Schools that engage with parents boost pupil progress, report reveals

Training school staff to help the parents of disadvantaged children to get more involved in their education helps learning at home and improves progress at school, a report from the Sutton Trust has found.

The research from the Sutton Trust and the University of Oxford looked at the work of the Parental Engagement Network, a Manchester-based not-for-profit group specialising in supporting schools to better engage parents, particularly those from disadvantaged communities.

Through the Engaging Parents Effectively Programme, the network trains teachers and teaching assistants to help parents “get positively involved” with their children’s learning and build good relationships with other parents and school staff.

A small-scale randomised controlled trial was carried out through the network, involving 18 schools from Greater Manchester. It provided parents of three and four-year-olds with activities and resources to support their child’s learning at home, such as finger puppets, tambourines and books.

The researchers found that taking part in the trial improved the learning activities parents took part in at home with their children, and most schools also reported a boost to academic progress.

Previous research commissioned by the Sutton Trust found a 19 month gap in development between the most and least advantaged children at age five, and that engaged parents can have a major influence on children’s development.

Other research groups have found similar results. In July 2016, the Education Endowment Foundation published the results of their own Parent Engagement Project, in which researchers sent parents one text per week (30 per school year) with information such as dates of upcoming tests and warnings about missed homework.

Pupils who received the intervention were found to have made an additional month’s progress in maths, compared with a similar group whose parents did not get the texts, and child absence rates were also reduced.

And in July this year, research from the Social Market Foundation found that pupils score three points higher in verbal reasoning tests if they have a parent who attends parents’ evenings. Children whose parents never read to them before the age of five also scored almost two points lower in reasoning tests taken at 11.

At Claremont Primary, one of the schools involved in the latest study, 70 per cent of children involved in the project made accelerated progress (of three or more levels) in teacher-assessed reading, compared with 45 per cent of the whole year group.

In speaking, 70 per cent of children made accelerated progress, compared with 48 per cent of the year group as a whole.

Almost all of the staff (94 per cent) in the participating schools said they gained confidence and skills in working with parents through the project. The schools also reported a longer term impact on the motivation and ability of staff to work with parents.

The Parental Engagement Network is one of six organisations  awarded funding as part of the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s £1 million parental engagement fund, designed to boost learning for disadvantaged two to six-year-olds.