Parent-teacher meetings and pupil outcomes

Engaging parents in their children’s education, both at home and at school, can be an effective and low-cost way of improving learning outcomes for pupils. A study published in European Economic Review examines whether academic achievement can be improved by increasing parental involvement through scheduled parent-teacher meetings.

Asad Islam conducted the randomised controlled trial in schools in two southern districts of Bangladesh. Seventy-six primary schools were chosen randomly from more than 200 in these regions, with 40 schools randomly allocated to the intervention group and 36 to the control group. Pupils in these schools all came from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and a quarter of parents did not complete primary school.

The intervention involved monthly face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers over a period of two academic years. At each 15-minute meeting, teachers discussed with parents their child’s academic progress and provided them with a report card for their child. Pupil achievement outcomes were measured using standardised test scores.

Overall, test scores of pupils in the intervention schools increased by 0.26 standard deviations (SD) in the first year, and 0.38 SD by the end of the second year of the intervention. The study also found that pupils in the intervention schools had made improvements in their reading and writing abilities and general knowledge. Parents who attended the parent-teacher meetings reported that they felt encouraged to spend more time at home helping children study or do homework. Both parents and teachers also reported improved attitudes in the behaviour and confidence of their children.

Source: Parent–teacher meetings and student outcomes: Evidence from a developing country (January 2019), European Economic Review, Volume 111

Does a parent’s anxiety about maths negatively affect their child’s maths achievement?

A maths app may help eliminate the negative association between parents’ maths anxiety and children’s maths achievement in early elementary (primary) school, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The researchers tracked the maths achievement of 587 pupils from 40 classrooms in the Chicago area from first to third grade (Year 2 to 4). In the first grade, pupils and their families were randomly assigned tablets loaded with either a maths app or a similar reading app.

Parents were also given a questionnaire to complete in order to assess a variety of attitudes and behaviours related to maths and reading. Maths anxiety was measured using the Mathematical Anxiety Rating Scale. At the end of the first grade, parents were given a second survey to complete. Children’s maths achievement was measured using the applied problems subset of a nationally-standardised test.

By the end of third grade (Year 4), children of maths-anxious parents who were in the reading app control group had learned less maths than children of parents with no maths anxiety; learning the equivalent of approximately five fewer months of maths. However, this was not the case for children in the maths app intervention group, and children with maths-anxious parents showed the same maths progress as pupils with parents who had no maths anxiety.

These results suggest that parents’ maths anxiety is negatively associated with children’s maths achievement in early elementary school, and that the decreased negative association observed in the intervention group is due in part to a change in parents’ attitudes. The researchers conclude that when families used the app together, parents’ attitudes toward maths changed and they were able to disassociate their own maths anxiety from their children’s ability in maths.

Source: Disassociating the relation between parents’ math anxiety and children’s math achievement: Long-term effects of a math app intervention (December 2018), Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 147(12)

Parental engagement programme has mixed impacts in early education

An evaluation of the Education Endowment Foundation’s trial of Families and Schools Together (FAST), delivered by Save the Children, did not appear to make a difference to children’s achievement, but was found to be an effective mechanism for engaging parents in their children’s early education. FAST was also shown to have a positive impact on children’s social and behavioural outcomes across the whole year group and not just for the children who participated in the programme.

FAST is a parental engagement programme that aims to support parenting and enhance links between families, schools and the community. Parents and their children attend eight weekly two-and-a-half-hour group sessions delivered after school by accredited FAST trainers.

The school-level randomised trial measured the impact of FAST for the whole year group on Key Stage 1 (KS1) reading and arithmetic achievement, and children’s behavioural and pro-social outcomes (measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire). One hundred and fifty eight schools took part in the trial, with a total of 7,027 pupils across the Year 1 cohort in these schools, and 632 pupils taking part in the eight-week programme.

The evaluation found no evidence that FAST had an effect on KS1 reading and arithmetic outcomes for the whole year group (effect size = +0.01). There was also no evidence that FAST had an impact on KS1 outcomes for the children whose families took part in the eight-week programme. However, FAST showed some promise on non-academic outcomes, with positive outcomes for the whole year group. Immediately after the eight-week programme, Year 1 pupils in the intervention schools had a higher average pro-social score and a lower average total difficulties score than pupils in comparison schools. However, these effects diminished by the end of Year 2.

Source: Families and Schools Together (FAST) evaluation report and executive summary (November 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Examining the effects of parental involvement

A paper by Lisa Boonk and colleagues, published in Educational Research Review, reviews the research literature on the relationship between parental involvement and students’ academic achievement.

To be eligible for the paper, studies had to (a) investigate parental involvement and its relation with academic achievement of learners aged 0 to 18; (b) provide clear descriptions of the parental involvement construct and measurements and type of academic outcome; and (c) be published in the period 2003 to 2017 in a peer-reviewed journal. A total of 75 studies were included.

After reviewing the literature, the authors found that parental involvement variables that show promise according to their correlations with academic achievement are:

  • reading at home
  • parents who hold high expectations/aspirations for their children’s academic achievement and schooling
  • communication between parents and children regarding school
  • parental encouragement and support for learning.

Source: A review of the relationship between parental involvement indicators and academic achievement (June 2018) Educational Research Review.

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Family literacy sessions could boost learning

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a new evaluation report of “Family Skills”, a programme that aims to improve the literacy and language of children learning English as an additional language.

A total of 115 primary schools in England took part in a randomised controlled trial of Family Skills. Over the course of one term, parents of four- and five-year-olds were offered weekly sessions with family learning tutors. The 2.5 hour sessions focused on topics like reading to children, phonics, making the most of bilingualism, learning through play and understanding primary education in England. Families were encouraged to do learning activities at home with their children, and were also given opportunities to visit a local library and take a tour of their child’s school.

The evaluation, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, found that, overall, children of parents who were offered the Family Skills intervention did not make any more progress in literacy than children of parents who were not offered it (effect size = +0.01). However, the evaluation also suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not. While the evaluators are cautious about this, it may indicate some potential if ways can be found to ensure more parents attend. The key challenge the evaluation highlighted is that some schools struggled to get parents to show up – only around one-third of eligible parents attended at least one session.

Source: Family Skills: evaluation report and executive summary (May 2018), Education Endowment Foundation