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Every contact counts when engaging parents in careers education

19 Feb 2024

Jennie Cole is an Enterprise Coordinator & Operational Lead for East Sussex Careers Hub. She previously worked as a Careers Leader for Hailsham Community College. Here she shares some helpful perspectives on encouraging parental participation in careers provision.

Parents want to be involved
During my time as a Careers Leader, I found that most parents were eager for up to date, relevant careers information. This went deeper than receiving newsletters or following a school or college’s social media. Whenever we ran in-person events with parents, there was always a good response. There was definitely an appetite from parents to get informed, so that they could be in the best position possible to support their children.

I organised the first apprenticeship information evening at the college I worked in. I invited representatives from Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for Schools and Colleges (ASK), along with and four local employers who offered apprenticeships. As it was a pilot, I was nervous about inviting too many parents, but obviously I also didn’t want an empty room. I actually made my husband and daughter attend, as I was sure we’d have hardly anyone turn up. Ten minutes before the start time, a flood of parents began to arrive. We had to get extra chairs as the hall was packed! This became a regular feature in our careers calendar.

The importance of accurate, up to date information
Every parent will have their own experience of careers advice and support. There will be variances in level and type, and some won’t have received any at all. Many will also have their own experience of post-school education and career paths. In terms of education and careers, parents are one of the most influential voices for a young person. Therefore, it’s vital that they understand the qualifications, pathways, and careers available to their children, as well as how these have changed since they were at school or college.

Closer collaboration with parents, around the latest information and opportunities, reduces the likelihood that the guidance they offer is based on historic pathways that may no longer exist. Supporting parents to understand the full range of pathways is essential for them to be seen as viable and valuable choices for young people. Take Apprenticeships and Technical Education (ATE) routes, for example. There are now many more apprenticeship, T Level and technical pathways open to students, giving them options to learn in different ways.

Overcoming engagement barriers
Every school has some parents that are disengaged with school activities and information. This could be due to their prior experience of education, possibly at the same school their child now attends. It may also be down to negative experiences of challenges around their child’s behaviour or attendance. Cultural differences and language barriers can also impact engagement.

Support around careers and next steps can be a positive way to engage parents in their child’s school life and can help to build parental interest in other areas. A personal example of this being a parent who contacted me about land-based courses for her Year 11 son. After a further conversation, it was clear that she hadn’t seen any of the school’s information about open evening or taster days. She flagged that she had stopped reading emails sent from the central school system, as she was overwhelmed with so many daily messages about behaviour points, detentions and missed homework. From that point onwards, she asked if I would send her anything careers related direct from my school email.

Community contact matters
Taking careers information out into the community can make a real difference. Make links with community leaders or key members of relevant groups. Consider offering drop-in sessions at neutral places like community centres or local coffee shops - and persevere! Even if you only speak to one parent the first few times, word will eventually get around about the support available, especially if you are being consistent, reliable and positive.

Word of mouth can be a powerful tool within communities. Utilising key members of staff to help build relationships can really help this. In the school where I was based, we had a GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller) Champion. We worked together to liaise with this section of the local community, sharing information and offering bespoke visits to a local college where parents and students would come together.

The Careers & Enterprise Company has resources to help
There is no ‘one size fits all’ for parental engagement. The Careers & Enterprise Company’s Talking Futures resources can be adapted to suit specific settings and environments. Last year, they also launched two short training modules, designed to help with a tactical and targeted approach. The modules are packed full of ideas for events and activities, as well as templates and best-practice examples. At just an hour long each, they’re great for lunch and learn sessions. This works particularly well if you’re looking to involve Senior Leadership Teams (SLT), and to promote embedding some of the approaches as part of a wider school ethos towards parental engagement.

Note: The use of the term ‘parents’ in this article represents a shorthand for the broader spectrum of individuals with caregiving responsibilities to young people in education.

Talking Futures

Bringing parents into career conversations - support for schools, colleges and special schools.

Find out more

Lunch and learn - parental engagement

Access two short CPD modules and get the latest learning on how to effectively engage parents and families in your careers provision.

Find out more