Evidence for Learning: Parental engagement

Parental engagement

Moderate impact for very low cost based on extensive evidence
Implementation cost
Evidence strength
Impact (months)

Parental engagement refers to teachers and schools involving parents / families in supporting their children’s academic learning. It includes:

  • approaches and programs which aim to develop parental skills such as literacy or IT skills;
  • general approaches which encourage parents to support their children with, for example reading or homework;
  • the involvement of parents in their children’s learning activities; and
  • more intensive programs for families in crisis.

1. Parental engagement has a positive impact on average of 4 months’ additional progress. It is crucial to consider how to engage with all parents to avoid widening achievement gaps.

2. Consider how to tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning. There is some evidence that personalised messages linked to learning can promote positive interactions.

3. Parental engagement strategies are typically more effective with parents of very young children. It is important to consider how you will maintain parental engagement as children get older. For example, providing flexible communications (e.g. short sessions at flexible times) might create opportunities for parents of older children to engage with the school.

4. Consider what support you can give to parents to ensure home learning is of high quality. For example, providing practical strategies with tips, support, and resources to assist learning at home may be more beneficial to student outcomes than simply gifting a book to students or asking parents to provide generic help to their children.

The average impact of the parental engagement approaches is about an additional four months’ progress over the course of a year. There are also higher impacts for students with low prior achievement.

The evidence about how to improve achievement by increasing parental engagement is mixed and much less conclusive. There are examples where combining parental engagement strategies with other interventions, such as extended early years provision, has not been associated with any additional educational benefit. This suggests that developing effective parental engagement to improve their children’s attainment is challenging and needs careful monitoring and evaluation.

There is some evidence that supporting parents with their first child will have benefits for siblings.

Parents’ aspirations also appear to be important for student outcomes, although there is limited evidence to show that intervening to change parents’ aspirations will raise their children’s aspirations and achievement over the longer term.

The EEF has tested a number of interventions designed to improve students’ outcomes by engaging parents in different types of skills development. The consistent message from these has been that it is difficult to engage parents in programs. By contrast, a trial which aimed to prompt greater parental engagement through text message alerts delivered a small positive impact, and at very low cost.

Research from a review of Australasian literature suggests that the relationship between parental involvement and students’ outcomes differs according to the nature of the involvement, and is stronger for parental expectations than other forms of parental involvement, such as attending community events and parent-teacher conversations. There is also a strong positive relationship between tailored parental involvement in learning and academic achievement. More consistent parental involvement is associated with better outcomes.

In Australia, a 2012 literature review by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) emphasises the value of parental involvement. The authors draw a distinction between parental involvement in schooling (for example attending community events) and involvement in learning, arguing that improving the latter is key to affecting academic outcomes. However, high quality evaluations of specific parental involvement programs in Australia are rare, and new studies in this area would be valuable.

  • Effects are substantially higher in early years settings (+5 months) and primary schools (+4 months) than secondary schools (+2 months).

  • Effects tend to be higher for literacy (+5 months) than for mathematics (+3 months).

  • The majority of studies examined home reading interventions. A smaller number of studies examined interventions that aimed to improve parenting skills.

  • Approaches where a parent works directly with their child one-to-one typically show greater impact (+5 months). Lower achieving students appear to benefit in particular.

  • Parental engagement approaches have been evaluated in 10 countries around the world with broadly similar findings.

Disadvantaged students are less likely to have the benefit of a space to conduct home learning. Evidence also suggests that disadvantaged students make less academic progress, and sometimes achievement levels even regress during the summer holidays, due to the level of formal and informal learning activities they do or do not participate in. By designing and delivering effective approaches to support parental engagement, schools and teachers may be able to mitigate some of these causes of educational disadvantage, supporting parents to assist their children’s learning or their self-regulation, as well as specific skills, such as reading.

However, parental engagement strategies have the risk of increasing attainment gaps, if the parents that access parental engagement opportunities are primarily from more advantaged backgrounds. It is crucial to consider how parental engagement strategies will engage with all parents.

While encouraging parents to become directly involved in homework might appear attractive, schools should consider whether parents have the knowledge and skills to provide the right support, particularly at secondary level. Interventions designed to engage parents in homework have generally not been linked to increased achievement. Students who are struggling academically may be more likely to request parental assistance with homework, but parents may be unfamiliar with the most effective teaching methods. As a consequence, it may be more effective to encourage parents to redirect a struggling student to their teachers rather than to take on an instructional role.

The key mechanism for parental engagement strategies is improving the quality and quantity of learning that takes place in the home learning environment. This is very challenging to implement in practice. Some key elements schools might choose to implement include:

  • tailoring communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning
  • regularly reviewing how well the school is working with parents, identifying areas for improvement
  • offering more sustained and intensive support where needed.

Implementing parental engagement strategies needs to consider potential barriers to parents engaging. For example, is there provision for working parents to engage in short sessions with flexible times – or even through remote engagement where available.

Parental engagement approaches are typically delivered over the course an academic year, as building effective relationships between school and parents requires a sustained effort over an extended period of time.

When introducing new approaches, schools should consider implementation. For more information see Putting Evidence to Work – A School’s Guide to Implementation.

Overall, the median costs of implementing parental engagement are estimated as very low. Most costs arise from staff training and development, all of which are more likely to be start-up costs.

Whilst the median cost estimate for parental engagement is very low, the option to include additional ongoing staff training, materials and resources, and additional staff time means that costs can range from very low to moderate.

These cost estimates assume that schools are already paying for technology for communication with parents, and facilities to host any in person meetings. These are all prerequisite costs of implementing parental engagement strategies, without which the cost is likely to be higher.

The security of the evidence around parental engagement is rated as high. 97 studies were identified. Overall, the topic lost one padlock because a large percentage of the studies were not independently evaluated. Evaluations conducted by organisations connected with the approach – for example, commercial providers, typically have larger impacts, which may influence the overall impact of the strand.

As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.

Evidence strength
Number of studies97
Review last updatedJuly 2021