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Increasing parental engagement at Pakeman Primary, London

All parents want the best for their children – so why is increasing parental engagement in learning such a struggle?

Many factors can make it difficult for parents to engage:

  • Negative experiences of school.
  • Fear of failing as a parent.
  • Lack of understanding about the importance of parents supporting learning.
  • Lack of knowledge about how to help.
  • Lack of skills (e.g. poor literacy and numeracy skills, limited English.)
  • Inability to cope with the pressures of life (poverty, housing, mental health, children, drugs and alcohol dependency.)

At Pakeman we have worked hard to overcome the barriers above in order to increase parental engagement in learning. We worked towards the Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA), which provided us with an excellent framework to use in order to audit our practice and develop an action plan.

As a result, we adopted a three-pronged parental engagement approach.

1. Developing a Positive Nurturing Climate

Our first aim is to ensure that the school climate:

  • is genuinely warm and welcoming.
  • supports building relationships of trust.
  • helps to build parents’ confidence.

We conducted a school office survey to see what parents really think about how they are received in school. We asked:

o Are they welcomed?

o Are their visits valued?

o Is the service efficient?

o Do staff make them feel comfortable?

  • We ensured staff were familiar with parental engagement research and really recognised the value of parents’ engagement in learning.
  • We made parental engagement a whole school priority and set staff performance management targets linked to increasing parental engagement.
  • We reviewed our communication strategies – Our conclusion? COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICATE. We use as many different methods as we can: newsletters, posters, flyers, letters, reminder slips, face to face reminders, staff “working the crowd”, invitations from children and texts to parents. These all occur over an extensive period of time.
  • We planned events to help to break down negative perceptions of school, such as “Bring a Parent to School Week”, with activities such as building marshmallow towers or making collages of habitats in the style of Matisse which would not be intimidating and would entice parents in to school. Through events such as these parents get a real sense of how happy their children are, how they interact with other children and the teachers, and barriers start to break down as they see school as a positive experience. Parents commented on what a great job staff are doing, how much they care for the children and this has reinforced the importance/value of these events with staff.

2. Providing Opportunities to Build Knowledge and Skills

Our second aim is that parents feel confident in their own skills and knowledge so that they can support children effectively at home.

We reviewed and extended the range of courses on offer for parents. These include skills sessions for parents and family learning sessions where they work alongside their children, e.g.

  • Keeping up with the children in literacy.
  • Keeping up with the children in maths.
  • Developing ICT Skills.
  • Managing Money.
  • Getting Back to Work.
  • ESOL.
  • Supporting children’s wellbeing.

We run regular coffee mornings to support parents in “how to help”, e.g.

  • Supporting reading.
  • Phonics.
  • EYFS – the value of talk and play.
  • Using Numicon to develop mental maths skills.

For each parent learning event we provide a crèche, so ALL parents can attend.

On parents’ evenings we organise a range of stalls for parents run by the school and other agencies to provide:

  • information on the curriculum such as understanding levels.
  • resources/activities.
  • easy access to support, such as housing, medical and welfare advice.

Our aim in holding these meetings is to:

  • Make a commitment to genuine partnership working and build stronger relationships focused on learning.
  • Share predictors for the future if a child fails to reach age appropriate levels before they leave primary hool.
  • Share research on the value of parental engagement in learning.
  • Discuss and agree support provided by the school and interventions by the parent.
  • Provide guidance and resources.

At the end of the first meeting, we (parents and school) both sign a contract to commit to our actions and meet formally each term and informally throughout the term.

In the first year of this initiative, we met with 14 parents of underachieving children. 12 of the 14 children achieved a level 4+ in all subjects. 100% of the children attended boosters, completed homework and made 2 levels of progress from KS1.

3. Supporting Parents to Reduce Life Pressures

We recognise that for many parents life can be difficult and if a parent is struggling to cope it is very hard for children to flourish. We have therefore made a commitment to support parents to reduce life pressures as much as we can.

We help to reduce childcare issues by:

  • providing free places at breakfast club and play centre for targeted children.
  • providing a crèche for all our family learning sessions - so that parents with young children are able to attend.

