Parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: a literature review

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Research Report

No 433




Professor Charles Desforges


Alberto Abouchaar

The views expressed in this report are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education and Skills.

© Queen’s Printer 2003
ISBN 1 84185 999 0

June 2003


This report was compiled in a very short time thanks to the invaluable help given generously by a number of workers in the field. Outstanding amongst these were Mike Gasper, John Bastiani, Jane Barlow, Sheila Wolfendale and Mary Crowley. I am most grateful for their collegial participation.
Most important of all to a review are those who work in the engine room. The search, identification, collection and collation of material and the production aspects of the report are critical. Special thanks are due here to Anne Dinan in the University of Exeter Library, Finally, this work would not have been possible without the limitless support of Zoë Longridge-Berry whom I cannot thank enough.


Chapter 1



Chapter 2

Researching parental involvement: some conceptual and methodological issues


Chapter 3

The impact of parental involvement on achievement and adjustment


Chapter 4

How does parental involvement work?


Chapter 5

Ethnicity, parental involvement and pupil achievement


Chapter 6

Differences between parents in levels of involvement


Chapter 7

Enhancing parental involvement in practice: focus on parent/school links


Chapter 8

Adult and community education and parent training programmes


Chapter 9





Appendix A

The review process


Appendix B

Effect sizes of parental involvement on school outcomes


Executive Summary

i A review of English language literature was conducted to establish research findings on the relationship between parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment in schools

ii Two distinct bodies of literature were discerned. One focussed on describing and understanding the nature, extent, determinants and impact of spontaneously occurring parental involvement on children’s educational outcomes. The second body of work is concerned with describing and evaluating attempts to intervene to enhance spontaneous levels of involvement.
iii Recent research on spontaneous levels of parental involvement is generally of a very high quality using advanced statistical techniques to describe the scope and scale of involvement and to discern its unique impact on pupil achievement.
iv This research consistently shows that

  • Parental involvement takes many forms including good parenting in the home, including the provision of a secure and stable environment, intellectual stimulation, parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values and high aspirations relating to personal fulfilment and good citizenship; contact with schools to share information; participation in school events; participation in the work of the school; and participation in school governance.

  • The extent and form of parental involvement is strongly influenced by family social class, maternal level of education, material deprivation, maternal psycho-social health and single parent status and, to a lesser degree, by family ethnicity.

  • The extent of parental involvement diminishes as the child gets older and is strongly influenced at all ages by the child characteristically taking a very active mediating role.

  • Parental involvement is strongly positively influenced by the child’s level of attainment: the higher the level of attainment, the more parents get involved.

  • The most important finding from the point of view of this review is that parental involvement in the form of ‘at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation. In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups.

  • Other forms of parental involvement do not appear to contribute to the scale of the impact of ‘at-home’ parenting.

  • Differences between parents in their level of involvement are associated with social class, poverty, health, and also with parental perception of their role and their levels of confidence in fulfilling it. Some parents are put off by feeling put down by schools and teachers.

  • Research affords a clear model of how parental involvement works. This model is described in the report. In essence parenting has its influence indirectly through shaping the child’s self concept as a learner and through setting high aspirations.

v Research on interventions to promote parental involvement reveals a large number of approaches ranging from parent training programmes, through initiatives to enhance home school links and on to programmes of family and community education.

vi Evaluations of this very extensive activity reveal

  • There is a perceived increased need and an evident increase in demand for such support

  • High levels of creativity and commitment are evident amongst providers and high levels of appreciation are recorded by clients.

vii Unfortunately the evaluations of interventions are so technically weak that it is impossible on the basis of publicly available evidence to describe the scale of the impact on pupils’ achievement. This is not to say the activity does not work.

viii The research base from intervention studies is too weak to answer some of the review questions. It is not possible to rate the relative effectiveness of work in different key stages or to import lessons from abroad where the evidence base suffers from the same faults.
ix The review concludes by arguing that

  • We have a good enough knowledge base to understand how spontaneous parental involvement works in promoting achievement.

  • Current interventions, whilst promising, have yet to deliver convincingly the achievement bonus that might be expected.

  • The achievement of working class pupils could be significantly enhanced if we systematically apply all that is known about parental involvement. A programme of parental involvement development initiatives taking the form of multi dimensional intervention programmes, targeted on selected post code areas and steered by a design research process is implicated.

Chapter 1


  1. Background

    1. It is widely recognised that if pupils are to maximise their potential from schooling they will need the full support of their parents. Attempts to enhance parental involvement in education occupy governments, administrators, educators and parents’ organisations across North America, Australasia, continental Europe, Scandinavia and the UK. It is anticipated that parents should play a role not only in the promotion of their own children’s achievements but more broadly in school improvement and the democratisation of school governance. The European Commission, for example, holds that the degree of parental participation is a significant indicator of the quality of schooling.

    1. In England, the Government’s strategy for securing parental involvement was first set out in the 1997 White Paper, ‘Excellence in Schools’. The strategy described there included three elements (a) providing parents with information, (b) giving parents a voice and (c) encouraging parental partnerships with schools. This strategy has since been played out through a wide range of activities including

  • the enhancement of parent governor roles

  • provision of annual reports and prospectuses

  • the requirement for home-school agreements

  • the provision of increasing amounts of information about the curriculum and school performance for example

    1. Regardless of government policies, some parents have always been actively involved in enhancing their children’s development and educational progress. This spontaneous activity has taken a number of forms including ‘good parenting’ in the home pre-school (which provides a good foundation of skills, values, attitudes and self concept); visits to school to gather relevant information and establish good relationships; discussions with teachers to keep abreast of the child’s progress or to discuss emergent problems; and assisting more broadly in the practical activities and governance of the school.

