Achievement for All – parental engagement, Greengate Lane Primary School, Sheffield

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Schools and Communities
  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources

Basic details


Organisation submitting example

Greengate Lane Primary School

Local authority/local area:


The context and rationale

As a school we feel parental engagement is of central importance but is often an area which is addressed in a rather tokenistic way. We have focussed on using innovative and creative approaches at the earliest opportunities, particularly to improve engagement with more ‘hard to reach’ families. 


The headteacher took over at Greengate Lane in 2009 when the school was regarded as failing. Shortly after joining, Greengate participated in the pilot of Achievement for All and has continued with the programme.

Greengate Lane sits in an area of significant socio economic deprivation and even within the area had a poor reputation compared to other local schools. FSM uptake stands at 33% and an audit of the school community identified that a very large proportion of the parents of 0-3 children were under 20 years of age. 

The school needed improving at every level and relationships with parents were poor. As part of the overall SIP, the headteacher championed the importance of involving parents and the need for real change in the engagement with parents in order to support the children to achieve. Parental engagement became one of the priorities within the SIP with full support of the Governing Body. The objective was to turnaround the negative relationship between the school and the parents and, in the course of that support, the work in school to improve the entrance levels for the children into the nursery, and continue to support that work throughout the school. 

Structured conversations – full open discussions with parent, teacher and pupil – are a keystone of the Achievement for All programme and this formed the central strand of the work. The headteacher also drew on the research and work of Charles Desforges and her own experience of excellence at her previous school which earned the school a Leading Parent Partnership Award. 

The practice

Working with Achievement for All and drawing on the headteacher’s personal experience and knowledge of child development and learning the school instituted a range of activities that as a whole work to build parental engagement. The main projects are given below.

Structured Conversations 
Working with the Achievement for All coach, all staff were trained to employ structured conversations with parents. Structured conversations allow for a full discussion of the pupil involving parent, child and teacher in order that all parties can understand the needs of the child, the barriers to learning, and jointly agree and participate in a way to improve this. In Greengate Lane many of the parents are deemed hard-to-reach and the school recognised that the parent’s own experience of school was often poor, and that generally their only call into school was to hear about something their child had done wrong – the result was a lot of negative feeling. Greengate endeavoured to make their approach more personal – invitations rather than formal letters were sent out to all parents of the lowest 20% in the target years (initially years 1 and 5) followed up by a personal phone call from the Senior Learning Mentor to explain the nature and aims of the conversation. Parents quickly came to understand that the meetings had their child’s best interests at heart. This approach proved to be very successful with 85-90% attendance at the meetings that it has now been rolled out to the parents of the lowest 20% in every class. In addition there are Summer Term structured conversations involving both that year and the next year teacher to aid transition. 

Quote from a Year 6 parent: ‘That’s the first time I’ve ever been in this place and anyone has said anything good about him in 7 years’.

Early Intervention 
Children were entering the Nursery at well-below age expectations and Greengate Lane looked at what could be done earlier in their pupil’s lives that could make a difference. Funded from within the school budget the school took the decision to intervene at the 0-3 age. The Foundation 1 teacher was released one day a week to facilitate a number of activities on the school grounds to help and support parents and children – modelling play activities, baking with parents and children, playgroups, soccer tots and so on. The aim is to help parents understand how to communicate and play with their children and how the children learn through that but in an informal environment. Additionally it helps the school identify issues early on and build relationships with the families ahead of the children entering the Nursery. The programme is communicated through word of mouth, local publicity and via siblings. Around 30-40 parents now attend every week.

Communication literacy and language (CLL) project
Recognising that child development was well below nationally expected age-related levels Greengate Lane also brought in a communications literacy and language project that included drawing on the work of Tina Bruce. The school bought in a speech and language therapist for half a day a week and trained staff in interventions. All children in F1 participate in a 10 week programme with baseline assessments followed by further assessment at the end of the programme. Any pupils that were still below expected levels were then put into daily small group interventions. This subsequently was developed further into year 1 and now into year 2 with continued interventions for this target group. In conjunction with this the school has focused on the importance of rhyme including finger rhymes, moving rhymes and action songs recognising the link between this and the cognitive development of the child. It became apparent that many parents did not know rhymes and did not participate in this activity at home. Each half term parents come in to participate in rhyming activities with their children and take home books and CDs to continue at home. In the past year the assessment shows that age related CLL and PSE is now above national average against a baseline of well below national average. 

