The Outstanding Ofsted Experts: 11 Parent Partnership Tips

Everyone wins when the parents are on board.
February 18, 2022
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Welcome to edition number five in our series on Ofsted. We’ve talked to five outstanding nursery managers and leaders, as well as leading early years expert Dr Sue Allingham, to bring you all the tips, advice, and guidance that you need to improve your Ofsted rating.

When we spoke to our outstanding Ofsted Experts about self-evaluation last time around, it was really clear the important role that partnership with parents played in their settings.

Keeping that in mind, we decided to focus a little more on the topic. Read on to learn more about developing strong parent partnerships, and in turn enabling better relationships with the ones that really matter – the children.

1. Understanding the child

In Early Years settings, parents, carers, and children come as a package deal. Learn how best to work with the child by first getting to know the parent. Families are the experts in their own children's learning and development, so it's key that practitioners work with parents to share this knowledge.

The better the relationship with the parent, the more you understand and know the child and the more comfortable they are. So partnerships with parents are really important to make sure the children learn and develop.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

2. Daily diaries

Communication shouldn’t wait for a weekly or monthly newsletter. Quick, regular updates free up more time for regular and meaningful discussions with parents when you get that all-important face-to-face time. Parents want kept informed of all the 'admin' of looking after their child, like nappy changes and how much they ate, but save the pick-up feedback for sharing something exciting, like their child's learning that day.

Try to involve parents as much as possible in everything you do. Famly has really helped with that, tracking sleep times and meal times, all the daily diary stuff. What they really want to know is all the amazing stuff we’ve done in the day and now they don’t need to ask about the daily stuff because they can find out on Famly.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nursery

3. Bad relationships

We know it can be tricky to get on with everyone, and things can easily get heated when someone’s children are involved. Yet building bridges with any difficult parents will make your job and the child’s development easier to manage in the long term.

And don't forget, empathy goes a long way. If parents work all day, they might only see you at 6pm, when they're tired and stressed, and have missed their little one. That might not be the best time to bring up overdue fees, for example. Think about how you can contribute to making parents feel relaxed and welcome, and set a specific time away from the children to talk about something serious.

If you need to have difficult conversations with a parent who you have a bad relationship with, it’s 10 times harder. But with a good relationship and open communication things are a little easier. It also makes it easier for the parent to come to you when they’ve got concerns and then things get flagged up earlier.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

4. Parent questionnaires

Want easy proof which demonstrates to Ofsted that your nursery is outstanding? Why not develop a parent questionnaire?

This is also a great way of getting feedback about what's working and what isn't, especially from parents who might not otherwise speak up. Perhaps some parents might not feel their suggestion or concern is of enough importance to book a meeting about, but would feel comfortable letting you know the details in a survey.

We also do parent questionnaires based on the Ofsted primary school ones. We compile them for evaluation and we also have evidence to show Ofsted.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

5. Your biggest fan

Understand your strengths by finding out what makes your most satisfied parents happy. While you can easily make observations about children's interests, parents aren't generally so easy to read. Maybe they love how much you support home learning, or that they get detailed information about what their child has been doing each day? Either way, it's great for you to know and it doesn't hurt to show the Ofsted inspector either!

If a parent loves you, then get them in and ask them why! Or get them to send an email or have a meeting about why they believe you’re outstanding is.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

How to be outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get ideas, tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Get this guide

6. Telling them about the inspection

Parent feedback is a key element of outstanding Ofsted ratings. Keep your parents in the loop and encourage their honesty to help achieve success.

Take the inspection as an opportunity to share more with parents about how Ofsted works. Those without older children may not be so familiar with what Ofsted does or think that it's only for schools. You could also introduce them to the statutory framework (the EYFS), if you haven't already.

Parents are usually keen to learn more about how your provision supports learning and development and Ofsted is a part of that.

As soon as I knew that we were going to have an Ofsted inspection I messaged all the parents to let them know. I told them that the inspector might want to speak to them and that they should be completely honest and say whatever they think. We got a huge number of comments back and I even showed that to the inspector. It was incredible what they put and the inspector really liked that.

- Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

7. Regular communication

Strong parent partnership relies on ongoing open communication. You can make parents feel welcome at any time by scheduling regular catch-ups, events and discussion. And, although the children are always top of mind, not every conversation with a key person needs to be about children's learning. Parents need support and community too and Early Years professionals can play a part.

We’re always chatting with parents as they come in and out in the morning and we invite them in for regular parent evenings. We have things like craft afternoons and mother’s day breakfasts. We have newsletters. But mainly it’s about just having open communication and letting them know that they can call or come in.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

8. Parent-teacher meetings

Your setting can be a winner in both Ofsted and the parents’ eyes by being aware of, and catering to, differences in communication needs.

Some parents may request lots of face-to-face information sharing, some may prefer reading written communication. You may need to consider having some of your resources in additional languages, to support EAL parents. Take the time to find out which families might need more support and interaction, versus those that prefer a little more 'hand off' approach.

Different parents want different things. So when we send out the reports we ask them if they’d like a parent-teacher meeting. This means it’s efficient, because we only spend our time on the parents who really need it.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

9. For good and bad days

At the end of a challenging day, honesty works best. An open and transparent approach between yourself, the key person, and the parents will achieve the best results.

Having a hugely trusting and confident relationship with parents allows you to have that difficult conversation. You mustn’t say to them that their child has had a good day if they haven’t. The language we use is “WE haven’t had a good day.” Because then it’s about the practitioner taking on those emotions and trying to change it.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nursery

10. Documenting communication

Instant, easy digital communication means your parents can contact the setting much more efficiently and in a documented way.

Easier for you, and great for your Ofsted rating.

Famly has improved our partnerships even further, because our parents love the fact that they can just message straight to the rooms. What’s more, it’s all documented so you can show Ofsted on the day.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

11. An open door

Parents should always feel welcome in your setting. Help build trust by communicating your nursery’s open door policy.

They can always come in and talk to us. That’s very important for Ofsted, because parents are leaving their children with us and they need to know that they are secure and safe when they’re here.

- Michelle Tudenham, Nursery Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can now download the full guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that you deserve.

The big ideas

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly improved parent communication at N Family Club, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.