What is it?
We define parental engagement as the involvement of parents 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.
How effective is it?
Although parental engagement is consistently associated with students’ success at school, the evidence about how to improve achievement by increasing parental engagement is mixed and much less conclusive, particularly for disadvantaged families.
Two recent meta-analyses from the USA suggested that increasing parental engagement in primary and secondary schools had on average two to three months’ positive impact. There is some evidence that supporting parents with their first child will have benefits for siblings. However, there are also 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 achievement is challenging and needs careful monitoring and evaluation.
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.
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 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.
How secure is the evidence?
The association between parental engagement and a child’s academic success is well established and there is a long history of research into parental engagement programs. However, there is surprisingly little robust evidence about the impact of approaches designed to improve learning through increased parental engagement.
The evidence is predominantly from primary level and the early years, though there are studies which have looked at secondary schools. Impact studies tend to focus on reading and mathematics achievement.
What are the costs?
The costs of different approaches vary enormously, from running parent workshops (about $100 per session) and improving communications, which are cheap, to intensive family support programs with specially trained staff. The cost of a specialist community or home/school liaison teacher is estimated at about $42,800. Assuming a specialist teacher is used, costs per student are estimated as moderately high.
What should I consider?
Engagement is often easier to achieve with parents of very young children. How will you maintain parental engagement as children get older?
Have you provided a flexible approach to allow parental engagement to fit around parents’ schedules? Parents of older children may appreciate short sessions at flexible times.
How will you make your school welcoming for parents, especially those whose own experience of school may not have been positive?
What practical support, advice and guidance can you give to parents who are not confident in their ability to support their children’s learning, such as simple strategies to help early readers?