Engaging With Low Income Families
Does your school have a large proportion of children that are eligible for free school meals? If so, you’ll undoubtedly understand that these families have a unique set of needs and challenges, particularly in the current economic climate.
For those people who have school-aged children, being a low-income family certainly does not mean they want to engage with their child’s school life any less. Moreover, they face additional hurdles that make it more difficult to do so.
Why do these parents have different engagement needs?
Firstly, these parents are often more time-starved. Because they have less choice when it comes to job opportunities, they may have to accept jobs with unusual hours like weekends, evenings or irregular hours. This inevitably means less time at home with their children to support them in their studies, and less time to engage with the school community.
Lone parents will face yet more time and finance constraints, having to shoulder the burden of earning a wage as well as caring for children. A recent article from The Guardian claims that over half of children in lone parent households exist in relative poverty. This has risen from 43% in 2014, to 49% in 2020.
They’re often anxious about additional things as well as the child's educational outcomes. Factors like economic uncertainty, spiralling bills, unpredictable government plans and family health & welfare often present bigger potential threats to lower-income families.
With these factors in mind, what measures can schools take to improve engagement with lower-income families?
Help lower-income families to plan
Because there is less money to go around, families who are eligible for free school meals need to plan carefully how this money is distributed (in order to minimise the impact of unpredictability), and schools need to help facilitate this.
For example, ensure you give them good notice for any paid-for events and school trips, with clearly explained payment plans. A tool like Schoolzine’s dynamic calendar can be particularly useful for this, which can be pushed out to parents via email, app notification or within a school newsletter. Make it easy for parents to investigate and discretely request any funding that may be available; for example a school trip consent form that includes a field which parents can tick if they require financial support.
Ensure there are reminders about these events in newsletters, via app notification or email, and on the website.
Create an easy-to-access resource hub
Make parents aware of all the resources available to them, both within the school and education system and also the wider community. Ensure this is easily accessible and widely communicated; a dedicated tile on the Schoolzine app would be a great idea, as well as including an article about it in your school newsletter. It’s a good idea to add it to your website too, so prospective parents can access the information.
The most important information to include in your resource hub is information on eligibility for free school meals. Don’t forget to mention that it has a huge positive effect on the school’s budget, to encourage any parents that may otherwise be uncertain, to claim.
Other information to add to your resource hub might include:
- Funding for school trips
- Funding for school equipment and books
- Government support and grants - check out the latest government information here.
- Community support groups that may contain useful information on subsidised childcare, low-cost or free parent and child groups and local food banks. Take some time to research local social media groups that may be beneficial.
Ensure that each resource is concisely explained, and offer headlines. For example, instead of just pointing them to the gov.uk website, highlight the most relevant grants and subsidies that will be most useful for them. Finally, make sure it’s kept up to date.
Make information streamlined and easy to consume
As we’ve discussed, many lower-income parents are short on time, so any information they receive needs to be in an easy-to-consume format, simple and concise and relevant. Consider when you send which messages to parents, and don’t overload them, otherwise it’ll simply become unread wallpaper.
A mobile responsive newsletter containing multiple relevant subjects sent out early evening, is going to have far more impact than 12 emails containing cumbersome PDF’s sent out at tea time, for example. For more parent-engaging communication ideas check out our other article.
Celebrate Good News
Everyone loves good news right? And with the increased anxieties that lower-income face, this is even more important. Ensure that parents receive a steady stream of great news, about their child in particular. Showcase what’s happening in the classroom, take pictures of celebration assemblies and make positive news a regular thing. Take a look at our article for easy ways to deliver good news.
If you’d like to discuss improving parent engagement at your school, get in touch with us for a chat about how to make it super-easy.