Our School Home Support (SHS) worker works closely with a large number of families providing additional support such as:

  • Accessing emergency welfare funds.
  • Providing food vouchers/food parcels/Christmas presents.
  • Organising free holidays for children so that parents have respite, children are engaged in exciting activities and their self-confidence is boosted.
  • Helping parents to find courses/training.
  • Signposting parents to other agencies for help.
  • Offering advice regarding housing, welfare and medical issues.
  • Providing guidance.

Our SHS worker is always there to listen and provide support, giving encouragement/pointing out the good and guiding parents on next steps. She has built excellent relationships, is persistent, and through listening and not telling or judging, has managed to break down many barriers.

As a result:

  • positive relationships have been built on genuine trust and parents are comfortable to share their difficulties.
  • Increasing numbers of parents are attending learning sessions or returning to further education.
  • Children’s attendance, behaviour and attitudes to learning have improved.
I have made a huge effort to make maths fun for my children, as they've heard so many negative things about it ("I'm bad at maths, I never use it, we don't need to do maths") from other parents. I want my kids to be really good at maths so that they can have more choices at uni/work/in life [...]. Participant, National Numeracy Parent Survey
I, almost daily, include maths in our lives through things like cooking (which we've done since he was 3), filling up the car with petrol etc. so it's a different and more positive experience for him than just sitting down having to do 'exercises'. Participant, National Numeracy Parent Survey

Broadlea Primary School, Isle of Wight

Just over a year ago I was introduced to Tapestry (an online learning journal) by one of our feeder pre-schools. As soon as I saw it I wanted to use it at Broadlea. Parent partnership is so vital and all previous attempts to engage all parents had had differing results, with none of them lasting long.

Tapestry allows parents to access their child’s learning journey whenever they want. They are able to comment on observations made in school and also upload their own observations, photographs and videos.

As manager users my colleague and I are able to view the last time a parent looked at their child’s learning journey even if they have not uploaded an observation or commented.

When we started this I was hopeful of getting 50% of parents to sign up. We had 100% sign up, although there are two parents who have never accessed it (despite constant emails and nagging from us. But we decided you can’t win them all :) ).

For our cohort of 60 children we have 5272 observations. 500 of these have been made by a parent/carer!

Parent comments about Tapestry include: “I love it, I feel so in touch with what my child is doing.” “We sit down as a family and look on the computer at what S has been doing today.” “My older children used to say they had ‘done nothing’ at school, with my child in Reception we can share and talk about their day.”

Tapestry also allows us to plan much more effectively. Every day we approve and quality assure the observations and we can change our planning for the next day depending on what has been observed today.

Observations for each area of learning can quickly be identified, so when we were moderated earlier this year it was very simple and quick to find the evidence to validate our judgements.

The Foundation Stage Forum have developed Tapestry and are so helpful. They are open to suggestions on how to improve it and are about to add the Key Stage 1 assessments to it so it can progress further up the school.

I could not even contemplate going back to paper learning journeys as Tapestry has completely transformed our practice.

Bev Eustace

Class Teacher/Early Years Leader, Broadlea Primary School.

Review of Tapestry Online Learning Journal

A rural primary school

In September 2014, a small primary school in a rural area took part in our parental engagement project.

Many parents embraced this wonderful maths based activity, which encourages parents/carers and their children to spend time together solving a number of challenges. They were all provided with a colourful ‘Scrapbook’ which they used to record their findings.

The style and amount of work varied from family to family, some recorded the minimal amount whereas others attached photographs; used the computer to devise data handling graphs; painted pictures to highlight the answers and even included their own family home layout to work out right angles within their house.

Unfortunately, some parents were initially quite negative. One parent left a comment in their scrapbook saying;

‘ At the beginning of this book it says that these activities will be short and fun. This task is not at all ‘short’. Tom is feeling daunted about the amount of work he has to do. How to put a child off!!!!’

However, once provided with certain resources, such as a hundred squares, and an idea of methods which are used in school, to work out certain tasks, most parents felt much more confident in helping their children.

A couple of weeks later the same parent left a comment saying,

‘Tom can’t wait to get his homework now. We sit down as a whole family, even his big brother.’