Provision of learning to parents 
Despite their best efforts, Greengate Lane continued to get poor attendance at more traditional parents learning sessions e.g. how to help your child with literacy so the school approached helping parents to help their children at home in different ways. These include:

• Every half term there is an opportunity to see work their child has done at school or to participate in a project with their child.
• A Class Assembly is held every term to which parents are invited.
• A Celebration Assembly is held every week and the parents of the ‘star of the week’ are invited
• Activity bags have been put together by the school – appropriate to each age group – to be taken home by the child to play with at home e.g. a creative pack with art paper, pastels, a drawing techniques book, and associated materials for year 4s.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Levels of accelerated progress are good with all year groups up to or exceeding national average, having entered the school at well below Age Related Expectations (ARE). Results at FS, KS1 and KS2 are now at or above National Levels. The school was below floor standards each year before 2010.

Foundation Stage Scores

78+ including 6+ in CLL and PSED
2009 61%
2010 74%
2011 74%
2012 91%

F2 cohort entering Greengate Lane F2 September 2011 Exit July 2012
CLLD Communication and Thinking
On entry 33% Scale point 4+ on exit 95% Scale point 6+
Average score: 7.38
Average progress: 5.1 
Attainment on entry is well below ARE. On exit the majority of children have reached ARE and progress is outstanding.

CLLD Linking Sounds and Letters
On entry 14% at scale point 4+ on exit 95% Scale point 6+
Average score: 7.19
Average progress:5.57
Attainment on entry is well below ARE. On exit the majority of children have reached ARE and progress is outstanding.

CLLD Reading
On entry 10% at scale point 4+ on exit 95% Scale point 6+
Average score: 7.43
Average progress: 5.67
Attainment on entry is well below ARE. On exit the majority of children have reached ARE and progress is outstanding.

CLLD Writing
On entry 29% at scale point 4+ on exit 95% Scale point 6+
Average score: 7.43
Average progress: 5.62 
Attainment on entry is well below ARE. On exit the majority of children have reached ARE and progress is outstanding.

Attendance at structured conversations is 85-90%

Attendance has risen from 91% to 96%

Soft measure: Communication between parents and the school has improved significantly with more openness, and willingness to participate, parents now make positive comments to the school.

It is too early to see the pay-off between the school funded intervention for the 0-3 age group but it is hoped that in future years there will be less requirement for later intervention costs. 

Helping others to replicate your practice

The school aims to sustain and grow these practices given the success so far.

There is a subscription cost to the Achievement for All programme, for the speech and language therapist and the release of the Foundation 1 teacher but the results are already showing accelerated progress after just 3 years.

Financial costs
Subscription cost to AFA – was free on pilot but now costs £3000
Speech and language therapist - £5000 for half day for 3 half terms
Release of teacher for 1 day - £7000

Learning from the experience is about being flexible in approach, persistent, ensuring that you understand your school community and adapting to the needs to enable success.

Initially there was a large turnover of staff and some of those who stayed were skeptical of the programme and the interventions, however now the benefits are visible that attitude has changed. The change in parental perception is a very long term one and it can be frustrating for energetic and dynamic teaching staff when some parents do not engage in activities. A further development would be to continue the school’s approaches through transition working in partnership with the secondary school. 

Both the headteacher and deputy headteacher are now coaches for Achievement for All and work with 5 and 2 further schools respectively so the ideas and experiences are shared with those schools. Other staff in school share good practice to visitors and by visiting other schools to support Training sessions in CLL are run from the school for other local schools. The headteacher also works with Rotherham and Doncaster as a consultant, and the school is looking to become part of a Multi-Academy Trust in 2013 to provide a hub of good practice. 

Core leadership behaviours 
The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. Those that apply to this example have been emboldened.

1. openness to possibilities - parental engagement is often given ‘lip –service’ acknowledgement but we have attempted to use creative and innovative solutions.

2. the ability to collaborate 

3. demonstrating a belief in team and people – the work we do is a true team effort with a shared ethos and commitment.

4. personal resilience and tenacity – work in a challenging area can be draining and sometimes disheartening and resilience and tenacity is vital. 

5. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system – establishing first an ethos and then a system is key.

6. focusing on results 

7. the ability to simplify – what we do isn’t ‘rocket science’ but the key is commitment and perseverance.

8. the ability to learn continuously – some of our ideas have not been successful but we try to continually reflect and come up with new ideas.

C4EO Golden Threads 
The golden threads that apply to this example are:

You can do it – promoting resilience 
Our children can lack aspiration and self confidence – this is one of the main areas we focus on.

Know your communities 
We have tried to find solutions which work for us and our families and not become discouraged by things which have not worked.

Together with children, parents and families – involve service users
We see parental engagement as vital and commit the necessary time and resources to it.

Holding the baton
We take a lead where families find aspects difficult but we try to empower them to become more intrinsically motivated.

Shape up and keep fit – learning together
Many of our initiatives involve parents and children working together rather than parents finding out – we find these more successful.

From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key
The culture and ethos of a school is vital and needs the commitment of all staff to succeed. We have moved from a school which everyone- children, parents and community saw as failing- to a vibrant, happy, successful community.

Contact Us

t. 020 7833 6825

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