Parental engagement

Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence.

Evidence Strength-3

What is it?

We define parental engagement as the involvement of parents in supporting their children’s academic learning. It includes: 

  • approaches and programmes which aim to develop parental skills such as literacy or IT skills; 
  • general approaches which encourage parents to support their children with, for example reading or homework; 
  • the involvement of parents in their children’s learning activities; and 
  • more intensive programmes for families in crisis.

How effective is it?

Although parental engagement is consistently associated with learners’ success at school, the evidence about how to improve attainment by increasing parental engagement is mixed and much less conclusive, particularly for disadvantaged families. 

Two recent meta-analyses from the USA suggested that increasing parental engagement in primary and secondary schools had on average two to three months’ positive impact. There is some evidence that supporting parents with their first child will have benefits for siblings. However, there are also examples where combining parental engagement strategies with other interventions, such as extended early years provision, has not been associated with any additional educational benefit. This suggests that developing effective parental engagement to improve their children’s attainment is challenging and needs careful monitoring and evaluation. 

Parents’ aspirations also appear to be important for learner outcomes, although there is limited evidence to show that intervening to change parents’ aspirations will raise their children’s aspirations and achievement over the longer term. 

The EEF has tested a number of interventions designed to improve learners’ outcomes by engaging parents in different types of skills development. The consistent message from these has been that it is difficult to engage parents in programmes. By contrast, a trial which aimed to prompt greater parental engagement through text message alerts delivered a small positive impact, and at very low cost.

How secure is the evidence?

Developing effective parental engagement to improve their children’s attainment is challenging

The association between parental engagement and a child’s academic success is well established and there is a long history of research into parental engagement programmes. However, there is surprisingly little robust evidence about the impact of approaches designed to improve learning through increased parental engagement.

The evidence is predominantly from primary level and the early years, though there are studies which have looked at secondary schools. Impact studies tend to focus on reading and mathematics attainment.

What are the costs?

The costs of different approaches vary enormously. Running parent workshops (about £80 per session) and improving communications between parents and school (Texting Parents costs about £6 per year per learner) are relatively cheap, while intensive family support programmes with specially trained staff are more costly. A specialist community teacher or home/school liaison teacher who can work with a number of families at once costs about £35,000. Overall, costs per learner are estimated as moderate.

In 2016 the Scottish Government published a Review of Family Learning. The Review is designed to support practitioners to review their current policies and approaches to achieving family learning outcomes.

What should I consider?

Engagement is often easier to achieve with parents of very young children. How will you maintain parental engagement as children get older?

Have you provided a flexible approach to allow parental engagement to fit around parents’ schedules? Parents of older children may appreciate short sessions at flexible times.

How will you make your school welcoming for parents, especially those whose own experience of school may not have been positive?

What practical support, advice and guidance can you give to parents who are not confident in their ability to support their children’s learning, such as simple strategies to help early readers?

Challenge questions to support collaborative self-evaluation

  • To what extent are we certain of what meaningful engagement with families looks like?
  • What evidence do we have that family learning is improving the life chances in an equitable way of the families in our community?
  • How are we promoting equality, equity, fairness and diversity?
  • How effectively do we match the right intervention/programme to the right families?

Related Resources

  • Technical Appendix
  • Some sections, for example 'Additional Cost Information', may contain information from countries other than Scotland.

Further Reading