    1. This spontaneous activity of many parents has been seen as a valuable contribution to children’s educational progress and attempts to enhance the involvement of all parents are now widespread. Provision is extensive and involves large numbers of voluntary bodies, research organisations, national initiatives, LEA initiatives and vast numbers of one-school projects.

    1. This work is proceeding in parallel with a significant number of educational strategies installed since 1997 and brought to bear on the reform of school organisation, administration, management and finance, the curriculum, examinations and qualifications and on teaching and learning. The overwhelming strategy is guided by the standards and inclusion agenda. The aim is to increase levels of attainment broadly conceived to include the acquisition of skills, concepts and bodies of knowledge in the curriculum subjects together with the acquisition of skills, attitudes and values conducive to self –fulfilment and good citizenship.

    1. Whilst standards of attainment in academic subjects have increased notably there remains a significant gap in the relative levels of attainment between children in different social classes. The gap is associated with different levels of parental involvement broadly conceived. This literature review was commissioned and funded by the Department for Education and Skills in the light of the above considerations and with particular regard to informing the development of policy intended to close the social class gap in achievement.

    1. The aims of the review are to investigate the impact of:

  • parental support (e.g. the provision of parenting skills training, advice and guidance for parents) on pupil achievement/engagement;

  • family learning (i.e. as a Parent Governor, reading to children, encouragement and help with homework) on pupil achievement/engagement; and

  • parents’ level of education, e.g. the impact of parents with university-level education on children’s achievement.

The main aim of the proposed project is to produce a comprehensive literature review of reliable research evidence on the relationship between parents/parenting and pupil achievement/engagement. The review attempts to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the main findings/conclusions of research that has investigated the relationship between parenting (in terms of parental support, family learning, parental involvement and parents’ level of education) and pupil achievement/engagement.

  • On what issues are the research findings in agreement? On what issues are the research findings inconsistent? Where are the gaps in the current research evidence?

  • What elements of parental support, family learning, parental involvement and parents’ level of education impact positively on pupil achievement/engagement? Does the effectiveness of these elements change according to: (a) pupil age; (b) the gender of pupils; (c) whether parents participate on a voluntary – rather than required – basis; (d) socio-economic group; and (e) the way in which schools interact with parents?

  • What strategies/interventions have been successfully used (nationally and internationally – especially in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA) to enable parental support, family learning, parental involvement and parents’ level of education to have a positive impact on pupil achievement/engagement? To what extent can these strategies/interventions be successfully implemented in present-day England?

  • To what extent can those strategies/interventions, which effectively enable parental support, family learning and parental involvement to have a positive impact on pupil achievement, be deliberately targeted to address the achievement gap – particularly towards hard-to-reach parents?

  • To what extent does the timing of interventions impact positively or negatively? For example, what is the evidence for/against intervention from birth? What evidence is there that later interventions (e.g. at KS1, 2 or 3) have equal/lesser/greater impact?

    1. The structure of the report

      1. Parental involvement refers to a broad range of activities as indicated earlier. Understanding the impact of various forms of spontaneous involvement and of the large range of intervention studies on achievement and adjustment must proceed in recognition of all the many factors which impinge on school outcomes. Research in the field necessitates some definition of what kind of involvement is at issue; some specification of which school outcomes are expected to be generated; some means of measuring or evaluating these desired outcomes and some means of analysis which affords warrantable conclusions about the impact of involvement on outcomes. These conceptual and methodological issues are explored in Chapter 2 where some exemplary projects researching spontaneous involvement are described.

      1. Chapter 3 contains a report of research on spontaneous levels of parental involvement. This research shows that a form of parental involvement, specifically ‘at-home’ good parenting, has a major impact on school outcomes even after all other forces (e.g. the effect of prior attainment or of social class) have been factored out. Some of the major dimensions of this impact are described.

      1. Chapter 3 examines research on how spontaneous parental involvement has its effect on achievement. The effect is shown to be indirect and to operate, in the main, through the promotion of attitudes, values and aspirations which are pro-learning.

      1. Chapter 5 reports findings from research on the effect of ethnic differences on parental involvement. Here it is shown that scale of the effect of parental involvement on school outcomes is apparent across all ethnic groups studied. The precise details of values and the way they are modelled in the home are somewhat different in different cultures but the general link between parental involvement and achievement is common across cultures.

      1. In Chapter 6 research is reported which explores the question as to why different parents evince different levels of parental involvement. The effects of poverty, psycho-social illness, social class, parental attitudes and values, and of the dynamic influence of children are described as are the effects of schools’ approaches to parents. This chapter concludes with a description of a research based model of spontaneous parental involvement which fits the findings of all the research reported this far.

      1. Chapters 7 and 8 contain reviews of research and evaluations of a wide range of interventions intended to enhance parental involvement. These cover interventions taking the form of home/school links, of adult, community and family education and of parent training programmes. Research on interventions is drastically less well designed than research on parents’ spontaneous behaviour. Considerable caution is exercised in identifying lessons to be learned here.

      1. Chapter 9 draws together the conclusions to be drawn from the review and considers their implications for policies intended to close the social class gap in educational achievement.

      1. The processes by which the review was conducted are described in appendix A.

      1. To meet the needs of an anticipated lay readership of the report, statistical content has been kept to a minimum in the main body of the text. Appendix B reports, in table form, the scale of the impact of parental involvement as revealed by the studies described non-technically in chapters 2 and 3.

1.9 It should be emphasised that whilst this report was commissioned and funded by the Department for Education and Skills, the conclusions and implications drawn from the research are the sole responsibility of the author.

Chapter 2

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