Reimagining parental engagement in special schools: a practice theoretical approach

Sara Spear*, Fiona Spotswood, Stella Warren, Janet Goodall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Parental engagement is widely acknowledged to have a positive impact on children’s achievement, and interventions to increase parental engagement have had some success in improving educational outcomes for children in mainstream settings. However, there has been little research on parental engagement in special schools, despite some studies indicating that the challenges of parenting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can negatively impact parental engagement. Understanding and supporting parental engagement in this context is therefore an important area for research and intervention, to provide the same opportunities for enhancing outcomes for children with SEND. This paper reports on research with two special schools, using theories of practice to understand parental engagement. A practice theory framing diverts from an individualist or responsibilising conceptualisation of parental engagement and instead takes practices and the practice architecture as the unit of enquiry, and by implication as sites of intervention. Based on data from exploratory focus groups with 129 school staff and depth interviews with 26 parents, our analysis illustrates the opportunities and challenges for special schools in fostering a practice architecture supportive of parental engagement, and in particular highlights the importance of effective mechanisms for interaction between actors, in order to connect the practices performed at home by parents and children, with practices performed at school by teachers, school leaders and children. This offers a wide range of practices and connections between them as potential sites of intervention for special schools seeking to support parental engagement and drive beneficial outcomes for children.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalEducational Review
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2021

Structured keywords

  • MGMT Marketing and Consumption


  • Parental engagement
  • practice theory
  • special schools


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