Engaging communities

The Multicultural Education Policy promotes positive community relations with parents from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and encourages the active participation of families from culturally diverse backgrounds in school life and decision making processes.

Family-school partnerships

Family-school partnerships are an effective way to support and empower positive parent engagement and bring together family and community resources to enrich student learning and wellbeing. The Family School Partnerships Framework was developed to promote and guide partnership building. A School Assessment Tool Reflection Matrix is available to help schools identify areas of strength and focus areas for further development.

Examples of practice

The Family School Partnerships Framework identifies seven dimensions for effective family and community engagement. The following digital clips focus on strategies implemented at various schools to strengthen the engagement of families from culturally diverse backgrounds across the dimensions.

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Effective communication is a two-way exchange that involves information sharing and opportunities for schools and families to learn about each other.

School principal: We’ve got lots of different layers of communication that really ensure that we’re meeting all the different parent’s needs.

We use technology, so we have Facebook page, we use our school bag app, we use our school website. We send notes home to our families via students and often we translate those as well into a home language.

We also need to recognise that there are those parents who aren’t literate in either English or their first languages so we use our bilingual ethnic aids to support us with that process, by providing face to face real time communication.

We also make phone calls to remind parents, to check in with parents.

Narrator: It’s important for staff to find out what form of communication works.

Parent 1 (through translator): First of all there are the newsletter of the school which is in English language, but there is the possibility for us to get the information from the CLOs (Community Liaison Officer) who are translating the school in Dari, Arabic Tamil and other languages. And the second thing is that every day there is the diary for each student and we have to check the diary, if there is anything, any problem, we can contact easily the school.

Parent 2: There is another one, the School Bag (app), where they share information about sports carnivals or newsletters. As parents it’s really good to see the objectives and what's going on in the school.

Narrator: Schools with diverse student backgrounds have both formal and informal communication structures in place.

School principal: In our school, we have a very diverse community and because of that, you have to know your community really well, and know every student and their family really really well to understand their experiences and what they’re bringing to the table, and not to make assumptions. And so with translated documents, I believe about 1% of our families from an African background actually have print literacy in their first language and so I’ve made mistakes before in the past where I’ve attempted to get families to read translated documents, and it was embarrassing in terms of the position that I put them in, and it was a mistake that I made, and so now I have those documents available but I by no means assume that parents wish to deal with things in their first language and most of my meetings they would prefer us to do it orally through an interpreter.

Narrator: Teachers and other school staff from diverse backgrounds can also be an invaluable resource.

Managing Director, IDENTITY Communications: It’s very easy to say I’ve sent a newsletter, I’ve sent a report home, but that’s only one part of communication. I think effective communication involves using every tool that’s available to you.

Is it better to invite some parents to school so you can communicate face to face, even though they might have a language barrier, face to face communication, you can get a lot of concepts through much better than on a two-dimensional piece of paper.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Connections between families and school that promote student learning, high expectations, contribute to students’ school success.

School principal: The benefits of a parent involved in their child’s learning is immense, and it can be something as simple as being able to talk to your child about school.

Narrator: Liverpool Public School invites newly arrived refugee parents to spend time regularly in the school garden with their children so they feel comfortable in the school environment.

School principal: So rather than challenging parents with how we are teaching reading, how to teach maths and expecting them to be teachers at home, it’s about providing them with the language and an opportunity to talk with the school, to talk with their children and to support in a way that promotes learning but also takes the pressure off parents because often they are dealing with lots of different issues, lots of different concerns, and we want to make this process as simple as possible.

Teacher 1: As they get older it’s important for us to maintain that their parents connect with their kids. That is why we invited parents to come on a weekly basis for them to join with the kids, help out with gardening and a way for them to see what we are doing in school.

Teacher 2: So the bi-lingual reading program at Parramatta East Public School is about encouraging students to be inquisitive about first or previous languages other than English, allowing the parents to be part of the classroom learning and ensuring that they have a voice in the room. We have had an overwhelming response from all our parents saying that they feel so valued that they get to talk to other parents as well and see similarities and differences between their languages and their cultures and they were blown away by the enthusiasm of the students as well.

Narrator: At Holroyd High School they offer practical information on navigating life in Australia along with English classes.

