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
Cover image: © Zhaojiankang |

Primary School Structures and Planning

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Structures and planning


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

School leaders will benefit from creating strategies and routine activities to support engagement across a 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 provides a structure that will foster engagement and, as research suggests, better student behaviour and learning outcomes. Dr Karen Mapp has developed a “Dual Capacity Building Framework” (refer to section 5) to help develop a whole of school approach to family engagement. Its components consist 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, Baltimore USA.

Creating structures to support engagement and properly planning how to use them will 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 Joyce L. Epstein whose research focuses on how leadership at 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, 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 schoolto-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.

(Adapted from J.L Epstein., et. al. 2009, p.179)

What you can do with your school


Successful engagement will involve the whole school community - school leadership, classroom teachers, administrative staff and parents. It is vital that all parties understand the importance of this from the time they first engage with the school. An approach that is usually effective is to set up a ‘Welcome Team’ that:

a. Ensures every staff member is aware of the value and importance of the ‘welcome’ for families.
b. Builds family awareness about school readiness, a measure of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable children to participate and succeed in school.

• The Australian Government states “Parents sometimes think that school readiness means being able to read, write and do basic maths before starting school. But this isn’t the case!
• School readiness is about the development of the whole child – their social and emotional skills, physical skills, communication skills and cognitive skills. Children cannot thrive at school if they haven’t developed the skills to manage things like getting along with other children, following instructions, and communicating their needs.
• Research shows that children who start school when developmentally ready to learn tend to do better in school – and it sets them up for further success later in life”.
(Extract from Australian Government, Learning Potential, School readiness - how to know if your little one is ready for big school - Early years.)

c. Assists families with knowing the things that are best for a child to be able to do to begin school. Some of these include:
• Can your child see and hear?
• Can your child name basic colours, shapes, body parts?
• Can your child go to the toilet by themselves, dress themselves, get along with others?
• Can your child speak in sentences, draw with a pencil, draw basic shapes, colour in, use scissors?
• Can your child listen to stories, tell stories, count ten objects, sing along with rhymes?
• Can your child hop, jump, run, stand on one leg, catch a ball?
• Can your child take turns, follow basic tasks?

Supporting parents with this knowledge is important and that is why schools and families need to work together to make starting school the best experience possible.

It is important that schools provide tips and information for families to develop skills and activities which promote school readiness


Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:

• 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.
• Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university.
• Children can be less likely to miss days at school.

Extract from the Parent Fact Sheet, ACT Government, Education Directorate - available at:

Researchers highlight that the family and effective parenting are central to children’s mental health. Parenting practices and the quality of the parentchild relationship have implications for children’s development in the early years as well as their academic achievement, social competence and behaviour at school.

Understanding the range of changes a child is likely to encounter as they transition from early childhood education and care into school, can enhance parental confidence and in turn, also enhance children’s confidence.
(Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo & Cavanagh, 2011).


The Dual Capacity-Building Framework (Mapp & Kuttner, 2014) is a key resource for school communities that want to build engagement. Dr Karen Mapp
explains it in the following video: Partners in education – A dual capacity building framework for family-school partnerships. 

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 class room 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 resources on parent engagement, these include:

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.

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

68 Parent Involvement Ideas that really work.

Children starting school in rural and remote Queensland – parent resource. Queensland Government (2018).

Parent Engagement Policy – an example from a school.
This is a school example of a policy for implementing Parent Engagement.

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.

A guide to engaging with families of children with a disability. Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability

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 ofEducation & Training).


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.

“Our engagement with parents is driven by strengthening our relationship with them to have those conversations and to empower them and so that they can also be directing us, what we’re doing to meet their kid’s needs.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Victoria).

“I probably think we need to first of all get the teachers understanding that it should be positive and it should be positive in regards to the impacts on student learning so that they value it rather than something else, but yeah we have certainly got a long way to go with PD.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Queensland).

“It’s a partnership between parents and the school. And myself as the leader of the school - I need to be a visible presence in these partnerships.”
(Primary Principal, regional school, Western Australia).

“Instead of parent-teacher interviews it’s ‘learning conversations’. So, a conversation is two-way, you know. So, we’ve changed our terminology.”
(Primary principal, regional school, Victoria)

“It is very important for the school to provide as much information in various ways so that parents can keep up with what’s going on. So, of course we have the formal processes around communication via newsletters, via email, via a Google plus page for parents and just the day-today contact of parents coming in and out. We have email procedures that parents are informed of at the start of the year around protocols and individual teachers’ email addresses to make contact, make appointments, set things up if need be.”
(Primary principal, metropolitan school, Victoria)





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

“I can clearly remember a couple of emails that I’ve got over the time where it’s been a wrap for something that my child has done, and just letting me know, and so that then I could then say, hey, Mrs such and such contacted me today, and you did this, and that was awesome, you know.”
(Parent, regional primary school, Victoria)

“We certainly get that very thorough communication now via social media avenues that makes things very clear and very easy to know what’s happening.”
(Parent, metroplitan primary school, Queensland).

“And there’s always awards and things where they might, the children might get something at assembly. But then – the teacher might send home a little postcard. So, even if you can’t go to assembly, your child gets something in the mail, and then the whole family can see, oh, that’s very exciting”.
(Parent, regional primary school, Victoria).



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 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.

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).

“This is not hard work, but heart work. Not more work, but the work. Not harder work but smarter work to mobilise all available resources that will contribute to student success.”
(Epstein & Associates, 2009)

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

“Programs that successfully connect with families and community invite involvement, are welcoming and address specific parent and community needs.”
(Henderson & Mapp, 2002).

“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, pp.42-55).

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

Australian Government. (2017). Learning potential – school readiness – how to know if your little one is ready for big school – early years.

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.

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

Henderson A & Mapp K, A. (2002). New wave of evidence, the impact of school, family and community connections on student achievement. Annual synthesis. National Centre for Family and Community: Connecting with Schools. Austin. Texas

Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

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

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 family-school partnerships. SEDL, Advancing research, Improving Education.

Smith, J. & Stark, D.R. (2019). How coaching boosts family engagement



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.