Studies consistently show that parental involvement in children’s education has a significant positive impact on their educational achievement, both in early years and on into adolescence and adulthood.
Most children have two main sets of educators in their lives – their parents and their teachers. Parental education dominates during early years and gradually becomes less influential as the child progresses through school. But parents and teachers alike have a profound influence on children’s academic and social achievements, their happiness and their general ‘roundedness’ as human beings.
What is parental involvement?
Parental involvement can take many forms, broadly categorised into two camps. Firstly, they can help at school, for example being a governor, a member of the PTA, helping in the classroom or during lunch breaks. Secondly, they can be involved to greater or lesser degrees in supporting the child’s education at home. Activities here include reading with the child at home, teaching any number of skills (from sports to crafts and language to cookery) and actively assisting with school course work and homework.
Take one study, The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children’s Education, carried out in 2007 by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The study demonstrated that, among other important findings:
- family learning tends to effect a raft of benefits for parents and children, such as improving children’s reading, writing and numeracy while also instilling greater confidence in the parents in their ability to help their children at home;
- the attitudes and aspirations of parents and of children have hugely important effects on educational achievement. International evidence suggests that parents with high aspirations are also more involved in their children’s education;
- around half of parents surveyed said they felt ‘very involved’ in their child’s school life, but two thirds also said they would like to be more involved;
- the quality and content of fathers’ involvement has a far greater positive effect on children’s educational achievements than sheer quantity.
The Children’s Plan, published by the same department in the same year, highlighted the importance of partnership between parents and schools to support children in their learning.
How can schools encourage parental involvement and how can parents actively seek to be involved?
Anyone can take the initiative. Schools need to be as flexible as possible, particularly with time, given that the majority of parents work and the school day is comparatively short. Parents, on the other hand, need to be mindful of teachers’ workload but also their willingness (usually) to do the best for their young charges.
One idea is for schools to allocate blocks of time where teachers and parents are brought together properly, rather than over hurried discussions during parents’ evening. Having a decent time together, such as half an hour, has been very successful in a number of schools which have tried this approach. Of course, it’s vital that both sides listen as well as talk!
Taking this one step further, schools might consider a ‘feedback board’ similar to those adopted by membership organisations and more paternalistic employers. Parents often offer really progressive ideas, which are taken up and implemented by teachers – but the latter is rarely communicated back. So how about a ‘suggestions made and actions taken’ notice board? It helps to keep everyone involved and informed.
Bringing parents in to lead all or part of one lesson can be incredibly interesting and a change from the ‘norm’ of one teacher repeatedly lecturing many children.
Parents can share their experiences with children in the classroom, either in person or via Skype or FaceTime. Most things ‘adult’ are an education to children. Parents can talk about their career, their route to where they are now, their early difficulties and successes, their love or hatred of a particular subject (and how it’s turned out to be important in their lives) or even talk in their native tongue to language students. Imagination is the only limiter here.
Exploiting new media …
Many families find it hard to be at school during reasonable hours, so consider exploiting the latest media to have discussions and chats from the comfort of everyone’s home. You could use group Skype, live chat (real voice or typed text) and/or have online forums where parents and teachers can share ideas and needs. See also the PTA portal.
Then there’s blogging. This is a useful way to keep parents informed on a week-by-week basis of what’s happening at school (and inviting comment). This is particularly helpful during school trips abroad, when mobile phones are banned but parents are keen to know of what’s going on.
…and old media
In the new age of everything-on-screen, teachers might like to consider old-fashioned ‘snail mail’ to advise of a child’s successes, such as a little postcard or simple hand-written note to acknowledge a good piece of work or behaviour. Pinned to the family notice board or fridge it can have a very positive impact for months!
Learning at home
There are many, many ways in which parents can help their child to learn at home, from birth to… well … parenthood themselves! When a baby is new born both parents tend to find it easy to impart upon the child simple knowledge and experiences, but as time goes on many parents lack the confidence to continue this.
Reading with children is one of the most important activities a parent can share with their child. Picture books and dual-language books can be enormously helpful in early years, while encouraging older children to appreciate books is easy with the help of the library service. Consider, too, borrowing DVDs and talking books: they can be entertaining and educational while also alleviating the boredom of long journeys and traffic jams!
Similarly, try to make maths as much fun as you can. Try to use maths in practical, everyday situations by counting, using probabilities, playing with shapes, games, puzzles and jigsaws.
Sometimes there are important areas of research which teachers can lead and parents can get involved in: examples include safe routes to and from school; the effects of sugary drinks on children’s behaviours; how much TV children watch and the effects on their physical activities. When I was at school we conducted such a survey: we had to log how many minutes/hours a day we watched TV and how many minutes/hours we spent out on our bikes or doing physical activities. The results turned into a very successful school play!
Holiday times don’t need to be a drag or a drain on educational progress: wherever possible, parents can involve their children in fun learning activities while also allowing their children ‘time out’ from the learning environment.
Let’s get out of here…
Try being creative about where and when teachers and parents meet. School is not the only option! Church halls, sports halls, pubs and clubs usually have meeting rooms or quiet areas where all parties can relax and just be ‘human beings’.
September is an ideal month for this … the nights are still light, the weather is usually conducive and aspirations are high for the new academic year.
Do you have any more ideas on parental involvement? We’d welcome your constructive comments, below.