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Parents as partners: one Queensland independent school’s transformative journey

At Alta-1 College Queensland – a special assistance school at Caboolture aiming to get disengaged teens back on track with their Year 11 and 12 studies – parents are being elevated to the role of educational partners.

It’s a move that is backed by 50 years of academic research and for Alta-1 the change is paying off – both in terms of parent satisfaction and noticeable positive changes in student behaviours and attitudes.

Principal Matthew Vandepeer says he believes bringing parents along on their child’s education journey – a practice called “parent engagement” – was an essential ingredient to good student outcomes.

“Parents are the first and major educators of their children and schools are in many ways the secondary educators, so if we don’t involve parents it’s going to be incredibly hard to see the outcomes we want to see for young people.’’

A unique approach for a unique situation

Research shows effective parent engagement needs to be tailored to each school’s unique context, and for Alta-1 that includes an acknowledgement that not only were their students educationally disadvantaged, many of their parents came with the added complexities of their own difficult schooling experience.

“We believe that every parent wants to be close to what is happening in the school and how their child is progressing, but we also had lots of barriers to overcome in terms of bringing parents closer to their child’s learning,’’ Matthew [pictured below] says.

“We came into this space knowing we need to work hard over time.’’

Thanks to guidance from Independent Schools Queensland’s Research-in-Schools program and additional funding from the Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network, the school embarked on an 18-month action research project in 2019/2020 to tackle some of those barriers.

The first step was to boost the communication between home and school. In the first five weeks of a student’s enrollment at Alta -1, the school arranged a minimum of three carefully crafted engagement sessions with their family, including a detailed two hour session explaining the school’s philosophy and approach.

There were also planning meetings and ‘stepping in’ events where parents were given the opportunity to observe their child’s learning at school.

“Parents were saying ‘oh that’s why you are doing this and that with my young person’ and there were lots of rich conversations taking place,’’ he says.

Alta-1 College Queensland principal Matthew Vandepeer

Teachers also had significant “aha moments” during conversations with families.

The positive flow-on effects

The school surveyed parents after those engagement activities and were pleasantly surprised by the results – the feedback about the parent information evenings was “overwhelmingly positive’’, 100% of parents had noticed a positive change in their child and 70% of parents reported they felt more connected to their child’s learning than they had at their previous school.

Importantly, parents who had attended the information sessions interacted with school staff far more frequently and positively in the weeks that followed.

“Those initial moments of parent involvement seem to open the door for engagement further down the track,’’ Matthew said.

“And even when something went wrong in a child’s time at the College we had enough of a relationship with parents to be able to navigate some of the difficulties that were presenting.’’

For the Alta-1 leadership team there’s no going back.

“It is really important that parents feel they have a voice in their young person’s education journey,’’ Matthew says, “and for us seeing that happen [as a result of these engagement activities] is really important and we want to continue to facilitate that in the future.”

A re-cap on parent engagement

‘Parent engagement’ is a concept backed up by 50 years of academic research that shows when parents and educators work together and respect each other’s unique contributions to a child’s education, the child’s academic achievement and wellbeing soars.

Read more about parent engagement in our most recent story.

Download our one-page factsheet on parent engagement.

Read about the partnership between Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network and Independent Schools Queensland to develop an overarching Parent and Community Engagement Strategy for member schools.

Read in detail about parent engagement and how schools can implement effective strategies in the recently released report The Parent Engagement Implementation Guide by Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

There is a rich well of information and research about parent engagement on our website.

There are also many wonderful websites with tips and advice for parents who want to connect school learning with life at home, which we have compiled on our website.