As happens when you reach certain milestones in life, I was recently invited by my GP to attend a health MOT.
In between questions about weekly alcohol intake and being strapped into the blood pressure machine, the doctor chatted about the challenge of encouraging patients to attend regular health checks. These assessments are key to identifying and nipping problems in the bud early, but more often than not, according to my GP, the people they really need to see don't come along.
This is a situation that schools can come across. While the vast majority of parents are active members of the school community, there are often a minority who need a little extra support from the school to play a more prominent role in their child's education.
Grading parents as well as pupils
Did any of you see the recent article featuring a headteacher who graded parents based on how involved they were in their child's learning? The aim was to better engage those parents who the school felt did not provide enough support for their child's learning at home, or rarely came in to parents' evenings. The initiative was reportedly a great success and had a positive impact on pupils' achievement.
As this piece highlights, it's not always easy for families to play their part in ensuring their children make good progress in school - particularly when they are juggling work, family and other commitments.
However, some of the schools I visit have introduced a few simple ideas to make it much easier for parents to engage in school life and better support their child from home. You might want to share a few with your child's school.
1. Suggest a make-over for parents' evening
One school I know turned the traditional parents' evening into an informal wine and cheese night, where instead of the big rush to get around and see every teacher, parents had time to relax in a more social setting. This meant they could get to know their child's teachers - and each other - a bit better. The event was a huge hit with parents and teachers alike and helped to strengthen the relationship many families had with the school.
Another idea might be for your child's school to have a dedicated area where parents and teachers attending the traditional parents' evening meetings could gather to enjoy tea and cake, provided by the pupils, and chat during the breaks. This might make a great student council project for gathering the pupils' thoughts on what would work best for parents' evening in your child's school.
But if schools want to devote time to making parents' evening more informal, they need to think about how they can make sure parents have the information they need on their child's progress in advance. That way parents have a clear picture of what's going on before they walk through the door. Technology can help with this.
2. Log on anytime, anywhere, to find out how your child is doing
By making up-to-date information on a child's progress available to their parents online, schools enable families to instantly see homework set, or if it's been handed in late, for example, spot if their child is struggling in a particular subject or find out they got top marks in the latest maths test.
Parents will be in a much better position to support their child in making good progress throughout the academic year when the information they need to do so is accessible anytime, anywhere.
3. Have the information you need sent straight to your phone
More and more schools are looking at how mobile technology can be used to help keep parents up to date and engaged with school life too. A number of schools I know have started sending information to parents such as their child's latest test grades, or comments from teachers on their most recent homework assignment, straight to their mobile phone or tablet via an app.
With the information you need from your child's school in your hands, you don't have to spend time looking for it. Whether it's an announcement that the netball match has been moved or the news that your child has been picked to play the lead role in the Year 8 production of Hamlet, knowing this will help make it easier for you to get more involved in what your child is doing in school.
As a parent, engaging in your child's education is not about being in school all the time. While formal face-to-face meetings with teachers are important, there are other ways to engage with the school community and get the information you need from your child's school to play your part in supporting them.
After all, when they get home, you want to be able to chat to them about why they have started to struggle in maths, encourage them to audition for a part in the forthcoming school play or congratulate them for breaking the house sprint record.
These are the foundations that children need to continue progressing, through each and every stage of their education, to achieve all they are capable of.
If your child's school would like more information on strengthening home-school links, visit www.capita-independent.co.uk/home-school-links