Advertisements for SBM posts
Advertisements for SBMs often stipulate that applicants must have ‘previous experience of working in a school setting’, or must be ‘from a business background’. Furthermore, such job descriptions often require these postholders to be able to work effectively with both staff and pupils, and to contribute to the school’s ethos, educational aims and policies. However, such advertisements rarely seem to mention the requirement for SBMs to engage with parents. It is hardly surprising, then, that some SBMs have felt unprepared for the variety of challenges that they have encountered in their interactions with parents once they have been appointed.
So, what can schools do to better support SBMs who don’t have previous experience of working in a school environment? Essentially, it is all about communication. Here are some suggestions designed to help SBMs to build positive relationships with parents.
A good starting point can be to familiarise yourself with information that already exists in the school, which has been specifically designed as guidance for parents. These days many schools have a parents’ handbook in addition to a prospectus and it is annually updated. (Some schools print this in a booklet form, while others have chosen to include it on the school’s website.) You will be able to identify in a typical parents’ handbook numerous areas that are directly relevant to your work as SBM. You may choose to write a section yourself, or contribute to updates, so that parents understand clearly when they should contact you and how.
Any topics to do with money that are included in a parents’ handbook are especially relevant to the work of a SBM. These may include:
- procedures telling parents what to do if they are asked to send money into school
- procedures regarding school dinner money
- information about any online payment systems
- what parents should do if they have anxieties about meeting any financial requirements related to their child’s schooling.
A parents’ handbook may include a section on the importance of health and safety in the school, encouraging parents to help the school to ensure that high standards of health and safety are maintained at all times. For example, if the school has a policy stating that on days when it snows, children are not allowed to throw snowballs because of the damage these can cause to people or buildings, parents can play a significant role in reinforcing this kind of message at home.
Another relevant topic is that of cars: whether parents are permitted to drive onto the school site, and, if so at what speed; whether parking is available for parents or discouraged. This sort of thing will depend on the school site, its location and other relevant factors.
These days many schools have home–school liaison workers/community coordinators/parent support workers and/or other specialist staff who work closely with parents on a regular basis. The purpose of these roles is to improve the way the school engages with parents in order to raise levels of behaviour, attendance and achievement among the pupils. Such specialist staff are a rich source of knowledge and background about the school’s parents and so can play a significant role in the induction or on-going training of a SBM and their team.
Specialist staff could begin by looking at your day-to-day areas of responsibility as SBM, paying particular attention to those aspects of the job that are relevant to parents; they could then share their expertise about how to approach the tasks. Such specialist staff will be aware, for example, of any parents who have poor levels of literacy or numeracy, or those who are non-English speakers or have arrived recently from another part of the world. They will have developed strategies to ensure that all parents are provided with the essential information they need in a suitable, user-friendly format.
Getting to know parents
To gain more of an insight into parents’ views and ideas, and to begin to build good relationships with them, you might like to consider dropping in on some of the following events/meetings on an occasional basis, if time allows:
- Parent–Teacher Association meetings
- Parents’ Voice group meetings
- parents’ evening meetings
- academic review days.
Parents will appreciate having the opportunity to meet this senior member of staff and can be encouraged to ask questions so that they begin to develop a rapport with you. You may also want to undertake a survey to find out how parents feel about the way the school communicates with them.
Continuing professional development
Like all staff, SBMs, will have access to a continuing professional development (CPD) programme, although these have become more restricted recently because of budgetary constraints. You might like to consider arranging meetings with other SBMs in local schools to share ideas about how they deal with any issues/concerns regarding parents, or attending some of the national or regional conferences/seminars on parental engagement for schools.
Involvement in school improvement strategies
As members of the senior leadership team, SBMs become directly involved in the development and review of a number of school improvement strategies. For many schools, at least one strategy will focus on the management and improvement of behaviour. All staff need to be seen to be reinforcing the school’s approach to the management of behaviour.
Charlie Taylor, the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour in schools, has developed a simple checklist (which you can download from http://bit.ly/getstrcharlie) to assist schools with the management and improvement of behaviour. Here are two points from his very appealingly titled document Getting the Simple Things Right, which focus on the importance of good relationships being developed between all the staff and the parents.
Ofsted and Parent View
In October 2011, Ofsted launched its new online questionnaire called Parent View (which can be found at http://parentview.ofsted.gov.uk), so parents and carers can give their views on their child’s school at any time. The intention of the 12-question survey is to assist parents as they make ‘important choices about their child’s education and provide Ofsted with information about schools that will help inform priorities for inspection’.
At this stage it is too early to know how Parent View will impact on the role of the SBM, but it is perhaps worth considering a few of the topics that will have particular relevance for all SBMs:
- Pupils feel safe at school – parents are asked to state whether they think their child feels safe at school. With overall responsibility for school premises and health and safety, SBMs will of course ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure child safety on the site, but will also need to review this regularly.
- Response to concerns raised – parents are asked whether the school responds well to any concerns they have raised – something all staff will need to address regardless of whether the parents have approached the most appropriate member of staff in the first instance.
- Well led and managed – most significantly, parents are asked for their views on whether their child’s school is well led and managed – something all school leadership teams, including SBMs, will need to take heed of.