Even mealtime conversations about a child’s day at school or a specific activity can have a positive impact on their educational attainment, and regular interactive learning within the home can be both in conjunction with and independent from the formal school system. Children from less advantaged households are less likely to experience a wide range of ‘home learning’ activities than children from more advantaged households (Bradshaw et al 2012). Therefore efforts to improve effective communication between all parents and school, creating shared goals and strategies with parents to reinforce children’s out-of-school learning can be ways of addressing the attainment gap.
Parental engagement in their children’s learning in the home has a greater effect on their achievement than parental involvement in school-based activities (Goodall 2013; Altschul 2011). However, maximising children’s learning is best facilitated by parents engaging in learning activities in the home in tandem with similar critical instructions being received at school (Crosnoe 2012). The likelihood of educational attainment increases when the child perceives continuity of values between school and family (Blanch et al 2013).
School initiated engagement can make up some of the disadvantage faced by children of less engaged parents by facilitating the flow of school-related information (about protocols, practices, norms, expectations) to those parents (Crosnoe 2012). As long as some of the basic information relating to the child’s educational process reaches the parents, the home-school relationship can be improved (Crosnoe 2012). To raise achievement, dialogue between parents and their children is extremely important, and this dialogue is best facilitated when the parent is informed about the curriculum, activities, and expectations in the child’s school (Goodall 2013; Goodall and Vorhaus 2011)
Communication between parents and teachers helps teachers to understand their needs, which can be quite varied (Egbert and Salsbury 2009). Two-directional communication helps to solidify both teachers’ and parents’ understanding of context; this is especially important for teachers and school staff as they need to be sensitive to the various status and family characteristics of their pupils and the pupils’ families (Reschly and Christenson 2012). The more regular and frequent the communication between schools and families, the more likely it is that parents will be viewed not as a threat but as a willing and capable partners (Reglin et al 2012; Harris and Goodall 2009).
Parental engagement with their children is particularly important at times of transition (Goodall 2013; Harris and Goodall 2009). Evidence has shown that concerted efforts for parental engagement during periods of transition, especially the transition from primary to secondary school, prevent any gains in achievement prior to a transition from being lost (Harris and Goodall 2009). With effective partnership working between families and schools, the likelihood of truancy, exclusion, or disengagement is lessened (Harris and Goodall 2009).
Despite adolescents’ growing need for autonomy, parental engagement in secondary school pupils’ learning remains a strong predictor of academic achievement (Grayson 2013; Patrikakou 2008). Parents often feel that they are more welcome to engage in their children’s learning during primary school compared to the complexity and size of secondary school (Goodall 2013; DCSF 2008; Harris and Goodall 2008). Encouraging more parental engagement within home in the form of supporting children’s educational aspirations and goals is important as children mature and become more independent (Goodall 2013; Patall et al 2008). Help with homework is something many parents feel they cannot assist with once pupils progress in school and their studies become more specialised (different content and methods of teaching) (Goodall 2013). Lastly, when secondary schools do not maintain the levels of communication and engagement often found in primary schools, parents reported lower levels of trust (Reschly and Christenson 2012).
Parents become involved in schools in different ways – the degree to which families match the culture of the school can go some way to explaining these differences (Goodall 2013; Kim 2009). The expectations from school, in terms of how parents are expected to engage in learning, tend to embody the skills and resources characteristic of white, middle-class families. Parents from this group often share the social and cultural capital of (or are socially and culturally similar to) the teachers with whom they interact (Goodall 2013; Kim 2009). This also means some of the ways that parents engage with their children’s learning, especially when it may refer to different social and cultural norms, may go unnoticed by the school despite the fact that the engagement is still of value to the child’s attainment (Goodall 2013).
Parental engagement with homework can be both positively and negatively associated with achievement (Altschul 2011; Van Voorhis 2011; Xu et al 2009). The reasons why a parent participates can affect the association, for instance, if it is only to hasten the completion of the task or if it is used as an opportunity to interact and talk with the child (Van Voorhis 2011). One review found that parental support for children’s autonomy in homework was associated with higher scores, however, their direct involvement with assignments that are not meant to be interactive or collaborative – particularly when the child is struggling – is associated with lower scores (DCSF 2008).