2.2.3 Parents and carers working alongside practitioners

Working as volunteer helpers, parents and carers can provide invaluable support to children, particularly within an early education setting – for example, by providing learning support to children. Activity 6 provides an opportunity to explore why it is helpful to work with parents/carers.

Activity 6: Why work with parents and carers?

Timing: Allow 20 minutes

Look at the nine statements below; each is a reason why practitioners should work with parents and carers. Think about each statement and the order they are presented in. In the course blog, record, giving reasons, whether you agree with each statement and the order in which you would rank the statements.

  • Time out: Some parents and carers have extreme difficulties: emotional, social and financial. Providing facilities for parents and carers gives them time to relax and meet others while their children are looked after by trained staff.
  • Practical skills: Some parents and carers lack the basic practical skills of childcare. Inviting them to stay gives them a chance to learn from staff and other parents and carers about, for instance, feeding, changing, hygiene and sleep.
  • Knowledge of children: Parents and carers have the most knowledge and understanding of their own children. If they are available to share it, staff can make use of this knowledge in providing better care for children.
  • Self-esteem: Some parents and carers lack self-esteem. By spending time with parents and carers, and encouraging the development of personal skills, staff can give them a sense of self-worth, and a feeling of confidence in their own abilities to look after children.
  • Consumer rights: Parents and carers pay for pre-school provision either directly or through rates and taxes. As consumers, they should be involved in how these services are run.
  • Partnership: Pre-school services are community facilities that should be responsive to the needs of those who use them. Staff and parents/carers have opportunities to develop informal, relaxed relationships, which make it easier for parents and carers to articulate their needs.
  • Mutual support: People often derive the most meaningful support from those who have similar problems. Opportunities should be available for parents and carers to meet so they can share feelings, values, and difficulties, and support each other through them.
  • Extra pair of hands: There are several tasks associated with the care of children that don’t require particular training or expertise: cutting up bits for artwork, washing toys, makings dolls’ clothes, preparing drinks. Parents and carers should be encouraged to do such tasks, so that trained staff can provide services requiring different skills.
  • Improving understanding: Some parents and carers lack an understanding of children’s need for stimulation. Parents and carers should be encouraged to participate with staff in planning and carrying out play activities with the children. This will enhance their understanding of the value of play.

Record your thoughts in a blog on the course website. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


The statements illustrate the many potential benefits of collaboration. They also provide insights into the (assumed) needs of parents and carers. Most of the statements relate to the benefits that partnership offers to parents and carers. However, it is also important to remember the potential benefits for practitioners. They can be better informed through listening to parents and carers and taking account of their personal understandings of children – for example, the ‘Knowledge of children’ statement. Practitioners may also be supported by parents and carers in significant practical ways, as the ‘Extra pair of hands’ statement suggests.

Your own ranking may have prioritised benefits to parents/carers, to practitioners, to children, or to a combination of these. It is important to recognise that working closely with parents and carers is central to a child’s development, wellbeing and achievement.

A partnership involves parents and carers responding to practitioners’ ideas. A proven way of increasing goodwill, understanding and a sense of partnership between practitioners, parents and carers is by providing courses and workshops. These can take many forms, but essentially they involve proving a setting for parents and carers in order to:

  • give them information
  • explain what their children do in the setting
  • provide information about their children
  • help them to be more effective supporters of their children’s learning
  • increase their confidence in approaching practitioners with queries and suggestions
  • offer them skills and knowledge that may be useful to them.

It is important to have a wider sense of the scope of the partnership and the many practical ways in which it can be expressed. Partnership practice tends to be formulated by professionals – by policy writers, early years specialists, educational theorists and practitioners – but rarely by parents or carers themselves. So it is important to have a conception of partnership that goes beyond what professionals might feel is appropriate; a vision that leaves some space for creative and unexpected ideas from parents, carers, governors and children.

Practitioners have strong feelings about the kinds of partnership that are most supportive of their work in a particular school and there is considerable variation as to how educational settings interpret the notion of ‘partnership’. Making decisions about the type of partnership that would work in a setting involves a sense of what is feasible, given the nature of a parent and carer body and wider school community, but also a sense of what is appropriate in terms of children’s needs. The focus of any ‘partnership’ must be the children.

Table 1 provides a summary of the range of engagement parents may have with practitioners and a school. The table is based on the work of Pugh and De’Ath (1989).

Table 1 Dimensions to parental involvement.
Parents and carers are not involved in their children’s learning There are ‘active’ non-participants who decide not to be involved. They may be happy with what’s on offer, or very busy at work, or want time away from their children. Vincent (1996) calls these ‘detached parents’. There are also ‘passive’ non-participants who would like to be involved, but may lack the confidence to do this, or may be unhappy with the form of partnership offered. Vincent (1996) calls these ‘independent parents’.
Parents and carers support a setting ‘from the outside’ These parents and carers become involved but only when invited, for example by attending events or providing money for learning resources.
Parents and carers participate in a setting ‘from within’ as helpers These parents and carers help in ways such as providing assistance on outings, supporting children’s learning in the setting or running a toy library.
Parents and carers participate in a setting ‘from within’ as learners These parents and carers attend workshops and parent education sessions. These parents and carers participate in parent forums, such as those in privately owned or corporate settings where there is no board of trustees, or parents/carers’ committee, as a place where parents and carers can discuss and interact with setting managers.
Parents and carers are involved in a working relationship with practitioners

These parents/carers’ involvement is characterised by a shared sense of purpose and mutual respect. For example, parents and carers:

  • have equal access to information and records
  • share in the diagnosis and assessment of their children
  • share in the selection of practitioners
  • are encouraged to become practitioners.
Parents and carers determine and implement decisions These parents and carers are ultimately responsible and accountable for the provision of the setting and have the same responsibility and control as governors in the school - although few would take operational control, any more than school governors take on day-to-day management of a school.

Section 3 builds on knowledge gained here and considers matters that impact the development of working relationships between parents, carers and practitioners in an educational setting. In turn these can impact and inform the work of a governing body.

2.2.2 Parents and carers give ‘background’ support to practitioners

3 Different perspectives