Structures and Planning

1. Introduction

2. What you can do as a principal

3. What you can do with your school community

4. Impact on students

5. Some ideas and resources 

6. What some principals say

7. What some parents say

8. What some researchers say

9. Some useful books on parent engagement

10. References 

11. Acknowledgements 

The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence ( applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019



Successful family engagement needs all classroom teachers and staff members to help build the confidence of families to engage in the school education of their children.

School leaders will benefit from creating strategies and routine activities to support engagement across the whole school, including its hard-to-reach families. Engagement must be embedded in school and family life.

Engagement can’t rely on chance or random procedures. It requires planning and a framework which will support and build engagement regardless of the year-in, yearout composition of the school community.

Such planning is the framework of a structure that will foster engagement and better student behaviour and the learning outcomes it creates. Dr Karen Mapp has developed a “Dual Capacity Building Framework” to help develop a whole of school approach to family engagement. This framework consists of:
1. Describing the challenges to cultivating effective home-school partnerships.
2. Articulating the conditions needed for successful engagement partnerships.
3. Identifying the goals that should be the focus of support programs at all levels.
4. Describing the best capacity-building outcomes for both schools and families. Her advice is to develop the capacity of everyone engaged by linking these approaches to learning, making them collaborative and interactive.


Recommendation 2 of the Gonski II* report states:

“Develop and disseminate evidence-based tools and resources to assist early childhood education providers, primary, and secondary schools to implement best practice approaches to supporting parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning throughout their education” (p. xiii).

How would you and your school community rate your school on this recommendation?

(*Department of Education and Training, Australian Government, 2018).

What you can do as a principal


Dr Joyce L. Epstein is the Director of both the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, and a research professor of education and sociology at Johns Hopkins University.

Creating structures to support engagement and properly planning how to use them will help determine the success of your school. The creation of structures that embed engagement in the life of your school is your responsibility.

One of the best known structures follows the work of Dr Joyce L. Epstein whose research focuses on how leadership at the district and school levels affects the quality of a school’s programs on family and community involvement and on results for students. In all of her work, Dr Epstein is interested in the connections between research, policy and practice.

This structure centres around six types of engagement which are:

Help all families establish home environments to support children as students.

Design effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school communications about school programs and children’s progress.

Recruit and organise parent help and support.

Provide information and ideas to families about how to help students at home with homework and other curriculum-related activities, decisions, and planning.

Include parents in school decisions, developing parent leaders and representatives.

Identify and integrate resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development.

For further ideas from Epstein around sample practices, challenges, redefinitions, results for students, results for parents and results for teachers go to:

Following is a suggested process to embed engagement in the life of your school. Key steps include:

• Developing goals as part of plans to implement activities for parent and family engagement that will promote student academic success.
• Developing a Brainstorming worksheet (see example below) for each of your goals and then identifying specific activities or practices to support that goal, e.g. explore each goal under the headers of: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community.
• Facilitating participation of parents, families, and community members.
• Aligning parent and family engagement activities with the school improvement plan/strategic plan to bring about increased levels of family engagement and higher levels of student academic achievement and improved wellbeing.

If family engagement is to be successful, it needs all classroom teachers and staff members to help build the confidence of families to engage in the education of their children.


What you can do with your school


Successful engagement will involve the whole school community - school leadership, classroom teachers, administrative staff, students and parents. It is vital that all parties understand the importance of this from the time they first engage with the school. Some approaches that work include:

Setting up a ‘Welcome Team’ that:

a. Ensures all staff are aware of the value and importance of the ‘welcome’ for families. A growing body of research suggests how pivotal a principal’s leadership in creating a positive school climate is to building parent-school partnerships and supporting parent engagement in learning more generally. (Please refer to section 8 of this module for examples of research).

b. Builds family awareness about secondary school transitions. This should recognise all the changes that are occurring for these young people. The transition to secondary school often coincides with important social, emotional and physiological changes in the lives of adolescents, and parents’ and teachers’ understanding of these changes can enhance parental confidence and also enhance the confidence of young people.

c. Assists families with knowing the things that are best for a young person to be able to do to begin secondary school. Some of these, as identified by American educator Phyllis Fagell include:

1. Make good friend choices.
2. Work in teams and negotiate conflict.
3. Manage a student-teacher mismatch.
4. Create organisation and homework systems.
5. Monitor and take responsibility for grades.
6. Learn to self-advocate.
7. Self-regulate emotions.
8. Cultivate passions and recognise limitations.
9. Make responsible, safe and ethical choices.
10. Create and innovate.

