Parental engagement refers to teachers and schools involving parents in supporting their children’s academic learning. It includes:
- approaches and programmes 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 programmes 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 attainment 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 pupils 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 pupil outcomes than simply gifting a book to pupils 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 pupils with low prior attainment.
The evidence about how to improve attainment 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 pupil 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.
Generally, there is still a paucity of research evidence on the impact of parental engagement on educational outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Some existing studies differentiate between parental involvement – parents’ participating in their children’s educational processes either at home or school such as reading to their children – from parental participation or interactions with pupils, teachers and others to support the school. The impact of parental engagement interventions varies according to the intervention type. Some studies conducted in SSA suggest a general positive associative effects of parental engagement on children’s learning outcomes. However, more studies are needed to establish the viability of specific interventions in the SSA context and the robustness of the causal relationship between the interventions and educational outcomes.
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 attaining pupils appear to benefit in particular.
Parental engagement approaches have been evaluated in 10 countries around the world with broadly similar findings.
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.
The costs of different approaches vary enormously. Running parent workshops and improving communications between parents and school will vary depending on the location. In rural settings in Africa, parents are likely to bear the financial burden of the parent-school relationship in addition to the school fees they are required to pay for their children. Intensive family support programmes with specially trained staff will also be more costly. At home, especially for the rural dwellers who live on subsistence farming, the opportunity cost of spending time reading to or listening to their children read will be enormous. Given these, overall cost per pupil in SSA is likely to be moderate.
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.
Research on parental engagement and children’s academic success in SSA is still very limited, with majority of the studies conducted in South Africa and others in East and West African countries. The evidence of the impact is mixed and associative rather than indicative of any robust causal relationships.
Most of the evidence is from qualitative assessments of parental engagement and there are very few quantitative studies. The few quantitative studies are observational and focus on Early Childhood Education (ECE). To address the evidence gap, additional quantitative research could be conducted to better assess the impact of parental engagement on children’s education beyond the ECE age.
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.