Getting Parents with a Fear of School Onsite & Onside

These are the summary notes from Pooky’s webinar ‘Getting Parents with a Fear of School Onside and Onside.’ The recording can be accessed by all members or via a free trial.


The term ‘hard to reach’ is often applied to those families that we struggle to engage with.  This places the onus on the families; they are hard for US to reach.  Flipping this phrase can help inform our thinking and actions: if instead we ask ourselves why is our school / college hard for THEM to reach then we can quickly begin to address and overcome barriers.  

  • Who are our hard to reach families?
  • Why are we hard for them to reach?
  • Are there any common barriers and how might we address these?
  • What are the roles and boundaries of the school and of our families?


Frequently, where we see a child who is having a challenging time at school, we’ll find that their parents had similar issues too – I’ve seen this time and time again on a range of issues including school avoidance, school based anxiety, challenging behaviour and disengagement / under achievement.  This can mean that if we want to support a child to develop a new attitude towards school, we’re may need to support parents to make that same journey too. 

  • Parents may have faced similar fears and challenges as children which can reinforce the cycle
  • Poor experience of school from parents can mean they are unsupportive / disengaged
  • Fears, anxieties and maladaptive coping can often be learned via parents / siblings
  • We can break the cycle by supporting the whole family
  • A key aim is to build trust and a feeling of safety
  • A good first step is to change the conversation by contacting with good news


Over time, a great way to build confidence and engagement with families is to make sure that every time you make a draw on their time that it feels like it was time really well spent.  You might do this by sharing resources, simple practical ideas, boosting their confidence or giving them the feel good factor about their child.  Bear this in mind particularly when inviting parents to attend information or training face to face or online but also any time you communicate with parents via email, text etc. 

  • Time is precious for all of us, be respectful and make great use of parents’ time
  • Families often value a chance to ask informal questions and talk to one another
  • A common mistake is information overload with little interaction – keep it short, practical and interactive
  • Support families to put what they’ve learned into practice by providing brief summaries / ideas
  • Don’t assume you know what topics they want covered – ask them or ask the children


Imagine what it feels like arriving at your school or the event you’ve organised as a parent/carer who may feel overwhelmed or be carrying their own baggage about their time at school.  How can you make them feel at ease and welcome and what might put them off.  Imagine how for a parent with difficult memories of school, a teacher in a suit being addressed formally as ‘Mr Smith’ might be more difficult for a parent to relax with and engage with than someone dressed less formally and inviting the same parent to call them Simon.  These tiny details can make a huge difference.  

On the other hand, in some situations, a worried family might feel reassured by an authoritative member of staff who is calm and clearly in control.  Always think of things from the point of view of the parent and wonder ‘who do they need me to be’ and do your best to be that person, just as you’d adapt to the needs of their child.


If you’re keen to encourage families to better engage with school, ensure that every time they step onsite or contact you online that they are made to feel really warmly welcomed.  How can you ensure that they know that they are welcome here and that you’re all on the same team (the team of the child)?

  • How can you ensure families are warmly welcomed when they arrive at events?
  • What is the role of frontline staff in making harder to reach families welcome?
  • Are there any barriers of accessibility or language that could be overcome?
  • How could you follow up with families?

Further Resources:

On Demand courses:

Improve Engagement with Parents and Carers

YouTube Videos


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