Parents as Partners


Ruth McGuire 

14th October 2021

The importance of the role of parents during the early years is one of the key themes to emerge from the report launched by the Duchess of Cambridge in November 2020, ‘State of the Nation: Understanding public attitudes to the Early Years.’ Three key conclusions to emerge from the report are:

  • The importance of promoting education and dissemination of evidence on the primacy of the early years to parents, parents of the future and the whole of society
  • The need to cultivate and sustain more support networks for parents to enhance their mental health and wellbeing
  • Encouraging society as a whole be more supportive of parents, carers and families in the early years.

For Early Years practitioners, one of the findings from the report worth noting is that ‘a significant proportion of UK parents of a 0 to 5-year-old (69%) underestimate the primary importance of the early years.’ This suggests that practitioners have much work to do to promote the value of Early Years learning to parents. It also highlights the importance of practitioners working in partnership with parents to ensure they recognise the formative years of a child’s life as fundamental to their children’s learning, development and future.

At the heart of any productive partnership arrangement is effective communication. Key persons/practitioners therefore need to work hard to keep lines of communication with parents open. This helps to build trust and ultimately helps to support a child’s learning and development. 

EYFS requirements for partnership working

The EYFS makes it clear that providers have to work in partnership with parents in different ways. For a start, providers are required to ‘inform parents and/or carers of the name of the key person, and explain their role, when a child starts attending a setting.’ They are also required to ‘seek to engage and support parents and/or carers in guiding their child’s development at home.’  Although parents entrust the care of their children to providers, they do not relinquish their responsibilities as parents. Therefore, they need to be active participants in the care and education of their children that is provided during their early years and outside the home.

Practitioners can help by providing parents with information about the ‘key person’ in a setting who will be responsible for caring for their children. Parents may need reassurance that the ‘key person’ is suitably qualified, trained and experienced for their role. They may also need help to navigate their way around Early Years language terminology and understand terms such as the ‘EYFS’, ‘milestones’, ‘mark making’ or ‘transition.’

The information gathering process is a two-way process. Providers and ‘key persons’ need to be skilled at eliciting and receiving information as well as giving it.  This could include exploring with parent(s), a child’s preferences, dietary requirements, anxieties/worries or home circumstances. This is not about being nosey but about being informed enough to be able to provide high quality and individualised care. Parents are an important resource who can provide information and ideas to support their own child’s and other children’s development. Parents are experts in their own right and know their children better than any professional. This expertise should be valued and used as part of the partnership arrangement with parents. In practice this could mean inviting parents along to events and activities or carrying out surveys, holding focus groups or making other arrangements to capture the ‘parents’ voice.’

Promoting learning at home

As stated in the EYFS, parents should be supported to ‘guide’ their child’s development at home. ‘Key persons’ or practitioners can facilitate this by sharing learning and development plans with parents or even sharing resources with them, if possible. One area that is often underestimated by parents as a key part of learning is play. Some parents may need help to understand the value of play in a child’s learning and development. Practitioners could provide examples of play activities that are used in settings to promote a child’s learning and development. Alternatively, parents could be signposted to resources about play that can help them learn how they can use it at home to promote active learning.  

Parents are not a homogenous group. They are a very diverse group that could include single parents, same sex parents, parents who speak English as an additional language and parents of ‘blended families’ i.e. children from different families/marriages ‘blended together’ into a ‘new’ family. To build an effective partnership arrangement with parents, practitioners need to be aware of these differences. This will help them to tailor learning and activities to reflect these differences if necessary or to provide intervention and support if needed. For example, to access information about a setting or produced by a setting, some parents may need support or help from an interpreter or may need information to be provided in a language other than English or in sign language.

Case study examples

Busy Bees nurseries - Parent Partnership Group and Parent Pack. 

The nurseries produce a ‘parent pack’ for parents which provides information about the nurseries, about the dining offer and about learning strategies used at the nurseries. In addition, a Parent Partnership Group has been set up to allow parents in the nursery to have elected parent representatives. ‘Members of the partnership group also act as a support to other parents who would benefit from their reassurance when their child starts at the nursery.’


Reflections Nursery & First School. Worthing- Parent Partnership website information for parents

“We find that open, two-way communication is the best way to handle this so we always make time to talk at the beginning and end of each day and you will receive information about your child's nursery day verbally, in writing or through photographs. We share our observations of your children with you using an online learning journal called ‘Tapestry’ and you can see these anytime you choose and access our observations at home to share with your family. All around the nursery you will see documentation of children’s experiences and evidence of their work. And we keep you to up to date with events at nursery through our parent newsletter. We also have a regular Parent Forum which brings together a group of parents to meet with the senior nursery team and to explore how best to work together and to share ideas.” 


Further information and reading