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Professor John Hattie's 15-year analysis of 50,000 studies while at the University of Auckland (published in 2008 as Visible Learning) concluded that encouragement and high expectations on the part of parents were the critical elements when it came to parental support. Hattie found the ‘parent engagement effect’ amounted to the equivalent of adding an extra two to three years' education over a student’s school career.
Parent engagement includes setting goals; encouraging good study habits; valuing enquiry and experimentation; and modelling enthusiasm for learning and reading.
How parents can affect examination results
Professor Charles Desforges, in his influential literature review The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment published by the UK's Department for Education and Skills in 2003), concluded that parental engagement has a greater influence in shaping the achievement of young people than schools. The more parents and children talk together about meaningful subjects, he found, the better the academic results.
Desforges’ review contributed to the development of the ‘Every Child Matters’ policy in Britain.
Parent support can make teachers more effective
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests the reading comprehension and ability to use scientific and mathematical knowledge to solve 'real world' problems of students from leading industrialised nations. PISA is conducted by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
In a number of surveys beginning in 2006, the PISA team interviewed the parents of 5,000 students from 18 countries about how they raised their children. When they compared parents' responses with students' test results, they made three profound discoveries:
- 15-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school showed markedly higher scores in the 2009 test series than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. On average, the score difference was 25 points, the equivalent of over half an academic year of learning.
- The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background.
- Parents’ engagement with their children is strongly associated with better performance in PISA
What type of engagement is the most effective?
The PISA team also discovered that the type of parental engagement makes a difference: simply asking your child how their school day was and showing genuine interest in their learning can have the same impact as hours of private tuition. The team determined this was something every parent could do no matter what their education level or social background.
The PISA study also noted that, on average, the score point difference in reading that's associated with parental involvement is greatest when parents read books with their children, tell them stories and talk about what they've done during the day. The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of parents simply playing with their children.
With students aged fifteen, engagement centred around parents talking with their children about current events in the news or discussing books, movies and other media.
Which forms of involvement relate to higher student performance?
Patte Barth, Director of the USA's National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, reported surprising results relating to the effects of parental involvement on student achievement in Back to School (The American School Board Journal, November 2011). Barthe concluded that only a few forms of parent involvement relate to higher student performance and, of those that make a difference, actions that support a child’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact.
Monitoring children's homework, making sure they get to school on time, rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for further education.
Surprisingly, parents can have more of an effect on academic achievement by focusing on their child’s learning at home than they can by attending PTA and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms or participating in fund-raising.