Frontline view: Forging links between school and home

    Working with parents and students to improve communications between home and school is rewarding but can take some time

    More and more schools now employ someone to form a link between home and school. Whatever they are called, whether funded through extended schools or the school’s own budget, whether working with parents or students, they provide a vital service in enabling every child to learn and achieve.

    But new ideas take time to bed down, especially when there are different professional skills and cultures involved. A new worker entering a school where there has been a history of good and effective school-home liaison is lucky. They simply have to show that they are personally up to the job.

    A new worker in a school where there is no history, either at that establishment or among the staff, faces an uphill struggle for they also have to gain acceptance of a “different” way of working.

    For workers there is a constant tension between the hopes, or even demands, of the school for a fast turn around – whether over attendance, attitude, or well-being – and the realities of working with children and families with complex home situations.

    Six weeks’ work, or more, may just scratch the surface, or may still be met with resistance from a suspicious mum. On top of this, much of the work happens at the end of months of building relationships: a parent or student having watched to see if a worker can be trusted, and workers doing their best to earn that privilege.

    Those employed by an independent agency may have a slight edge here as they are not so much “part of the establishment”, but it is also very much down to the individual worker – their skills, experience and patience.

    Knowing when to ease off the pedals for a while and concentrate efforts elsewhere, while still watching and smiling, comes with time. Or it may come on a piece of paper on your desk: “There has been no progress with Ms X for two months and there are now 15 other families I would like you to work with.”

    Group work can start to look like a good way forward. So too can be a renewed focus on the relationship between staff. Mutual understanding and trust are fundamental to the successful establishment of the role. In the end we have the same goal. We may just have different ways of getting there.

    Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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