Parent 1 (via translator): Hanan sat an English test. She is really keen on improving her English. And so the way in which... they have all become students. Mum, and the children and Dad. And because mum was studying for the exam, all the children felt like they wanted to contribute to that. And so they sat with mum, so they started training mum, in English conversation, and so mum was learning from the children. And obviously that creates a beautiful bond.

And so she sat the exam, and the first thing they asked her, the minute they came home was, mum, how did you answer this question, how did you answer that question. So everybody is benefiting from this. And she wants her children to see her struggle to do better, to challenge themselves, so that they can maybe do the same thing. If they can see mum doing it, it inspires them to do it as well.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Inclusive school practices and programs build a culture of welcome, inclusion & belonging for all families that reflect and respect diversity within the school community.

Community Hub leader: So we’re here today at Chester Hill PS. Behind me I’ve got the mothers from the parents and citizens association. I’ve got a fundraiser happening at the school today and they’re busy cooking sausages to raise funds for the school.

Narrator: Chester Hill Public School employs designated staff to facilitate connections between families and community members and create a family friendly school atmosphere. Schools that have designated space for community can support the needs of families with specific programs and events. Lina Mourad is the Community Hub leader at Chester Hill Public School.

We run a lot of programs for the families. In addition to this school readiness we also have a playgroup that we run in the hall here as well on a Wednesday. We also use the community hub facility to facilitate vocational programs for mums, parenting programs, it’s a little drop-in and it’s a great space for parents to come in, have a cup of coffee, meet other parents and socialise.

Narrator: High schools can employ community liaison officers to engage different sectors of the community. Schools collaborate with families and community agencies representing all backgrounds to improve cultural understandings. For example, Prairiewood High School established a partnership with a local sector to set up a community kitchen.

Community liaison officer: The Community liaison officer is a person who speaks another language other than English and can deal with certain communities in order to explain things about schools and also attract them to be engaged in school activities.

When parents are involved in school this will be reflected positively to their children learning and especially if a person has some history or knowledge or experience in the area will attract the people to come and ask questions.

If they want to clarify things regarding their children’s education they can speak to the person. We need to create activities to bring them and they can be attracted to come to the school. For example we can organised workshops regarding some important matters like settlement issues, financial issues, health, well-being and also we came to find that food can actually get the people together. So currently we are running as part of our community inclusion program we are running a community kitchen at Prairiewood High School and it’s wonderful. At the moment I have around 60 parents and carers and community members from the area registered at this particular initiative.

When you prove to them that you are respecting them and including them and acknowledging their needs that’s when trust starts to develop and the people will test the confident in you and your ability to resolve their issues if there is anything that needs to be resolved. Also when they see you working for them and you are trying your best to do everything that will help them and help their children this will make them feel that there is someone from their family who cares.

School principal: Our Friends of Liverpool is our community coffee club. We run that one once a week and it’s an opportunity for us as a school to really get to understand and know our parents and what it is that they would like to see from us as a school, what they bring as parents and community members to our school. And it’s also an opportunity for them to understand what we are as a school and by sharing, talking and learning together over a cup of coffee we’re building that trust, that mutual understanding and that recognition that despite all the differences from each person that’s there, that we’re all here for that common goal, one common goal, and that’s to work for our students.

Often what we found is that a lot of the things that we were doing were transactional in nature, and it was inviting parents up, parent workshops, celebration days and what have you. But what we found was the engagement and the follow through and whether that created that openness that we wanted to achieve, we found that we weren’t really seeing that, so the idea for Friends was how can we create something that’s regular, it’s non-threatening and it promotes that idea that we want to work together and that the more that we understand from each other the better we can work together.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Families as the first continuing educators of their children assist and encourage their children’s learning in and out of school and support school goals, direction, ethos.

Managing Director, Identity Communications: Understanding a person also involves understanding their background, where they come from. Because that is the baggage or that is the experience that they take with them when they come to a new country.

Narrator: Parents or carers are the first educators for their children, and this continues. From the day a child is born, they are the ones who assist and encourage their child’s learning in and out of school.

School principal: How often do we look at the educational levels of our parents and someone who is perhaps highly educated and perhaps who has had very limited educational background. What influences does that bring to their thinking and way of acting for those parents and those communities and how do we engage them in a different way to perhaps those who are as well educated.

