Parental Engagement: A Tough Nut to Crack

26 November 2016

Schools across the land strive to have good relations with the parents of their students. We all know that the triumvirate of teachers, students and parents all working together in collaboration proves best for students. Still, it is really, really hard. Research evidence has, however, given us some useful indicators on how to best foster parental engagement.

The rewards for increased parental engagement appear clear. On the EEF Toolkit, there is an estimated 3+ months benefit of increased parental engagement, with an emphasis on increased parental aspirations for their child and supporting the means to improve learning; supporting with homework is an obvious example.

First, it is really helpful to define what we mean by parental engagement. If we are not clear on that point, we cannot really judge if we are doing it any better than before. Helpfully, the Nuffield Trust have provided a useful taxonomy:

  • Parents’ own reading and reading to children
  • Parent’s interest in child’s schooling (e.g. help with school work, subject choice)
  • Parental involvement in child’s school life (e.g. PTA, child’s extra-curricular activities)
  • Parental motivational practices (e.g. encouraging children to be persistent in school work)
  • Parents’ encouragement for post-compulsory education participation
  • Family investment or participation in education of children (books, tuition, computer and internet).

Nuffield Foundation, What do rigorous evaluations tell us about the most promising parental involvement interventions? 2013.

With this list, we can get to work on attempting to make specific improvements to our aim of enhancing parental engagement. Still, the barriers to parents meaningfully engaging with school prove a significant challenge. Research evidence commonly cites that time constraints, due to work and family demands, limits the best intentions of many parents. Many parents lack confidence in helping their child, with attending school proving a barrier, given negative experiences they experienced in their time at school.

The barriers can prove complex and the solutions not obvious. It is helpful to have some common principles from which to engage parents. The Behavioural Insights Team has helpfully devised the EAST framework. That is to say, we need to make engaging with school Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

Recent research from the EEF has shown the success of an initiative involving texting parents updating about their child’s learning, encapsulating the EAST framework: the Parental Engagement Project – see HERE. This low effort and low cost approach (£7.55 per students) involved informing ‘parents about dates of upcoming tests, whether homework was submitted on time, and what their children were learning at school’. This use of technology to bridge the gap between schools and parents, enhancing parental engagement, is a promising development and shows that even the most intractable of problems for schools can be overcome.

Clearly, there are more strategies to be tried, but we have a useful steer in the right direction. By using tools like technology to make our messages to parents clear, whilst attending to training teachers to better communicate to parents we can overcome the barriers parents face and see our students reap the rewards of supportive, well-informed parents.

This leaves teachers and school leaders with some important questions:

  • How do we best make our communication with parents easy, attractive, social and timely? What existing tools e.g. school website could we enhance with this in mind?
  • Are we best exercising our use of technology to access parents flexibility and help them overcome natural barriers of time and personal demands?
  • How can we communicate to parents accessible messages so that they can help their children learn more effectively and be happy and safe in school?


Alex Quigley, English teacher and Director of Huntington Research School

Posted on 26 November 2016
Posted in: Evidence