Read more about these “Top 10 skills high school students need to thrive” by Fagell at:


Many researchers emphasise how family and parenting influence a child’s mental health. Effective parenting practices and positive parent-child relationships are very important as young people transition into secondary school.

“Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. Parents as partners with school in supporting children’s learning can have a significant and long lasting positive impact.

Research shows benefits of parental engagement include:

• improved academic outcomes
• greater engagement in learning
• children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well
• children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence 
• enhanced relationships with others in the school community
• the development of effective partnerships — where families and schools can work together to address issues that may be impacting on children’s wellbeing and achievement”.

The above information is taken from the Progressing Parental Engagement Project, resources for parents – public school life. ACT Government, Education - this resource is available at:

The Australian Government’s Learning Potential free app and website provide information on topics about how to respond to the many impacts that secondary school has on students. Please refer to section 5 for links to this information.


The following information on transition to secondary school is taken from the Te Tari Arotake Matauranga Education Review Office (2016) and is available at:

“The transition to secondary school often coincides with important social, emotional and physiological changes in the lives of adolescents” and parents’ and teachers’ understanding of these changes can enhance parental confidence and also enhance the confidence of young people.

“When students change class within or between schools, they must adjust to new surroundings, become familiar with new teachers and peers, learn new ways of working, and make sense of the rules and routines that operate in their classes (Sanders et al, 2005). While students are navigating the formal school environment, they are also adjusting to the social changes that happen when changing schools and classes.

Why the Primary to Secondary Transition matters.

Students need to make positive adjustments to their new school and classes so that their wellbeing is maintained and their learning is coherent and continuous. McGee et al (2003) found that there was a strong correlation between the extent to which students experienced difficulty following transition and their likelihood of dropping out from education. Other research indicates that poor transitions impact on students’ wellbeing and on their achievement in the future (West et al, 2008). Where students experience multiple transitions because of transience, there are identifiable negative impacts on their achievement.”



Dr Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework is a key resource for school communities that want to build engagement. Dr Mapp explains it in the following video: Understanding the dual capacity framework.

The visual aid below is also a useful guide.


Dr Mapp also provides the conditions for family engagement to prosper in your school. Leadership is crucial, however each classroom teacher and staff member must contribute to this process to build confidence and the engagement of families in the school.


You can access The Family School Partnerships Framework at:

Following are a number of other resources on parent engagement. These include:

Epstein’s six types of parent involvement – a framework.

Dr Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University has developed a framework for defining six different types of parent involvement. This framework assists educators in developing school and family partnership programs. See the framework at the link below:

How to Increase Parental Involvement with Connection.

Advancing Partnerships – Parent and Community Engagement Framework.

68 Parent Involvement Ideas that really work.

Schools and Families in Partnership: A Desktop Guide to Engaging Families from Refugee Backgrounds in their Children’s Learning.

Parent Engagement Policy – an example from a school.

This is a school example of a policy for implementing parent engagement.

Australian Government - Learning Potential

Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring ways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).


Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with families of children with disability.

Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families. ACT Government.

Closing the gap - Engaging Indigenous parents in their children’s education. Resource sheet no. 32 produced by the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse Daryl Higgins and Sam Morley, July 2014. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Government.

School Assessment Tool – Reflection Matrix.

The School Assessment Tool has been developed to assist members of the school community (students, parents, staff and other community members) to assess current family and community engagement practices and evaluate their progress when implementing strategies to strengthen engagement.


Family School Partnerships Framework.

The Family School Partnerships Framework supports parent engagement for improved student learning.

Weekly texts and 7 other ways for schools to engage parents.

Be optimistic about engaging parents, urges new guide, but keep monitoring activities to check that they are working.

STEM activities engaging families - how to host a successful think/fun family game night.

Planning Parent Engagement - A Guidebook for Parents and Schools (from Ontario, Canada).

