Risk factors associated with psychological and emotional problems and conduct disorder behaviours include conflict in the family, family breakdown, poverty and low income, abuse, and caregivers who may be struggling with mental illness or drug or alcohol misuse (Geddes 2008). For these reasons working with parents on these issues is a key dimension of parental engagement to reduce the attainment gap. Understanding how social competencies positively influence academic attainment is the aim for many studies that examine either, in broad terms, ‘family functioning’ or ‘cognitive improvement’. However, recently more intervention studies have found that addressing academic and cognitive development alongside social, emotional, and behavioural support is more effective for improving children’s overall outcomes.
There is evidence that the integration of social and emotional programmes into the broader school curriculum can have a positive effect on academic achievement and wellbeing (Emerson et al 2012; Patrikakou 2008). Social and emotional types of learning can improve pupils’ understanding of academic subject matter, reduce anxiety, and increase their motivation to learn (Patrikakou 2008). Focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing of children early in their development, rather than waiting until some pupils begin to exhibit problems, may help to prevent any potential achievement gap (Scott et al 2010). Using parental engagement in education as a tool to enhance pupil wellbeing rather than solely to promote academic achievement, can also reduce the risk of parents placing excessive pressure on students to excel (Emerson et al 2012).
The relationship between poor reading ability and a range of academic, social, emotional and behavioural problems is complicated and it is difficult to disentangle cause and effect. One study associates poor reading with poor outcomes - academic and social and emotional - for children (Scott et al 2010). Low levels of literacy and high levels of behaviour problems, particularly in older children and those transitioning into adolescence, often co-occur (Sylva et al 2008). The link between poor literacy or cognitive abilities and socio-emotional difficulties was also found in the analysis of the Growing Up in Scotland longitudinal study; children with higher mean scores on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire total difficulties scale were more likely to have lower cognitive development scores indicating both lower problem solving and vocabulary ability (Bradshaw et al 2012).
When children and adolescents participate in an intervention or programme aimed to improve their socio-emotional and academic outcomes, those whose families are actively engaged display much less delinquent behaviour later in life than those children whose families were not involved (Grayson 2013; Patrikakou 2008). When parents became engaged in their children’s learning as well as forming positive ways of managing children’s behaviour, children’s achievement improved (Beckett et al 2012 and Kiernan and Mensah 2011, both cited in Grayson 2013).