Chosing A School
A recent survey commissioned by the NASUWT teachers’ union (2015) has found that less than a third of parents check school league tables when deciding where to send their children to school. Instead, many are choosing to research different schools online, read inspection reports or contact parents of current students. The results suggest that the majority of parents have differing views on the key education issues determining which schools are of higher value, and take into account other factors such as the school’s location and accessibility that school league tables do not. Some have welcomed the news, arguing that using a variety of sources to assess a school is beneficial.
Others, such as Chris Paterson at Centre Forum (2013) have argued for a change in how secondary schools are judged, and a greater emphasis be put on the progress that pupils are able to make. From 2016, government reforms in England will take this into account, encouraging schools to pay greater attention to pupil progress in the hope of inspiring more confidence in league tables. They are viewed as a method of holding schools to account, with some research going so far as linking the abolition of performance tables in Wales in 2001 to a disparity between attainment levels of Welsh and English children (Centre for Market and Public Organisation, 2010). Yet more studies are beginning to show that the choice of school matters far less than the extent of participation that parents have in their child’s education.
Education Begins At Home
More research is beginning to emerge which argues that the best indicator of a child’s educational achievement is the level of involvement that parents have. A report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examined whether the attitudes and behaviour of parents had any influence on the educational attainment and participation of young people. Key indicators used were parents reading to their children, interaction with toddlers at the preschool level, involvement in homework and academic choices, and the aspirations that parent’s had for their child (Gorard, See & Davies, 2012). The review concluded that a causal association exists between parental involvement and pupil attainment levels. This conclusion was based on the findings of a variety of studies that noted a relationship between attainment levels and factors such as the amount of time parent’s spent reading with children at home (Brooks et al, 1997; Siraj-Blatchford, 2010), quality of mother-child interaction in problem solving (Morrison et al, 2003), the availability of resources for learning in the home (Cooper et al, 2010). There is a clear correlation evident between parental involvement and the student’s academic performance over and above the impact of cognitive ability. Additionally, the Rowntree paper found no studies reporting the absence of such a relationship.
The role of parents in managing and participating in children’s educational experiences at home and school appears to be critical in determining how successful the child is academically. By increasing the learning opportunities during childhood and encouraging a positive view of education, families can make a huge difference to their child’s progress.
A Shared responsibility
In mainstream debates over education, the focus tends to be put on schools and what they are or are not doing correctly; whether teachers are meeting the highest possible standards in the classroom, if any policies need to be altered, or whether assessment methods are fit for purpose. Yet the above research strongly hints at a shared responsibility of both educators and parents over the educational success of young people. Involving parents as much as possible in the educational process is therefore vital.
With this in mind, the government carried out a review of the best practice in parental educational engagement, outlining the benefits of involving parents in their child’s learning, and offering suggestions for creating and maintaining home-school links, detailing the different support and training available for parents, and discussing the merits of various family and community based interventions (Department for Education, 2010). The research argues that attempts by schools to engage families are far more likely to be successful if they take a whole school approach; an integrated strategy that incorporates support activities designed to improve the child’s learning. Such a strategy would need to take into consideration additional staff training, differing values and clear communication with parents, and the option of parent classes in literacy or numeracy where necessary.
Parental engagement requires active collaboration with families, and recognise the contributions that parents can make whilst being sensitive to individual circumstances such as time and cost barriers or lack of confidence. Schools are increasingly recognising the importance of parental involvement in learning, and working effectively with families will be of benefit to all parties. The more parents are engaged in the education process, the more likely their children will be to succeed and the more likely the school will be to sustain improvement. Educational accountability falls on both families and educators. The Department for Education noted that more parents now agree that they have a responsibility for their child’s education, and this presents an opportunity for a new relationship between schools and parents to be formed.
- Brooks, G., Gorman, T., Harman, J., Hutchison, G., Kinder, K., Moor, H. and Wilkin, A. (1997) Family Literacy Lasts: the NFER follow-up study of the Basic Skills Agency’s family literacy demonstration programmes. London: Basic Skills Agency
- Centre for Market and Public Organisation (2010) A natural experiment in school accountability: the impact of school performance information on pupil progress and sorting. Available at: www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/wp246.pdf [Accessed January 14th 2015].
- Cooper, C., Crosnoe, R., Suizzo, M. A. and Pituch, K. (2010) ‘Poverty, race, and parental involvement during the transition to Elementary School’, Journal of Family Issues, 31(7)pp.859-883.
- Department for Education (2010) Review of best practice in parental engagement. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/182508/DFE-RR156.pdf [Accessed January 14th 2015].
- Gorard, S., See, B.H., Davies, P. (2012) The impact of attitudes and aspirations on educational attainment and participation. Available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/education-young-people-parents-full.pdf [Accessed January 14th 2015].
- Morrison, E., Rimm-Kauffman, S. and Pianta, R. (2003) ‘A longitudinal study of mother-child interactions at school entry and social and academic outcomes in middle school’, Journal of School Psychology, 41(3)pp.185-200.
- NASUWT (2015) Lessons for the Coalition Government in Parents’ Poll. Available at: http://www.nasuwt.org.uk/Whatsnew/NASUWTNews/PressReleases/ComResParentsPoll [Accessed January 14th 2015].
- Paterson, C. (2013) Measuring what matters: secondary school accountability indicators that benefit all. Available at: http://www.centreforum.org/index.php/mainpublications/512-measuring-what-matters [Accessed January 14th 2015].
- Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) ‘Learning in the home and at school: how working class children “succeed against the odds”’, British Educational Research Journal, 36(3)pp.463-482.
Photo: Kelly Sikkema