The members of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education in endorsing the power and benefits of parent engagement provide a Planning Parent Engagement Guidebook to accompany the Parent Tool Kit. In the Guidebook there are examples of useful exercises and proven techniques for involvement and support. Retrieve a copy of the guidebook at:


What some Principals say

The following quotes are taken from interviews undertaken as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“We are currently in the process of writing a shared vision for the next five years, and certainly, the feedback from families in our school, and students and staff, things that we value most in our college in terms of a community are around that notion of inclusivity, and education that’s holistic.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“One of the things we’re exploring at the moment is a thing that’s called School House, which is a series of videos that you can access by noted psychologists, educational psychologists in Australia and you can sort of put them on your website and people can access them when they need to access them. So perhaps we don’t look at the invitation to come and listen to a person anymore because people just don’t have the time to do that. So that’s a bit of a strategy that’s changing I suppose in the place.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, South Australia).

“I think it’s really important that parents are engaged in their students learning, but I don’t think we’ve yet cracked the best way to do that or tapped into the strengths and abilities of our parent community because I think most schools would have a huge number of parents who are very switched on, very capable and have a great deal to offer, but we’ve got to change our relatively old mindset of the way in which parents were involved as in helpers and the schools got all the power and the parents are there to serve almost. We’ve got to change that mentality and turn it around to see the school really taking benefit of the knowledge that parents have got to offer.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“Every opportunity we get, to be honest. Like, any time that we have contact with parents, sometimes it’s incidental, pick up, drop off times, whatever else it might be, it might just be seeing them in the community, there’s a whole range of different ways, but there’s also those formal occasions, the information nights, parent teacher interviews.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“So we’ve had teacher/parent/student interviews in Year 10 and in Year 12 around pathways, around how are we working together to get this young lady to a point where she is going to be successful – ready to go onto university or ready to get into the work force – what else do we need to do? Are we addressing her needs? And parents will come in and they will share their concerns but then they will also share their great experience and advice and they have also offered to take work experience people. So that’s another way that we engage our parents.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).



The following quotes are taken from interviews undertaken as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“Yes the school has policies in place as far as contact is concerned … So they try and cover it off – especially with the intakes of all the new parents they try and cover it off at each intake at the beginning of the year when they have the first meeting usually held by the head of each sub school where they will explain if you do have any concerns or if you do have any feedback that you want to provide your first point of contact will be the classroom teacher or the specialist teacher and the year level and then the head of sub school, the form teacher and then there’s also the school counsellors that you can also approach if you have any areas of concern or anything that you want to raise.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I think they have started to make some changes. So I guess it’s that attitude of acknowledging the parent’s knowledge when it comes to their child. … They’re calling it parent/teacher conferences now, rather than interviews, so I guess that’s trying to get across the idea that there’s a two-way conversation, that it’s not just them telling us.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Tasmania).

“You have the opportunity for a parentteacher interview – I think it is optional twice a year – and it’s like a speed dating session. You get six minutes with a person you’ve never met and who you likely won’t meet again, especially in the early years if they change subjects. So, it’s hard to get a handle on if you’ve got a child who is average, above average, not exceptional, not struggling. I find that difficult to get any particular handle on where they are, other than to trust that no one is raising the flag at either end to engage me about certain issues.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).


“I always felt it would have been great to have some coaching training. One of the fears for my friends once our children started secondary school was that we wouldn’t be able to help with high school homework, Year 10 maths etc. Of course this is not really what parent engagement in learning is, especially at secondary school. It is more about coaching our children about how to approach challenges, what to do if you find your grades slipping, etc. There is a narrative that starts especially around Year 9 & 10 that children have to start taking responsibility for their own learning. This is all well and good, but my son certainly didn’t wake up one morning during Year 10 and decide he was going to take responsibility for his own learning!!”
(Parent, Metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

“ … so they have the same homeroom teacher for their whole high school, so for the four years, and it’s a mix of grade 7-10, so they form a relationship with that homeroom teacher, and I found that to be very positive. So you’ve got that contact person that gets to know your child more.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Tasmania).

“Students often say they don’t want their parents around and this puts parents off going into the school, so schools should circumvent this, by encouraging regular contact in the school.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).

“For me parent-teacher was the same old; every teacher said exactly the same thing, and unless I drill them, I never got a ‘go away and do this with your child to help them improve.’ They think they can just turn up to parent-teacher and ‘oh, they’re just beautiful, they’re so polite in class, they’re so nice.’ That’s great, but how do we improve the grades? So, I think teachers need to know parents actually want actual things to do to help improve the student, not just the fluffy, you’ve got a great kid.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).


What some Researchers say

The Gonski II Report, Through growth to achievement - report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools, states:

“Recommendation 2

Develop and disseminate evidencebased tools and resources to assist early childhood education providers, primary, and secondary schools to implement best practice approaches to supporting parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning throughout their education.

