Parental engagement to drive pupil progress

Written by: Donna Chambers | Published:
Photo: iStock
How should a parent who abandons her children be held accountable?

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After conducting research into the impact of effective partnerships with parents on attainment and progress, Donna Chambers led the creation of an initiative to engage the hardest to reach parents

As the headteacher appointed to a large, newly amalgamated primary school, the vision was to develop a partnership between the home and the school that produced beneficial and measurable outcomes.

To make this vision a reality, perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome was that of accepting and dealing with the power differentials that exist between teachers and parents. This became the focus of a research project.

A "School Change Team" was developed to further explore what parents needed. This team consisted of the headteacher, class teacher, a school administrator, six parents and two members of the pupil parliament. The rationale for involving the team in the project was to ensure that the thoughts of a cross-section of the school community were considered.

All teachers were asked to categorise the parents of children in their class against the "Parent Partnership Descriptions" (PPD): Parent Group A (PGA) being the most supportive and involved, down to PGD who have little or no involvement with the school or indeed the education of their children.

These categories were added to the school database. The concluding element of the research highlighted that communicating effectively with parents, based upon mutual trust and respect, together with improved understanding of roles and responsibilities, would lead to better outcomes for children.

The research and findings

Children's progress was measured against the PPD groupings and figure 1 shows the findings (download a PDF of all three graphs referenced in this article via
Figure 1 examines pupil performance and illustrates progress in the individual subjects. The four columns represent each of the parent groups set against the academic subjects.

The parent group effect is most noticeable within the reading group. The expected score is three progress points. The study suggested an actual score of 4.3 for PGA. The evidence from the graph shown indicates a significant descending relationship between the progress of children from PGA as compared with those of PGD.

Considerable research was undertaken to further examine the impact of parental involvement in their child's education. Part of the Achievement for All project looks at "Bridging the Gap" for vulnerable groups. This approach encouraged investigation into children who were classified as "vulnerable" due to being categorised as having an SEN. Figure 2 depicts the relationship between children on the SEN register and parental group.

The percentage of children on the SEN register shows an inverted ascending relationship in comparison to Figure 1 displaying pupil progress. There is a noticeable difference in the percentage of children on the SEN register from PGD. Of some concern is the evidence that suggests that for many of our children, who were judged to be vulnerable, their parents had little or no contact with the school.

The evidence contained in the study provided a revealing insight into the impact that parental involvement with the school can actually achieve. It provides a strategic avenue which schools might employ as a means to improving attainment outcomes for their children. It challenges the argument that learning is all about teaching strategies.

The findings from the research into parent-school contact, do not, in many respects, reveal anything new. What the study contributes to the debate is a means of actually measuring the impact that parental partnership can bring, through the four defined groups of parenting.

The evidence shows the extent that parental involvement with the school can have on children's ability and enthusiasm to learn and in this respect provides both direction and purpose for schools in building positive home-school relationships.

Concluding the research

The research set out to determine the impact of effective parental engagement with school. The conclusions drawn suggest that parental involvement has a significant impact on progress and attainment.

One of the aims for undertaking the project was to provide a richer educational experience for all children. Limitations to the research have included the progress and attainment of children being limited to one school. Further analysis of new groups of children has been undertaken since the initial research and the findings have been reinforced.

Without doubt, more has to be done to educate parents, students and indeed primary practitioners of the benefits and the strategies needed for working in partnership. While this research could be classed as small-scale, the messages are clear.

Consider the impact if we could create "parent mobility", so that parents from groups B, C and D could be inspired, motivated and educated to move up to higher groups; thus increasing the numbers of parents in PGA and PGB.

This concept of mobility, if sustainable, could bridge the gap for our vulnerable children. The findings of the research had a number of implications for us in order to improve progress, attainment, experiences and life chances for all children, and we were in a privileged position to try and ensure that this would happen.

Current situation

As time has evolved we have been able to examine further outcomes. One such piece of work is shown in Figure 3.

The data shown in Figure 3 records the progress made by the same cohort of children from year 2 through to their final year at school year 6. The year group is shown across the bottom. The three columns in each year group represent the progress made by children of parents who were initially identified in PGC.

The blue column represents the small group of parents who remain as a PGC throughout their time in school. The red column represents the parents who have shifted to PGB. The green column the parents who progressed to PGA. Figure 3 depicts the progress in reading only.

The linear lines include projection for the future as the children enter key stage 3. The graph suggests that those who progress to group A will achieve substantially higher grades in the future.

The next steps to achieving change

It was concluded from the research that "Parent Group D" should be classed as a vulnerable group and that was the first step towards achieving change.

After identifying these families it was crucial to find a way to successfully engage them with the educational progress and personal development of their child. An action plan was created, parental engagement became a key issue on the School Improvement Plan, and a senior leader was appointed to manage and lead staff on this new initiative. The key objective was to target the families in groups C and D.

Several quick fix initiatives were introduced:

  • The formation of a parent group called "The Hub".
  • Welcome meetings – friendly and informal.
  • Information meetings – about assessment, the curriculum, progress.
  • Workshops in English, maths and the teaching of phonics.
  • Parents "stay and learn" sessions – A taste of education today.
  • Structured conversation for every parent.
  • Grandparent afternoons.
  • "Date with Dads" club.
  • Parent friendly information.
  • Introducing a dog (a real one) into the weekly reading session.
  • The creation of Parent Parliament – held in the local pub at 7pm.

The impact has been very positive:

  • Parents and families better informed.
  • They feel better equipped to support their child's learning.
  • Feedback from parents suggest that they have a voice and they feel valued.
  • Improved communication between the home and the school.
  • Many more families involved with the life of the school.
  • Children want to practise reading to mum before they read to the dog!
  • A positive shift in parents moving up through the bands.
  • School has a better knowledge of the children.
  • More dads and granddads working with their children.

Over the last two years we have seen a shift in the percentage of parents in each group, with an upward trend. We also believe that we have an improved relationship with the Group D parents, all of which will now attend meetings.

We have been left with a very small number of families in this category; children who are all in a different vulnerable group in addition to PGD.

This led to a further piece of work focused on these families where attainment and progress were only a small part of the picture of a successful future for them.

It is a difficult conversation with a parent, when you tell them clearly what impact their lack of engagement is having on the life chances of their child. This is achieved through a meeting using the Early Help Assessment Form (EHAF). The benefit of using this form is the action plan at the end where we are able to list what we as a school are going to do to improve outcomes (beyond educational attainment) and then we ask parents what they are going to contribute to the process.

By effective use of accountability and expectation, treating one aspect of concern, we can not only improve life chances for the children, but in turn improve the life of the parents and families.
Parental partnership has been given a high profile in school, alongside high expectation of all and accountability at every level. The message is clear and it is shared with staff, parents and children. Parental engagement does and will make a difference. 

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