Parents and Education

10/07/2014  -  11.05

Dr Judy Whitmarsh - Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Childhood Research.

A recent article in The Learner ( ) and The New York Times claims that parental involvement in education rarely benefits children’s test and grade scores and in some cases has a negative effect.  As in the UK, parental engagement is a plank of US educational policy.  The researchers argue that regardless of ethnicity, race, or socio-economic status, most forms of parental involvement in homework and education yielded no benefit to pupil grades and test scores. The authors further argue that the only types of engagement which confer an advantage are discussing school activities, requesting a particular teacher and the expectation that the child will go to college; in other words, valuing education.

This led me to think about my school days in the late 1950s and early 1960s attending a large state primary school and then a grammar school; my parents had very little engagement with the school or with my teachers however I was in no doubt that they valued education. Moreover, any misdemeanours at school would be further punished at home if my parents discovered them.

So, how do we get parents to value education and furthermore to pass this on to their children? Perhaps we could begin with a media campaign to value the work that teachers do? That, however, would require the government to stop ‘doing down’ teachers and begin to sing the praises of schools and the teaching staff. I wonder how many of the children of cabinet ministers attend their local state school; perhaps we should insist that those most closely involved in education policy-making should have some first-hand experience of state education. Oh, hang on a minute, if the government were to value schools, what then would be the role of Ofsted? That might involve a fairly radical re-think from ‘naming and shaming’ to supporting and praising.

This brings me to a further argument: is there a point to homework if, as the researchers claim, it has no foreseeable effect on grades and test scores? Would an extra thirty minutes on the school day offer a greater benefit to pupils than homework? This would relieve teachers of the burden of setting and marking homework and mean that when children arrive home, they would be free to relax in whatever way they choose.

I am wary of taking a large-scale piece of American research and transposing the findings to the UK, however the article raises some interesting points which could challenge our existing views.

Dr Judy Whitmarsh is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Childhood Research.

Judy bids for research opportunities, conducts projects and engages in relevant dissemination and publication. Additionally, she writes and publishes articles and books about a range of topics and also encourage and support colleagues, especially in the childhood research cluster, with their academic writing.