Why are parent-teacher relationships important?

Research from Ofsted finds poor relationships with parents can add significantly to low morale and poor wellbeing in teaching. Eve Debbage, project officer at Teacher Tapp, outlines how matters can be improved

On 22 July, Ofsted published research highlighting the issues of low morale and wellbeing in teachers. Ofsted monitors all schools on behalf of the Department for Education, including overseeing the work of the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

Teachers feel unsupported on classroom behaviour’ detailed how teachers in state and independent schools – as well as further education institutions – feel a distinct lack of support from school leaders and parents when tackling poor classroom behaviour.

Although the research found the majority of teachers love their profession, the overall wellbeing of many teachers is worrying. This low morale is due in part to a perceived insufficiency of resources and support from leaders and parents for managing pupil behaviour.

At a time when many people are walking out of teaching, thus contributing to the national shortage of qualified teachers, any factors that may damage their wellbeing are worth investigating and, where possible, eradicating.

Positive parent-teacher relationships are crucial to the success of individual pupils and schools as a whole. But why are these relationships so important and what can schools do to improve them?

“Positive parental involvement in a child’s education can have a significant impact on their success”

Poor parent-teacher relationships may contribute to teacher burnout 

Ofsted found poor relationships with parents can add significantly to a teacher’s stress at work, increasing both anxiety and workload. The finding applies equally to state and private schools. The problem stems from a variety of factors: parents’ unrealistic expectations, inappropriate complaints and an instant response culture which demands an immediate reply to emails, no matter how frequently sent; some teachers spend the equivalent of almost a day per week on reading and responding to emails.

Ofsted warns that a ‘culture of competition’, in which parents share schools’ response rates, can exacerbate teachers’ workload and erode their work-life balance, resulting in low morale and poor wellbeing.

The problem stems from a variety of factors: parents’ unrealistic expectations, inappropriate complaints and an instant response culture

Excessive workload is the main reason teachers give for leaving the profession. This has led to a severe shortage of school teachers, with one-in-five planning to end their teaching careers within five years. While independent schools continue to offer an attractive package to teachers, they are not immune to teacher shortages. Certain subjects are equally difficult to fill in private schools as in their state sector counterparts.

Independent schools may even have greater difficulty maintaining positive parent-teacher relationships. A recent Teacher Tapp survey found 57% of teachers in independent primary schools in affluent areas agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Parents of my pupils have unrealistic expectations” – compared to 43% of state primary school teachers.

Figures for independent and state secondary schools were similar, with 58% and 47% respectively, agreeing or strongly agreeing. Likewise, a survey by the Independent Association of Prep Schools found “the vast majority” of headteachers in fee-paying schools named unrealistic demands from parents as the biggest frustration of their job.

Positive parent-teacher relationships can boost academic achievement

Research by the University of Sussex in 2017 – drawing upon data from more than 10,000 students – found positive school-family relationships are a predictor of academic achievement. Furthermore, this effect can be enhanced or diminished by the degree of parents’ satisfaction with their child’s school. The researchers concluded that school policies and practices that aim to improve parent-teacher relationships could boost the academic success of pupils from all backgrounds.

Where parents and schools work in harmony, pupil progress is effectively monitored and any gaps in development — or conversely, areas of excellence — are easier to identify. This helps to establish realistic expectations and enables teachers to effectively plan support for a child’s learning based on individual needs. When parents(or teachers) have unrealistic expectations or ‘over-aspiration’ for a child, there may be a negative impact on academic achievement.

Improving the academic support a child receives at home

Effectively educating a child requires a collaborative effort between school staff and the child’s family. There is only so much a teacher can accomplish during the school day, which averages about six hours in independent schools. Pupils who excel are those who receive support at home. But how do parents know what help is needed and how to give it?

“Poor relationships with parents can add significantly to a teacher’s stress at work, increasing both anxiety and workload”

Effective communication between the school and the parents or carers of its children is essential to the success of home support. Schools can use reports, letters, texts, cloud-based learning environments and many other means to keep parents up-to-date with their child’s progress.

Parents no longer need to rely on their children to remember – or choose to let them know – what homework or prep they need to do. Equally, schools with positive parent-teacher relationships may host training sessions and meetups for parents, to help them understand current methods of teaching particular topics or subjects.

What can be done to improve parent-teacher relationships?

Positive parental involvement in a child’s education can have a significant impact on their success at school. A pupil’s personal development, academic achievement and emotional wellbeing are all influenced by the nature of parent-teacher relationships. Teachers and parents also benefit from a positive relationship – stress will be less of an issue and both parties will feel more valued and supported.

Every school has its unique requirements, student demographics and objectives; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving parent-teacher relationships. However, improving communication and ensuring that teachers feel supported and valued by school leaders and parents forms the foundation of positive relationships.

Ofsted inspections will now include a separate judgment on behaviour and attitudes, to ensure both are ‘rigorously monitored’

Ofsted made some recommendations for improving teachers’ wellbeing, several of which relate to the relationship schools have with parents. Ofsted inspections will now include a separate judgment on behaviour and attitudes, to ensure both are ‘rigorously monitored’. The judgement also seeks to ensure that “staff well-being forms part of the leadership and management judgement”.

It has also called upon leaders to support teachers, by consistently implementing behaviour policies and taking steps to end the ‘instant response culture’ that is leading to crippling workloads for some teachers. Schools are advised to implement a strong behaviour policy that parents should support.