Category Archives: schools

Critical lessons from practices for improving the quality of communication between parents and schools


Paper 9th ERNAPE International Conference. Families, Schools and Communities: Learn from the past, review the present, prepare for a future with equity University of Lisboa, Portugal, 4th-6th September, 2013.

Theme B. Critical lessons from implementation of practices

Frederik Smit & Geert Driessen

At the request of Better Performing, the collaboration programme of school boards and the municipality of Rotterdam, research institute ITS of the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands conducted a study into the functioning of the parental involvement policies in primary and secondary schools in Rotterdam.

In Rotterdam, a city with 600,000 inhabitants and some 180 nationalities, two-thirds of the youth grows up in immigrant families. In many homes of these second- and third-generation immigrants Dutch is not the language normally spoken among parents and children. One in three children grow up in a family with low educated parents. These youngsters rarely go to higher forms of education and many of them acquire only a basic qualification for the labour market. The socioethnic composition of the city’s population thus poses a particular challenge for policymakers and school staff.

One of the objectives of the Better Performing programme is that every school in Rotterdam should demonstrate progress in parental support of their children’s learning process. Parents should exhibit more effective teaching supportive behaviour at home and more parents should be actively involved in the school career and job choices of their children. Basic ingredients of the Rotterdam approach are partnership and two-way communication, with an emphasis on intake interviews and discussion of the role of parents in choosing a school and school career.


Research questions
To what degree does teaching supportive behaviour of parents at home involve the school career of their children in primary and secondary education? What are the views of head teachers and parents on parental involvement in Rotterdam and in the rest of the Netherlands? Does the policy of school boards and the municipality of Rotterdam to stimulate parental involvement result in more attention to this subject in schools? What are the results of this Rotterdam policy for the learning process of pupils? What are experienced problems and desired solutions? What aspects of the Rotterdam policy need improvement?

Research design

Review of the literature

An international literature review focused on research findings regarding the relationship between parents and primary and secondary schools in Western Europe, Canada and the United States. This review was an update of earlier ITS studies of the functioning of parental participation and involvement in Rotterdam (Smit & Driessen, 2005; 2006). The present study focused on developments during the last two decades. Themes in the review of the literature were ‘educational supportive behaviour’, ‘educational partnership in a multicultural, metropolitan context’ and ‘learning outcomes of pupils’. The review included the Netherlands, Belgium (Flanders), England, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada and the United States. The reasons underlying this choice were: the similarity of the situation in these countries; the countries have a long tradition regarding parental involvement; and, in the case of the USA, the amount of research done. For the selection of studies two criteria were used: they should report on empirical scientific research and the research must meet current methodological standards with clear definitions. The function of the review was to provide a framework for interpreting the results of the survey among head teachers and parents.

Survey among head teachers and parents
All head teachers in primary education (n=190) and secondary education (n=75) in Rotterdam were approached. In addition, head teachers in the rest of the Netherlands were approached (n=1,500). Parents with children in primary and secondary education were asked to participate in the ITS Parent Councils Panel (n=2,500) and the Linkedin groups Parents, School and Neighbourhood and Active Parenting (n= 1,500).

Main results
In the literature parental involvement is regarded as one of the major components or characteristics of effective schools. Partnership between parents and school is not an end in itself, but a means to serve the common interests: creating optimal conditions for the development and learning of children.The results of research into the correlation between parental involvement and academic performance are (mostly) positive in primary and secondary education. In the strategy of schools to work with parents to improve educational outcomes, the vision on parent involvement, creating support for an integrated planned an tailor-made approach play an important role.

The survey among head teachers and parents show that in Rotterdam teachers in primary schools conduct home visit more often than their colleagues in the rest of the Netherlands. In Rotterdam, parents with children in primary education are more likely to consult the school with regard to helping their children at home than in the rest of the country. Parents in Rotterdam are slightly more positive about the contacts with school than parents in the rest of the country.
Nearly half of the head teachers of primary and secondary schools in Rotterdam state that their teachers were encouraged in the past two years by the Better Performing programme to pay more attention to contact with parents, to undertake training and to formulate ambitions regarding educational partnership, to conduct extensive introductory talks to provide parents with more detailed information about the school, the class and what children learn in school so they can better assist their children at home. Schools in the city of Rotterdam were also stimulated to express and discuss the mutual expectations of school and parents, to encourage education supportive behaviours of parents at home, to invest in home visits and to make use of consultants who can inform and advise parents about education supportive behaviour and the involvement of parents in the choice of continuing education and professional orientation.
According to parents in Rotterdam with children in primary and secondary education the communication with the school is not always spotless. One problem parents frequently mention is head teachers and teachers are often not accessible by telephone an de-mail. In addition, parents complain about the poor quality of communication (vague letters, no or late responses to emails, no feedback after ‘incidents’, no initiative to contact). Parents see as solutions to such communication problems: the head teacher establishes a consultation hour, the teachers can be reached via e-mail, the school takes a greater account of working parents, and teachers conduct more home visits to keep in touch.
According to the head teachers in Rotterdam the following are the bottlenecks in the contacts with parents: the low turnout at parents’ evenings; the difficulty of making appointments with parents; the absence of the right attitude (no shared responsibility for education) and skills (the parents are illiterate, do not master the Dutch language, do not understand the assignments for the pupil support at home); and the lack of time (single parent families, both parents have a job). Parents are sometimes in a power struggle with the teacher about the approach and parents sometimes use a pedagogy that they know from their own time at school.
Head teachers see as solutions to the problems: more space in schools for consultants; more group meetings with parents about educational supportive behaviour; cooperation with other educational and welfare institutions; and making the parents co-responsible at the policy level.
More than half of the head teachers in Rotterdam say that they have no idea what the effects are of the focus of parental involvement in the Better Performing programme on their pupils’ academic performance.


The focus of the Better Performing programme could be more explicitly focus on the head teachers in primary and secondary education who have no idea regarding the effects of policies aiming at raising educational achievement. They should receive (more) information about the role that educational supportive parental behaviour may have on the learning outcomes of the pupils. In developing policies, schools could focus on increasing the contact options, especially by listening to the concerns of parents and their specific questions and needs in order to improve the two-way communication. The cooperation between schools and parents could be more deepened by showing that parents, as important role models and co-partners, can contribute to the desired ‘results-oriented culture’ of the school. The mutual parent contacts could be strengthened by the use of knowledge, experience and networks of parents in an integrated planned approach.


Smit, F. & Driessen, G. (2005). Parent-school-community relations in a changing society: Bottlenecks, pitfalls and solutions. In R.-A. Martínez-Gonzáles, Ma. del Henar Pérez-Herrero & B. Rodríguez-Ruiz (Eds.), Family-school-community partnerships merging into social development (pp. 171-190). Oviedo: Grubao SM.
Smit, F., & Driessen, G. (2006). Ouders en scholen als partners in een multiculturele en multireligieuze samenleving. In C. Hermans (Ed.), Partnerschap als waardegemeenschap (pp. 103-122). Budel: Uitgeverij Damon.
Smit, F., Wester, M., & Kuijk, J. van (2012). Beter presteren in Rotterdam. School en ouders samen. ITS, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.
Smit, F., Driessen, G., Sleegers, P., & Teelken, C. (2008). Scrutinizing the balance: Parental care versus educational responsibilities in a changing society. Early Child Development and Care, 178, (1), 65-80.

dr. Frederik Smit