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"Hard to reach" parents- thoughts please.

(39 Posts)
BertrandRussell Fri 17-Jun-16 09:38:48

Our school has a catchment which includes two areas of significant social deprivation. We have a very high rate of children on FSM and a high % of children of lower academic ability. The school is currently working hard on getting kids to revise- generally speaking they engage well in class and behaviour is mostly excellent- but homework and revision is a real problem. The school runs revision sessions both after school and in the holidays but the take up is low and usually the kids who need it least. I think that one of the problems is the school's communication- and I am thinking of offering to try rewriting some of the letters we send out to see if it helps (I'm a governor, by the way, not just a random busy body!) Anyway, I attach the last letter I got as a parent- am I right in thinking that it is a) pretty crap generally and b) pretty incomprehensible and intimidation if you were someone who struggled with literacy or with the idea of school in general. I would love to hear your thoughts

PlanBwastaken Fri 17-Jun-16 09:43:16

Yes, it looks very official and the key information doesn't exactly stand out - not sure if making it more user-friendly would help as I'd wonder if the parents you want to reach would read it in the first place, but definitely scope for improvement.

Hockeydude Fri 17-Jun-16 09:44:46

If the parents struggle with literacy then fewer words need to be used and key info (dates of exams) should be in bold.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Fri 17-Jun-16 09:45:35

Well I'm not a hard to reach parent, but I am a writer and that text is very inaccessible. It's full of 'corporate' jargon and is pretty dense. I've brought it up three times now and keep giving up on it. I'm not sure what it's trying to tell me.

I would rip this to shreds if it came across my desk grin

To improve it, first work out what you're trying to say - what do you need parents to do after reading it? Strip out everything that doesn't support your central point. Write it like you would say it. If you are trying to reach people with literacy problems put it through one of the reading ease tests on word - they're not perfect but will give you a benchmark.

Breaking it up into nice short sentences with bullets and subheadings is a good way to make people think it's going to be easy to read too.

But essentially - just tell people what you need them to do, usually more than once, and keep it very simple!

Badbadbunny Fri 17-Jun-16 09:45:55

Lots of unnecessary information and not enough emphasis on the important bits. Considering it's a school who should know better, no thought at all to matching the content to the target audience - that would get poor marks if it were an exam question in the GCSE English GCSE!

If a lot of the target audience are likely to have low/poor literacy skills, then it should have been short and snappy with simple structure and words, or even better, some kind of infogram or poster style to give the key facts that the school want to portray. It should also have highlighted the help available, such as revision clubs etc.

I'd say the only people who would engage with that are those parents who are already engaged with their kids' education.

BertrandRussell Fri 17-Jun-16 09:52:08

Sorry- that was an awful thread title, wasn't it? And there's me being all smart arsy about someone else's writing blush

But I'm glad you all feel the same. I actually came home from a meeting about engaging hard to reach parents to that letter on my doormat!

senua Fri 17-Jun-16 11:21:43

Whatever else you do, please delete "going forward".hmm

BertrandRussell Fri 17-Jun-16 11:32:23

Don't worry, senua- hideous, isn't it?

BertPuttocks Fri 17-Jun-16 11:38:35

Our school has a similar demographic to yours.

I would imagine that many parents would give up halfway through the first paragraph. I nearly did too.

Far too much waffle. I read it through twice and I'm still not entirely sure what the point of it was.

Surely all it really needed was a sentence or two to say that the exams would be taking place and that it was important for the students to revise/prepare for them?

happygardening Fri 17-Jun-16 12:22:44

Where the exams are being sat is completely irrelevant to parents I've no idea where my DS's have sat their exams over the years an frankly couldn't care less.
If "controlled assessment" means coursework then call it coursework. I agree remove going forward.
"Subject teachers will be setting structured revision for homework"
I do hope the English dept didn't write this!
Dont worry Op its not just your school that cant write a clear letter. Every school my DS's have ever been at seems unable to say what they clearly and succinctly what they want to say in one paragraph.
I've generally switched off after the first two sentences as I suspect have most parents, leaving us clueless about what's going on. Over the years I've heard many very engaged parents in both sectors say they've never read properly the often very important letter sent home by the school. a friend who works in a boarding school was moaning that parents never return various bits of essential paper work despite being very clearly asked to do so.

mouldycheesefan Fri 17-Jun-16 12:25:50

My sister is the type of parent you mean. She wouldn't even read the letter to be honest. But if she had a phone call asking her to go along to a meeting about, she may turn up. Or may not.

Lurkedforever1 Fri 17-Jun-16 13:08:15

I agree with everyone else about the letter. Dd's primary had a similar demographic, and they used a text service as well as letters. So eg secondary equivalent 'we are running maths revision on Thursdays after school to help with exams. Your child's teacher will tell them about it. Any questions call 1234, or text 5678 for a call back'

Dd's school also used to hold meetings and explain in an easy to understand but non patronising way about sats, phonic checks, curriculum etc.

Not sure how practical either would be at secondary though.