And so coming from that mind set when we have look at diversity at Liverpool Public School I can take you through this idea in the sense that we have lots of Arabic speakers but out of those Arabic speakers we have a range of countries they have been born in. So what I have done in red is that I’ve highlighted one particular student. An Arabic speaking student from Iraq from a Christian background who’s come to Australia as a refugee and whose parents hold bachelor degrees. How you go about engaging that particular parent and that child’s family is going to be very different than an Arabic speaking student who has come from the USA, say, who might be a Muslim student who has come on a skilled visa and the parent may be bachelor as well.

As one has come here by choice, one has come here out of necessity and when you begin to play around and looking at all the different profiles of students in your community you begin to realise then that actually his idea of engaging a culture or engaging an ethnically diverse part of your community is perhaps missing the mark and not really what is going to create that authentic engagement. They may participate, the may come along but are you really going to build something that is going to support that particular student’s learning needs, because ultimately as professionals we look at every student as an individual when we talk about academic learning. We need to do the same thing when we are talking about engaging their parents and engaging them in the community.

Narrator: Farida Tokhi came to Australia from Afghanistan. Her children study at Holroyd. She feels confident to talk to teachers and staff about her children’s learning.

Parent 1: If there is any issue to discuss with the teachers of my daughters in Holroyd School, I can call the school and organise an appointment and the staff of the school, the CLOs (Community Liaison Officers), they are trying to make an appointment as soon as possible. And I can see the teachers and can discuss the issue with them and if there is any other issue to talk to the principal or deputy principal there is also the possibility for me to see them.

Parent 2: Honglai Zhu parent, originally from China. There’s a P & C meeting, (Parents and Citizens) meeting with parent community so each class has a class parent that volunteer for class parent so they can organise all the activities for all the parents. So first year my son entered the school at kindy so I volunteer for class parent so I can get involved, can get to know as many as I can know, the parents. So we organise the dinners, play dates and anything you can imagine. So it’s very helpful and the school has a ESL program and they test my son English but he pass so he surprised me, he is faster than me so he is correcting my English now.

School principal: What we do do is not because you are from one part of the world, or because you speak a particular language, it’s about us all coming together and realising we’re there for the student, that each student is an individual and that by learning about each other, learning about our needs, our wants, our hopes, together we can make that work.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Families are represented in the school decision making process through parent bodies, committees and other forums. At Islington Public School they ensure that families from different cultural groups are supported to become involved with the school representative body.

School principal: The first part of running the school plans and policies and consulting with the school community, and a diverse community to value a voice, is the conversations that every staff member has with parents every single day.

It’s the informal, it’s having a group of people who have some cultural knowledge and we’re very fortunate here that we have a number of staff that hold cultural knowledge of a number of our communities that attend the school and because of that it means that all of our policies are informed by their cultural knowledge and then when we move to a consultation, we then email the draft document out to the community through the P&C and they consult upon it, they give us feedback and then we look at their feedback in terms of whether our policies and procedures and the way we do things at this school, maintain their cultural inclusiveness and integrity.

Teacher: They have come from a culture where they did not have any involvement in any way with school policies, decision-making and everything.

So that’s just, having that conversation with parents, and letting them know that it is OK for them to be involved in their children’s life, and they have a say in the decision-making that happens in their schools and policies of the schools where they go to.

Narrator: It is important that schools recognise and overcome barriers to parents getting involved in decision making processes.

A lot of our parents in this school feel like they do not have enough conversational English to actually get involved with any community consultations that may happen in the school.

So we had a case where we had a community consultation in the school and one of our parents, she did not feel confident enough to actually go and give her point of view and what her opinions were on schooling and so I just - because I speak Swahili - I sat with her and you know, was able to interpret for her, what was happening, just let her know, that whatever she say I could put forward for her and she could speak to me in Swahili and I would translate it into English. And she felt by the end of the meeting, there was a sense of you know, feeling of an accomplishment, and that she belonged in the school community and she was quite happy and willing to come back the next time and do such things.

School principal: It’s the relationships you build every single day, talking to parents morning and afternoon, saying hello, asking how things are going, asking if their children are happy, are their needs being met, is there anything else we can do, the emphasis is placed on care and it is reciprocated.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Developing relationships with government and non-government agencies, community groups, business and other educational providers strengthens the ability of schools and families to support their students and their parents.

Parent 1: My daughter goes to Chester Hill Public School and that school is doing very good things. They are running the community hub which is a great way to communicate and connect with the community very easily and when my daughter started school and then I thought that I would start again, my study or whatever and community hub helped me a lot that way. They run a course. I did my education support course inside the community hub inside the school hours. Very convenient for me and it was a pathway for me to start my study or my career again and the community hub helped me that way very much.

