Considerations for all types of communication
- Trust is the key to engagement and needs to be at the front of your mind in all types of communication with the child and family.
- Explain clearly who you are and what you do.
- Being formal creates a barrier to trust and communication. A warm and chatty approach supports engagement. If your policy is to use surnames to address each other, make an exception.
- Make information clear and manageable – stick to the point and be honest.
- Communicate using everyday terms – explain any jargon you use.
- Don’t assume literacy skills. Sensitively give explanations of any written information or highlight the most important bits.
- Offer to help with any form filling. They may prefer to work through the forms under less pressure on their own.
- Phone or text the family immediately before an appointment/event, or in-person if you are seeing them earlier on the same day. It can also put them at ease and shows them that their involvement is valued.
- Be aware that communication with professionals can be stressful for parents, and this stress can present itself in different ways. This could be because of:
- negative or traumatic experiences in the past;
- feeling intimidated or alienated by the situation or setting;
- anxiety about misunderstanding or saying the wrong thing;
- not feeling comfortable enough to ask questions or give their opinion;
- not feeling they know enough;
- the assumption that their parenting or culture is being judged.
- Give clear, practical examples to illustrate your point – a high level of anxiety occurs when parents are not familiar with school systems and terminology. For example, ‘We’ll take your child out for a maths intervention’ can raise many concerns. Where is their child being taken? Who with? What they will be doing? Will they be safe? How long will they be away from their class? Will they still see their friends?
- Summarise the main points at the end of the conversation and invite the parent to come back to you if they think of any questions.
- Show the parent that you want them to ask questions and make it easy for them to do so. Check-in with them after the conversation when they will have had a chance to talk it over with family or friends – questions and misconceptions often arise afterwards.
Professionals are used to meetings but for parents who are not, meetings can inadvertently create barriers to meaningful and effective communication. These cultural considerations can make your meetings more effective.
- Does the meeting have to be formal? Does it have to be in unfamiliar territory? Avoid formality wherever possible.
- If a parent is not used to attending meetings, it can be very daunting. It may help them to know exactly who will be there, which room it is in, how long it will take and what will be expected of them.
- Contact the parent before the meeting to give them a supportive and friendly reminder that the meeting is on, and that you will be there.
- Choice and layout of meeting room – can the space be made more inviting and relaxed?
- Seating – informal seating encourages a more open conversation.
- Refreshments – offering and accepting refreshments is an important part of Traveller culture. Offering a drink and having one with the parent gives a positive message that they are welcomed and accepted.
- Keep the number of professionals in the meeting to a minimum.
- The meeting should be led or attended by someone the parent has a good connection with already. It can still help if that person is involved in some other way. For example, they could introduce the parent, join the start of the meeting, and check in with the parent afterwards.
- Parents might bring a friend or family member to the meeting. They should be visibly welcomed too. It is likely to indicate that the parent is expecting the meeting to be important or difficult.
- Parents usually bring their younger children with them to meetings and this should be factored into the meeting space and resources available so that the family feels welcome.
- If notes need to be made, try to limit this to one person taking notes, and clearly explain the reason. Explain what you have written down and check the parent’s agreement. It can be difficult for parents if they don’t know what is being written about them or their child.
- Offer for the parents to take photos on their phone of any notes you have made if this seems appropriate.
- Sometimes, meetings are recorded by parents. Keep in mind that this is likely to be due to experience of mistrust and unfair treatment.
- A home visit is very sensitive, as you are an outsider going into the family’s safe space as a guest and thought of as someone who is likely to be making judgements.
- ID badges and lanyards make you look official and can create a formal barrier. They can also draw attention and speculation from neighbours when you arrive and leave. They should be shown discretely to prove who you are, rather than being worn on clear display.
- Cleanliness and hygiene are important in Traveller culture. Take your shoes off, without being asked, to show you respect this and that you see the home as a clean place.
- Avoid using the toilet in the home if possible, as toilet hygiene and avoiding contamination are a high priority in Traveller culture.
- If you are offered refreshments, this shows that you are welcomed and accepted. Turning down this gesture can cause great offence.
- Ask where they would like you to sit.
- If your visit is unannounced, or if the family is having a difficult time, they are likely to feel deep shame if their home is even a little untidy or unclean when you visit, and highly sensitive to judgement.
- Toys are likely to be kept in the children’s bedrooms or tidied away for your visit. Bring toys with you or expect the TV to be on to keep the children occupied while you are there.
- Parents may be more open to messy play in the garden or in other settings but are likely to avoid having messy activities in the home.
- Children are likely to be dressed and groomed smartly for your visit, which is a sign that the family sees you as someone whose judgement is valued or important. Show you have noticed by giving compliments.
- It is common for extended family to be visiting the home, especially if a home visit is planned. This is to provide support and to help make a judgement about whether a new outsider can be trusted. It is important that you make a good impression on these extended family members too, as their opinions will heavily influence the family’s engagement.
Children and parents are at greater risk of exclusion from the school community if they miss out on information about events, changes and invitations to get involved.
Dyslexia and low literacy are common within the Traveller community. Literacy difficulties should not be assumed, but should be kept in mind as a possibility. Make it easy for parents to ask for help, for example with filling in forms, ordering school dinners, reading letters and helping their child with their homework.
If you communicate with parents by email, check that they are getting the information they need. Not all parents use email, and they may have difficulty navigating the registration process for electronic communication and payment systems.
Parents may avoid registering for Free School Meals, ordering school dinners, or claiming other benefits if the system relies on them completing written forms or navigating electronic systems.
The following principles apply to all forms of written information, including letters, emails, posters, leaflets, forms and homework instructions.
- Written information should not be relied upon. It should be sensitively accompanied with an explanation about the most relevant points, and any action that the parent needs to take.
- Tell parents in person if there is an event coming up or anything they can get involved in, for example a dressing up day at school, bringing in something from home, or attending a parent/teacher meeting.
- Make your letters as readable as possible, for example:
- minimum text, with the most important information highlighted;
- plain English, with no jargon;
- bullet points rather than long paragraphs;
- use of visuals, colour and boxed/bold/larger text to emphasise the key information;
- a short visual summary first with key information, followed by the detail;
- a colour code system, for example, green paper for action that need to be taken, white paper for information.
- Letters sometimes have to be formal, and even when they don’t need to be it might be out of your control. You can give the letter to the parent personally in a way that makes it less formal, and in a way that makes any technical language or practical arrangements clear.
- If a family is new to the school or has been absent for a while, update them on any events coming up so that they can be fully involved.
- Offer to support parents to set themselves up on the electronic payment/email system and provide other options if they find it difficult to use.
- Most families have access to the internet but this is usually through mobile phones.
- Mobile phone numbers can change regularly.
- Parents are unlikely to answer a phone call from a withheld number or one they do not recognise.
- Where possible, tell a parent that you are going to call them, or tell them who to expect a call from if you have referred them to another professional or service.
- Voicemail is not necessarily used. Try calling again or send a short text saying who you are and that you will ring back.
- Text messages, with minimum text, can be the most effective way of contacting a parent. Keep texts short and to the point. Separate longer messages into separate texts if necessary, or use spacing to separate different bits of information to make it more readable.
- Parents tend to be in a high state of alert when they receive a call from school or nursery. Reassure them immediately that their child is fine.
- Check if it’s a good time to talk and make it easy for them to say it’s not – they might answer a call from you in case it’s an emergency, even if it is not a good time, and might not feel they can tell a professional that it’s a bad time.