Finding 3

There is strong and developing evidence of the benefit of parent engagement on children’s learning. This will be further enhanced through the work currently underway to develop an evidence-informed definition of parent engagement, which will allow for a core set of agreed measures aligned to the definition to be established and used to drive improvements in policies and practice.”
(Department of Education and Training, Australian Government, 2018).

“All Australian governments have recognised the need to increase quality and equity in Australian schooling and one of the key ways in which they are currently seeking to achieve this is through improving parent-school partnerships and parent engagement in child learning”.
(Povey, Campbell, Willis, Haynes, Western, Bennett, Antrobus and Pedde, 2016).

“In a qualitative study conducted with parents in urban, outer metropolitan, regional and rural areas of the Australian state of New South Wales, we found that parents considered the attitudes, communication and leadership practices of school principals to play a crucial role in fostering and maintaining relationships between parents and schools. These findings suggest that despite policy rhetorics positioning schools and parents as ‘partners’ in the educational equation, parents are more likely to be engaged with schools where the principal is perceived as welcoming and supportive of their involvement, and less likely to be engaged where the principal is perceived as inaccessible, dismissive or disinterested in supporting their involvement.”
(Barr and Saltmarsh, 2014).

“Where schools have made concerted effort to engage the ‘hard to reach’ parents evidence shows that the effect on pupil learning and behaviour is positive.”
(Harris & Goodall, 2007).

“Many principals pointed to the inclusion of parent and / or community engagement concepts within their school’s policy and planning. However, this was often discussed with regards to policies to manage relationships between parents and staff alike, most typically in terms of communication protocols and the management of incidents and issues. Fewer principals offered a more holistic picture of parent engagement embedded as a core pillar within their policy and planning, something which can provide a strong basis from which to mobilise and prioritise focus and investment, and build in to wider school improvement processes.”
(Stafford, Barker, & Ladewig, 2018).

“While many schools place the emphasis on the programming portion of their family involvement initiative, the data reveal that when parents have caring and trustful relationships with school staff, these relationships enhance their desire to be involved and influence how they participate in their children’s educational development.

Five major themes emerged from the parents’ stories about why and how they are involved in their children’s education and the factors that influence their participation. The first three themes shed light on why and how parents are involved. Themes Four and Five address factors that influence parents’ involvement.

Theme 1: Parents wanted their children to do well in school, and they had a genuine and deep-seated desire to help their children succeed academically.

Theme 2: Parents understood clearly that their involvement helped their children’s educational development.

Theme 3: Parents were involved in their children’s education both at home and at school. Many were involved in ways not recognized by school staff with a narrow vision of what constitutes legitimate participation.

Theme 4: Social factors emanating from the parents’ own experiences and history influenced their participation.

Theme 5: School factors, specifically those that were relational in nature, had a major impact on parents’ involvement.”

(Adapted from Mapp, 2003).

Some useful books on parent Engagement

Please click here to peruse a list of useful books on parent engagement



ACT Government, Education Directorate. Parent Fact Sheet – Teaching and learning - Parental engagement.

Barr, J., & Saltmarsh, S. (2014). It all comes down to the leadership: The role of the school principal in fostering parent-school engagement. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(4), 491-505.

Department of Education and Training, Australian Government. (March 2018). Through growth to achievement - Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Commonwealth of Australia.

Epstein, J.L. and Associates. (2009). School, family, and community partnerships – Your handbook for action (Third Edition). Corwin Press.

Harris A. & Goodall J. (2007). Engaging parents in raising achievement - Do parents know they matter? University of Warwick.

Mapp, K.L. (2003). Having their say: Parents describe why and how they are engaged in their children’s learning. School Community Journal, v13 n1 pp. 35-64, Spr-Sum.

Mapp, K. and Kuttner, P.J. (2014). Partners in education – A dual capacity building framework for familyschool partnerships. SEDL, Advancing research, Improving Education.

Povey, J., Campbell A., Willis L., Haynes M., Western M., Bennett S., Antrobus E. and Pedde C. (2016).

Engaging parents in schools and building parent-school partnerships: The role of school and parent organisation leadership. International Journal of Educational Research, 79, 128-141).

Stafford, N. Barker, B. & Ladewig, C. (2018). Parent Engagement: Analysis of qualitative research withprincipals and parents. Unpublished report.



Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)),
Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.