Narrator: At Chester Hill Public School they regularly work with outside services.

Community Hub leader: Today we have our school readiness program. This program is one of our many partnerships that we have with external organisations and we run this program in our school hall which is a shared space with Bankstown Council. The program runs weekly, all year round, and it supports parents to help their children to transition to schools successfully.

The great thing about the program is also we have a lot of external services that come in so, for example, we have speech pathologists that might come out and help to intervene early with the children if they have any speech issues. We also have facilitators who come in and do some parenting sessions with the parents while their children are here.

Narrator: At Prairiewood High School parent leaders work with community and business representatives to develop programs to support student learning.

School principal: It wasn’t just the community and parents, we also wanted to connect more broadly with industry, the universities, with refugee programs, with the council and the support services that they offer like STARTTS, etc. Even local hospitals and so it was a way of broadening our reach and having the community come into the school in more effective ways.

Narrator: One program they’re currently running with a university is a mentoring scheme.

Community liaison officer: The program that we’re running to is called, a relationship with the University of Western Sydney, PATH, which stands for Pacific Achievements to Higher Education.

So we’ve come up with a mentoring program that we could have 2 or 3 students and um with a mentor that we could go through a program with each one of them, highlighting what is it that they would like to do after and beyond school.

Narrator: External partners can bring specific skills and support structures to students from newly arrived or refugee backgrounds.

Community sector representative: Mission Australia in schools, we offer outreach programs. They’re normally programs that are workshops, they come in and help fill the knowledge gap for young people in terms of life skills, we cover topics such as self-confidence, self-awareness, and help to build a stronger foundation for them to build on their confidence, their self- confidence and awareness.

Narrator: Specific organisations can develop targeted strategies for students that require additional support.

[End of transcript]

NSW Department of Education.

Narrator: Every member of the school community has something to offer and families’ time, energy and expertise support learning and school programs in many ways.

School principal 1: One of the very successful ways we did that was to employ a team of community liaison officers. Initially their role was to help us as a school communicate with parents, particularly across language and cultural barriers and they proved to be very effective at that, and over time their role broadened into one of reaching out to the community, bringing parents into the school for circumstances other than discipline and so the community kitchen grants became a reality and they were able to bring in not just parents but community members who recently arrived from various parts of the world.

We felt that a social venture where people get together, mostly around food - that can’t go wrong, has proved to be very positive in projecting a positive image of the school and our culture and what being a young Australian is all about.

Narrator: Islington Public School has also identified and fostered valuable skills in family members. This has resulted in the school gaining a new staff member.

School principal 2: One of our students here at the school was doing really really well, and their sister was coming to pick them up all the time and we were trying to have conversations and just checking in with how she thought her sister was doing and of course, asking how she was going. And she was shocked by how quickly her sister’s English language was developing compared to her own. And we talked about the fact that she’s speaking English all day, she’s listening to English all day, it’s very different from an adult learning English in an institution.

And what I offered her was the ability to come in and volunteer with some of the younger children in their classroom and just help out on a voluntary basis and she ended up taking that up, and she came in and volunteered on the days that she wasn’t at TAFE learning English and she just volunteered in the classroom and her English really, really grew very very quickly and then that ended up resulting in the ability to employ her as a SLSO (School learning support officer), as a bilingual aid.

School learning support officer: I was very nervous because I’m thinking about myself, Oh I can’t do that because my English is very rubbish! And after that I said OK, just try.

Community liaison officer: For me Islington Public School is a very very good opportunity for me, because I think I grow up in here, and also I improve my English in here. I’m so happy.

For people to leave their homeland and come to a different country, there must be a massive reason to do that. So they need care, they need respect, they need someone who show them emotions plus professionalism.

[End of transcript]

Research and resources

Researching parent engagement (PDF 2.2 MB) shows that students achieve better outcomes when schools, families and the community work together to support learning. Schools and families both benefit from strong, respectful family-school relationships and when they share responsibility for student learning.

Resources to support community engagement in NSW public schools include:

Professional learning

The online professional learning session Engaging Culturally Diverse Communities is targeted at school leaders and staff who want to effectively communicate and engage with their culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Schools will explore effective consultative decision-making and engagement strategies across their changing demographics. Currently only part one of the course is available for participants to undertake.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
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