Helping Parents to Support Learning at HomeDec 10, 2021
With so much talk about 'lost learning' over the past year, you may increasingly be thinking about how you can engage families with learning at home. Research shows that: parent involvement is a much more significant factor than school effects in shaping achievement. So, to improve outcomes for the children in your school, it's essential to have parents on board.
But how can you help parents support learning at home? What works? Unfortunately, like with all parental engagement matters, there is no straightforward answer to this, and certainly, no 'one size fits all' approach. Every school community is different, and what may work well at one school may not work at all at another. A good place to start is to look at what the evidence base says before applying this to your own school or setting.
What the research says
A seminal piece of research in this area is Harris and Goodall's Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement Do Parents Know They Matter? (2007). This research project acknowledges that parental engagement substantially affects children's achievement and adjustment even after all other factors (such as social class, maternal education, and poverty) have been factored out.
Harris and Goodall found that whilst many schools involve parents in school-based or school-related activities; this constitutes parental involvement. While these methods might engage parents with the school, they rarely engage parents with their child's learning.
Indeed, PEN often finds that the first thing that springs to teachers' minds when discussing parental engagement is parents' evening and other school events. Whilst there is space for these events in the big picture of engaging parents, and they can help build a thriving school community, it is important to note, as Goodall and Harris state, that "Where these activities are not directly connected to learning they have little impact on pupil achievement."
So how do schools start using parents as a learning resource to help raise attainment in schools? Well, from their observations, Harris and Goodall noted that parents have the most significant influence on the achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school. "It is their support of learning within the home environment that makes the maximum difference to achievement."
During the research project carried out by Harris and Goodall, a wide range of initiatives were undertaken by Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement (EPRA) schools, under four different strands:
- Supporting parents to help their children learn
- Personalising provision for parents as learners
- Enhancing pastoral care
The impact and implications of using these initiatives are too many and varied to list in this blog. I'd recommend reading the full report for a comprehensive understanding of the findings. However, suffice to say, most schools found that using these initiatives positively impacted home-school relationships, attendance, and raising aspirations. A notable finding was that parental engagement was maximised when parents were assisted in developing skills associated with effective parenting, leadership, governance, and decision making.
A more recent publication from the Educational Endowment Fund (EEF) supports the notion that schools should provide practical strategies to help learning at home rather than involving parents in school-related activities. In EEF's Parental Engagement Guidance Report (2018), schools are advised to: "Support parents to create a routine and encourage good homework habits, but be cautious about promoting direct parental assistance with homework (particularly for older children)." This type of support as a facilitator rather than a teacher can help children regulate their learning and will often be more valuable than direct help with homework.
The EEF report also advocates home learning activities, such as playing with letters and numbers. These have been linked to improved outcomes and don't require the same curriculum-based knowledge that helping with homework needs.
It's clear that the research points towards creating a culture of parental engagement in schools and away from the more traditional types of parental involvement (like parents attending events and helping with their children's homework). To do this, schools need to implement strategies that will build strong home-school relationships and encourage lifelong learning. However, implementing a 'parent-centric' culture is a big challenge, and it can take a long time to see the effects. Of course, PEN believes it's worth the effort. If you're wondering where to start, we have put together a few practical tips for engaging parents in their child's learning…
PEN's top tips.
- Review what you already do and ask parents what they want
This is our 'go-to' first step for improving anything related to parental engagement in your school! Identify what (if anything) you already do to help parents support learning at home. What works well or has worked well in the past? When you have a clear picture of what's already being done, identify what you want to improve. Don't forget to ask parents what help they would like to help support learning at home. PEN's parent communication survey (available to PEN members) is a good tool for helping with this.
- Positive messages about learning
Use your school's website and social media platforms to communicate consistently positive messages about learning. This doesn't just have to be about celebrating children who have excelled academically, but celebrations of all types of learning across your entire school community. For example, Mr Clarke sharing his experience of learning to knit over lockdown, Sienna in year 4 talking about her experiences of writing to her penfriend in Zimbabwe and the Patel family sharing pictures from the sports challenge they completed for Children in Need. By showcasing a range of different experiences, you're recognising that all learning is good learning and creating a culture of lifelong learning.
- Home learning
As the EEF guidance report states, home learning activities can be a very effective way of engaging families in learning at home. Homework, by definition, takes place in the home, so use it to support parents' engagement in learning . Try and create homework assignments that get parents involved. For example, family history projects, reading challenges and outdoor learning challenges. PEN members have access to a library of printable home learning resources on many different topics. Head to the membership area of our website for some inspiration on where to start with this!
 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging parents. 2018. Goodall and Weston.
Harris and Goodhall. 2007. Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement Do Parents Know They Matter? (2007).
The Education Endowment Foundation. 2018. Parental Engagement Guidance Report.
Charles Desforges and Alberto Abouchar. 2003. The impact of parent involvement, parent support and family education on pupil achievements and adjustment: A literature Review London: Department for Education and Skills.
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