A mum and primary school aged daughter are sitting on the floor playing a colourful maths game together

How do you involve parents in Maths?

Jun 01, 2022

In our exceedingly technical world, numeracy skills, particularly the ability to interpret data, are becoming increasingly significant and are hugely sought after by employers. And yet, many adults report low confidence in their mathematical abilities. Across the UK, roughly 4 out of 5 adults have a low level of numeracy.

There seems to be a growing narrative that being good at maths is something an individual is born with and not within their power to change. In fact, according to research from National Numeracy, 30% of adults wrongly assume that maths is a skill you are born with rather than a skill that can be learnt. This 'maths anxiety' can knock parents' confidence when engaging with their child's numeracy at home and even pass negative feelings/associations with maths onto their children.  

Breaking the Cycle  

To break the cycle of learned helplessness around numeracy, schools must change parents' mindsets and engage them in the issue by providing specific support. Schools often view strategies to engage parents in their child's learning as 'nice to have' but not essential.  

However, research shows that to improve outcomes for students, schools do need to get parents on board, as parental engagement can make a significant difference to student attainment.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families found that home learning activities undertaken by parents are more important for children's intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education, or income. This confirms PEN's underpinning belief that it doesn't matter who parents are or what they know; it's what they do with their children that is important.  

Research conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation was able to quantify the impact that parental engagement can have on attainment. They found that parental engagement positively impacts an average of 4 months' additional progress, which is significant. However, a word of warning, parental engagement strategies risk increasing attainment gaps if the parents who access these opportunities are primarily from affluent backgrounds. So it is crucial to consider how to attract the parents that will benefit most.

So, what can your school do to help all parents grow in confidence with maths and home learning? 

The main thing is to be warm and encouraging in your approach and remind parents that all learning is good learning, whether it's curriculum-linked or not. We've put together some practical ideas to involve parents in learning below: 

  1.  Bring parents into school to participate in lessons at the start or end of the day. This gives parents valuable insight into what goes on in the classroom. If you feel inviting parents in during the school day is impractical. Consider offering a 'stay and play' session at the end of the school day where you can model fun, educational games and home learning activities to families. 
  2. Have a lending library of maths games. This is a fun way of engaging families in maths and showing parents that they don't need to be a mathematician to be instrumental in their child's development of numeracy skills. Clearly explain to families the benefits of playing maths games, and be sure to show/model how to play the games. Hold an interactive workshop or create videos of teachers and students playing the games and upload them to your school website. To boost confidence, make sure you explain the rules clearly.
  3. Maths week. Raise the profile of maths in your school by hosting an annual maths week or maths festival. Fill the week with fun activities (Maths Week Scotland has some great ideas) that challenge the perception that maths is boring! 
  4. Provide home learning ideas and activities. If you want parents to engage with their child's learning at home, give them plenty of resources and ideas. PEN has an extensive library of home learning activities that you can access for free if you are a PEN member. Home learning activities should: 
    • Be short do-able tasks 
    • Have clear instructions 
    • Have a time limit 
    • Use the home environment (or accessible space nearby like a park) 
    • Include resources that all families will already have at home (think canned food, recyclable materials, shampoo bottles!) 
    • Allow parents to give feedback to the school/teacher on how it went.  
  5. Promote life-long learning. Schools most successful in engaging parents usually have a strong life-long learning ethos. They promote and celebrate all types of learning within their school community. Consider partnering with other agencies/colleges / adult-education courses to improve parents' maths (and literacy) skills.  

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