Oxford University‘s positive research findings on Engaging Parents Effectively

Click here to find out more about the research, training and resources available.

Download the report

Visit the Sutton Trust website

Report by Oxford University

  • This report, authored by Fiona Jelley and Kathy Sylva from the University of Oxford, looks at whether engaging the parents of disadvantaged children in the early years  can impact on the home learning environment, parental support for learning and children’s attainment.
  • It highlights the findings  of a small-scale randomised control trial where school staff were trained to engage parents in a Home Learning Project developed by the Parental Engagement Network (a not-for-profit social enterprise) involving workshops and activities to do at home.
  • PEN was one of 5 organisations supported through the Parental Engagement Fund which was set up by the Sutton Trust working in partnership with the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
  • It found that the programme did positively influence parental behaviour at home, that it developed the skills and confidence of staff to engage parents and that it was cost effective, easily embedded within schools and highly scalable.
  • The analyses showed a significant effect of the intervention on the child’s Home Learning Environment score. There was also a trend (p=.056) towards a difference between intervention and control groups on the Family Support subscale from the BESSI. Taken together, the significant impact on Home Learning Environment scores and the near significant trend on the Family Support subscale suggest that the PEN programme positively influenced parental behaviours at home.
  • Experience from previous trials has shown that recruiting and retaining parents can be challenging, and this intervention has been notably successful in recruiting 84 families in the intervention schools and retaining 72 throughout the project (85% families). The trial prioritised disadvantaged, mostly pupil premium eligible families that the settings had not previously been successful in engaging. Schools have also reported that this initial engagement has led to continued involvement by these families in the school – one school reported that engagement in reception workshops had increased by 70%.
  • Almost all the staff (94%) said they had gained confidence and skills in working with parents through the training and implementing the project.
  • Most schools reported that they thought the intervention had impacted on children’s progress in terms of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)profile outcomes. At Claremont Primary School 70% of the targeted children involved in the project made accelerated progress (3+ levels) in teacher-assessed reading compared with 45% of the whole nursery year group, and 70% of the children involved in the project made accelerated progress in speaking compared with 48% of the year group as a whole.
  • The sustainable nature of the intervention has already been demonstrated by the settings who have been involved in the trial deciding to continue with the project in subsequent years. Seven out of the nine intervention schools have continued to use some or all of the resources and strategies in the year following the project.
  • The PEN model involves training setting staff to deliver directly to parents, which enables the programme to become incorporated into the setting’s practice by the staff rather than relying on external professionals. On a practical level, this makes the intervention cost effective (see costs in the report), easily embedded within schools, and highly scalable.
  • The results from this trial show some promise of an affordable and easy-to-embed training programme for teachers and school staff to boost the supportive home environment of disadvantaged families.

Sarah Rudd, Headteacher at Newall Green Primary School said, “I have been very impressed by the uptake and the very positive outcomes from the project. This is exactly what we need – practical fun ways to engage parents in learning”.

 “Doing this work for many years –the new research publication on the Sutton Trust website  feels like a real  breakthrough. It  showed  that it  really is worthwhile reaching out to the parents who don’t normally get engaged and if supported and encouraged that they will do  more at home, helping their children to thrive” – Emma Beresford, Director PEN.

The training and resources to do the project are now available to other schools via www.penresources.co.uk