SecretMcSquirrels Fri 17-Jun-16 13:37:46

I'm a secondary school governor as well. That letter is dreadful. Even worse if this is aimed at "hard to reach parents".
We have a particular problem with after school revision because it's a rural school and so a large majority go by bus.

It's also true that these are the parents who are more likely to have contact from school when things are going wrong, this can make it harder to engage them when you want to.

We have used various tactics. A simple leaflet entitled "How You Can Help Your Child". Explaining the importance of homework and revision.
Facebook, the kids may not use FB these days but those parents probably do. Text messages reminding the child and the parent of revision sessions.
It probably needs spelling out in one simple message that GCSEs are changing massively for these Y9 and 10s

Sadik Fri 17-Jun-16 14:33:57

Yes, agree it's a dreadful letter. If it's helpful, here's the rough equivalent that we got. Not particularly aimed at hard-to-reach parents, but it's still a hell of a lot easier for me to understand! (The English in letters home is often a bit stilted as I'm pretty sure the original is drafted in Welsh, but it's still pretty clear.)

"As we look forward to the summer, we must now focus on examinations, and we ask you to help your child prepare for them.
<timetable of exams for each year>
<in bold> Please encourage your child to study hard for their examinations, and contact the school if any help is required.

<underlined> Parents of pupils in years 11, 12 and 13
Revision sessions will be held during the Easter holidays. Please support your child by ensuring he/she attends all relevant sessions.
Details are available from the school office.
Thank you."

Gruach Fri 17-Jun-16 14:51:36

Is there anything that might tempt the more reluctant parents into school? Drink? Free stuff? Even transport?

I'd be inclined to throw money at it and hold as many meetings as it takes to inform everyone. Perhaps two morning, afternoon, evening and weekend sessions over a couple of weeks. Because I'm not sure tinkering with the wording of a letter would be enough. Think you need to change the manner of delivery of the message.

jugglingparent Mon 20-Jun-16 21:49:14

Stopped reading after first sentence - terrible letter.
Agree with some other posters, communication via text, whatsapp, facebook etc far more accessible. Also would offer nibbles as an incentive.
Never underestimate the power of a few free biccies.

Autumnsky Tue 21-Jun-16 12:18:09

I agree text to mobile is better. It would be even better to give a phone call to the students' parent who really need these sessions. I think lots of parent would act to push their children to do better in school if they know how.

PerspicaciaTick Tue 21-Jun-16 12:28:26

The letter starts saying it is going to confirm dates. And then, nowhere in the following 4 paragraphs, does it mention dates again.

It is truly shit. I would suggest starting off designing the letter as a poster. Not because the final version will be in poster format, but because it will force you to think about what information you really need to get across and eliminate the filler.

Does the school use a text service? Maybe sending a couple of texts would be more effective. The first could have dates "Y9-10 internal exams will be happening *dates*. Your child is expected in school as usual. More information will be sent home this week in a letter". The second could focus on the why "Internal exams are a great way to practice exam skills. Please encourage your child to revise and do their best. Thank you for your support".

BoboChic Tue 21-Jun-16 12:32:00

Agree with OP and PP - the letter is dreadful! Generally speaking, state schools are pretty bad at marketing, so this is not a judgement on the school.

Are there marketing professionals in the parent body who could use their skills to offer solutions?

eyebrowsonfleek Wed 22-Jun-16 19:50:51

There's not even a phone number where you can call up and talk to a real person.

I'm degree educated but found the letter hard work to read.

Do you think that the school newsletter or having a meeting where a teacher explained things would help? Maybe things like how much revision, how to revise or what practical things parents can do to help?

Just5minswithDacre Wed 22-Jun-16 20:10:04

"Going forward" is awful but so is "building familiarity".

It's not clear and it lacks punch.

Even literate but harassed parents could skim that in a hurry and glaze over.

MedSchoolRat Tue 28-Jun-16 17:12:35

In microsoft word there are scoring tools for reading age level (like a spell check tool). You want stuff for general public to be at reading age 13 or below, ideally. NOT because folk are thick or mostly poorly literate. But they are busy & they need concepts expressed simply to engage with them.

I spend yrs working on health literacy projects. We despair at the too-complicated reading level of info handed to patients, too.

Greengager Tue 28-Jun-16 17:26:27

Internal exams? Do they mean mocks? Think they need to explain what these are as it brings to mind something else entirely.

How about

The practice GCSE exams will take place on x date(s).

These are very important because they help your child improve their exam skills and feel comfortable in the exam hall. There is less coursework than in the past so exams are now a much more important part of GCSEs. This will give your child the opportunity to do their best.

We are arranging x sessions for the children.

You can help by

- blah
- blah

AYD2MITalkTalk Tue 28-Jun-16 17:35:31

Five paragraphs! Just to say "We're doing practice exams so the kids can get used to exams and revising, because the new GCSEs don't have much coursework any more".

user1465823522 Tue 28-Jun-16 18:43:55

I think that parents who give a toss will embrace this. sadly, those who don't won't. The school isn't the issue,

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