Hard to reach families – getting them to sign up

Key features

  • Policy of inclusion, regardless of background, beliefs or anxieties
  • Strategies to convince reluctant parents
  • Examples of success and compromise

Camping is a bit like Marmite … parents and staff all have a strong opinion about whether it is for them, and also about whether it is for their children. Our residential model is dependent on getting 100% attendance from our Year 6 children, and this is not easy to achieve! This case study explores some of the strategies we have employed at Hanover Primary School when trying to persuade parents to sign their children up for a residential.

We have developed some strategies to engage more reluctant families, and are pretty successful in our recruitment, but there have been parents who have not allowed their children to attend over the years. It is very important to note that it is the parents who do not want their children to attend in almost every case. Children will often say they don’t want to attend because they know their parents will not allow them to. Children want to come camping!

The reasons given vary, however in our experience the majority of children who have not attended have been Muslim girls. Others have been children who still have unusually dependent relationships with their parents for one reason or another. What we have learned is that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ strategy, but that changing the minds of these parents is about utilising our longstanding relationships with the child, the parents, and the wider community on a very individual basis.

We have created two resources that we deliver to all parents before they sign up for the residential. We give all parents a camping information pack, which has been created to give them as much information as possible about our Year 6 camp. A PDF of this can be downloaded below. This answers many of the questions that parents would otherwise ask. The video produced by film-maker Lottie Davies was also developed with recruitment in mind. You can watch this film here. Parents tell us that seeing what life on camp is like is reassuring and helps allay their fears. We run a general meeting for parents several months before our residential where we show them the tents we take, the axes we use and talk about the activities that we will run. These are well attended, but we have found that it is the more enthusiastic parents who tend to come to this meeting.

For those who do not want their children to attend, we have to be more creative! Below are two brief case studies showing how we have been successful:

‘Omar’

Omar was a Year 6 child who initially did not want to come camping. He said that he did not like creepy-crawlies and had never been away from home for a whole week before. He was otherwise confident, had lots of friends, and recognised that he would feel sad about missing out. When his class teacher spoke with him, she felt that he could be persuaded, and he became more positive about the idea after seeing the video that the school had made. The next day, Omar told his teacher that he would not be going on the residential. She asked him why, and he told her that his mother had said he wasn’t allowed. The teacher arranged a meeting with his mother, who was initially very sceptical. Her concerns were over hygiene, his ability to be away from home (and her ability for him to be away!), and also around whether he would be able to pray as he did at home. The teacher reassured Omar’s mother on all of these points, giving her examples of other children who had had similar needs and who had enjoyed the experience. The mother was eventually persuaded by the teacher, but then said that she could not afford the cost. Omar was entitled to Pupil Premium, so the teacher was able to immediately offer a discount as agreed with the headteacher. This took the cost down to £60 for the week, which the mother felt she could raise if she could pay in weekly instalments. Together with the school’s bursar, this system was put into place, and Omar did end up coming on the residential. He had a fantastic time, got very mucky, got clean again, and was able to pray as he had wanted. He did not mention home to an adult all week, and came back with increased confidence and independence. His mother was delighted, cried when he returned to school, and thanked the teacher for persuading her.

‘Ruth’

Ruth was a quiet and well-behaved girl in Year 6. She was popular amongst her friends, but did not see them much outside of school. She lived with her mother quite a long way from Hanover, having been rehoused under difficult domestic circumstances the previous year. She did not want to come camping. She said that she was worried about being away from home for so long, and that she would be homesick. Her mother was very anxious about Ruth’s asthma, but also about her being away for such a long time. Following a lengthy discussion with Ruth’s mother, she disclosed that Ruth still slept in the same bed as her, and had done all her life. She had never been to a sleepover or stayed away from her mother. This was discussed, and Ruth’s mother understood that it was important that this changed. With support from the school, she agreed that she would get Ruth to sleep in her own bed as a step towards her being more independent. She began this about one month before the residential, and this clearly represented a big change for her as well as Ruth. She reported that Ruth was sleeping in her own bed leading up to the residential, and was becoming more enthusiastic about the prospect of her attending. However, in the week before the trip, both Ruth and her mother said that they did not feel it would be possible for her to take part. There was no persuading them and we agreed, having recognised the steps that they had taken already, that she would not come for the week. However, we did take Ruth to the residential. For two of the five days, she was driven to the site and took part in the daytime activities with her peers. She had a lovely time, and her mother was pleased that she could participate in part of the trip.