strictly posting to their own family and friends only.

Image credit: Seesaw

The app has the capacity to do far more than this, and Mr B has big plans for the future! At the moment, though, our parents are thoroughly enjoying seeing the their children’s work through Seesaw, and are tremendously complimentary about its use through the many messages we receive.

We have many ways of bringing our special school community to life, and this is just a snapshot of our work. For us, having the parents on-board is a top priority. Without their support, our children would not make as much progress as they do. Therefore, we recognise the incredible importance for home and school to work as one.

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