why this study
It is one of the most common and important questions that parents ask teachers at parents evening: ‘what can I do to best help support my child?’ Obviously, the answer depends on the individual child’s needs, but thanks to this study published in 2015 in the journal of Educational Research Review, we have some scientific guidelines on what works best.
Researcher Mario Castro and colleagues reviewed 37 studies on the impact of parental behaviours and attitudes on their children’s grades. This involved a huge sample of over 80,000 students and their families. As a result, they have suggestions as to what does and doesn’t work.
These findings on what does and doesn’t help have been found for students in both primary and secondary schools. This study found that four of the best things a parent can do to help their child’s grades are:
Have High Academic Expectations
Out of all the things parents can do, having high aspirations and expectations of your child has the biggest impact on their grades. Parental expectations include how important school is, their attitude towards teachers, and the value of education.
This includes developing and maintaining communication with children about their school life. This helps parents nip any potential problems in the bud before they manifest into bigger issues.
Good Reading Habits
This involves reading frequently and regularly with their child. This includes reading to them and encouraging the child to read alongside them as well.
This revolves around having clear rules to deal with how they divide their homework and leisure time. Explaining why these rules are in place can help them eventually make better decisions regarding their independent study time later in their school career.
In terms of which parental behaviours and attitudes did not make a significant impact on their child’s grades, such behaviours included parental attendance of school activities and supervising their child’s homework. This is perhaps counter-intuitive as one would expect both of these things to make a difference. It has been suggested that these two behaviours do not directly lead to either the children learning more or improving their attitude towards learning, and as such, do not improve their grades.
A wealth of research has confirmed the power of high expectations and valuing education. This impact has been found when those expectations come from parents, teachers or the students themselves. Likewise, developing good reading habits and reading for pleasure has been associated with improvements in vocabulary, spelling, maths, and general academic achievements. Given its importance, it is a worry that in 2016 the National Literacy Trust reported that only 40% of teenagers enjoyed reading, and only 24% said that reading was ‘cool’.
This study’s findings of the lack of impact that parental supervision of homework has on grades is interesting, as other research has found mixed results on this. Perhaps this is support has some short term gains early on, but as students get older and the homework they do becomes more complex, the need for them to take individual responsibility and ownership for their own success becomes more important. Further research exploring this is needed.
The authors of the study note that “anyone concerned about education would like to know which malleable variables have the greatest effect on educational performance. But, unfortunately, it seems that the largest effects are associated with variables outside the scope of administrators or policy makers”.
How much influence can schools have on these important factors? We may not be able to determine parental behaviours and attitudes, though we can do our best to influence them. Educating parents, just as we do with their children, is important; parents have a limited sample size of knowing what does and doesn’t work (i.e. their own experiences with their children). Schools and teachers have a wide, varied and deep experience base of helping students achieve educational success. It therefore stands that part of the role and responsibility of a school is to transmit and transfer this knowledge. Parents evenings, evening workshops and newsletters are great ways to communicate this information to them.
This study is from our latest book, "The Science of Learning: 99 studies that every teacher needs to know".
Reference: Castro et al, 2015, Parental involvement on student academic achievement: a meta-analysis