Parents are one of the least utilised but potentially most powerful allies in improving a school’s ethos of physical activity and wellbeing. Not only are they capable of providing support for what is happening within the curriculum and on school grounds, but they are crucial when it comes to reinforcing positive habits and behaviours outside of school. It’s therefore important that governors and school staff understand why and how to best engage with parents to create a sustainable, constructive partnership.

Open, proactive communication

Too often parents are uninformed about what the school provides and expects regarding PE, sport, and other physical activity within the school, as well as why it’s so important. Bear in mind the parents at your school will have myriad experiences and attitudes to this aspect of education, positive and negative, and their priorities might not immediately align with those of the school. Publish and share clear and transparent plans around physical activity, as well as the underlying arguments for why it is so important and how parents can help. Create opportunities for parents to engage with SLT and PE teachers on the school’s approach and give advance warnings of opportunities for pupils to engage with new activities or external provision.

See it as a partnership

One of the achievements for many schools of the past year has been the creation of closer ties between parents and the classroom. Getting pupils more active is a fantastic way to further this as well as leverage the benefits. Without lecturing or patronising, ensure they have been given access to materials concerning the risks of their children being too sedentary or eating poorly, and offer opportunities for them to learn how good habits at home can reinforce those being taught at school. Explore ways in which either the school or other community organisations (Playing Out is a great example) can ease some of this burden from parents, as well as ways the school can play more of a role in promoting physical activity in the wider community, from hosting yoga classes to organising family fun runs, bringing the family closer to the school. It’s hard to overstate how important physical activity is to the development and wellbeing of young people. Ensuring parents understand the issue and are supportive will often be the difference between failure and success.

PTAs and fundraising

An active PTA can be a tremendous force for raising funds to improve the school’s ability to deliver a diverse and exciting programme of extra-curricular physical activities. Equipment, facilities, transport – many aspects of sport and physical activity can be expensive and either be limited or outright impossible to deliver relying solely on standard funding. Whilst they distribute funds at their discretion, by engaging with your PTA alongside the SLT and PE lead, and including them in long-term plans as to how funds might be best deployed, you can help align their thinking with that of the school and work toward funding a broader and deeper provision.

Volunteers and community links

There is every chance that parents at your school would be keen to either help directly, or have the ability to connect your school with individuals and organisations in the local area capable who could add value to your school’s programme. Be it coaching, event volunteers, transport, or access to local sports clubs, activity groups, and leisure facilities, by engaging with parents and enabling them to become involved, a school can bolster its capability. It is also another way to bring parents, family, and community closer to the school, as well as diversifying the school’s offering, even if some of it is external.

Our thanks to Working With Parents in Sport, the Youth Sport Trust, and Sport England for their contributions to this article.