Differential access to material resources, differing attitudes towards schools and education as well as varying levels of educational aspirations within vulnerable families can result in lower educational attainment for vulnerable children. Different social classes, cultures, ethnicities, and family circumstances inform how parents engage with their children’s schooling and the different resources they are able to bring to bear in facilitating their children’s educational trajectories.
School policies and programmes should emphasise parental engagement as an ongoing, continuous state of working (Altschul 2011). Often families who face challenges from low-incomes or marginalisation are time pressed and have multiple sources of worry, so that parents may only assist with learning at home when children struggle academically or socially (Altschul 2011; Blackmore and Hutchinson 2010). Children from poor or challenging backgrounds are less likely to experience a rich home learning environment than children from better-off backgrounds (Goodman and Gregg 2010). Schools need to be aware that material conditions and challenging circumstances affect social relationships and educational processes (Blackmore and Hutchinson 2010).
Perceptions as to the roles and responsibilities of schools and families may depend on the socio-economic position and ethnic background of parents, with differing perspectives as to what the school-family relationship should look like (Blackmore and Hutchinson 2010; Kim 2009). Some parents feel excluded because of the expectations that they be involved both in programmes in which they have no expertise or are geared towards other children (Blackmore and Hutchinson 2010).
Parental aspirations and attitudes to education vary strongly by socio-economic position, with more advantaged parents expecting their children to achieve high educational attainments than the most disadvantaged parents (Brown et al 2009). Expectations and patterns of achievement can also be influenced at the community level, making school-family-community relationships an ideal towards which to work (Brown et al 2009).
Some parents experience barriers to engagement with schools, and these groups of parents are most often those who do not share the social and cultural capital of the school and community (Goodall 2013; Kim 2009). Such barriers, including language, ethnicity, low parental educational attainment, and socioeconomic status, can also work to obscure the parents’ engagement with their children’s learning if it is unfamiliar to the school (Goodall 2013; Kim 2009). Evidence suggests that vulnerable families would benefit from services that build social capital by facilitating access to information about the available options and appropriate support and advice (Grayson 2013). Building parents’ confidence in themselves is integral to children’s learning; a parent’s sense of self-efficacy and belief in their ability to help their children’s learning is central to whether or not they engage in their children’s schooling (Emerson et al 2012).