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Research School Network: Supporting Parents A post-lockdown overview of the EEF Guidance Report on working with parents to support children’s learning

Supporting Parents

A post-lockdown overview of the EEF Guidance Report on working with parents to support children’s learning

by Durrington Research School
on the

As we begin the return to full-time schooling for all children in England over the next week it is worth revisiting the role that parents have to play in supporting children’s learning. Many parents will be relieved by the end of a long, and unexpected, period of home-schooling, and many will have found this tough. Parents of primary-aged children may have found themselves expected to teach and support their children much of the time and may have not felt qualified to do this. The experience of parents of secondary-aged children will have varied widely: some students will have become adept at independent learning and will have acquired useful life skills, yet others will have found distractions such as social media or gaming impossible to ignore. Some parents may now have a new-found respect for the teaching profession and many will be relieved that it is no longer their job to cajole their offspring into actually doing some work. It is therefore timely to review how we work with parents as their children return to face-to-face learning.

The EEF’s guidance report on working with parents to support children’s learning has four main recommendations:

1. Critically review how you work with parents

The quality of the home learning environment and parental engagement in children’s learning are both associated with better academic outcomes. These factors would also have played a large part in students’ progress during lockdown. Parents and students may have developed better habits: for example a better workspace may have been set aside, and the amount and quality of work done may have been more visible to parents, leading them to have more conversations about their learning. However where this is not the case evidence is weak on how schools can directly influence parents to have a positive effect.

Research suggests that a whole-school approach over the long term may be the best course of action. Such an approach could include:

- Developing a clear plan, being mindful of parents’ time and varying situations
- Being clear about the intended goal, for example are activities intended to support learning directly, or to increase attendance?
- Have a clear expectation about what is expected of different staff members and supporting staff with their particular role
- Regular monitoring and reviewing of activities and stopping those which are not improving outcomes

2. Provide practical strategies to support learning at home

Useful support for parents will be age-group specific.

For younger children shared activities can be key and this may be a good opportunity to build upon some of the routines that they got used to during lockdown, for example reading together, cooking or talking about numbers. As lockdown begins to ease other shared experiences will become possible, such as shopping or planning a holiday, and these may be exciting things to do as we have been denied them for so long.

For older children, parental encouragement and interest in learning is more important. Although information on curriculum content can be of interest, to be truly helpful it needs to be linked to specific actions that parents can take to support their children. Homework is an important factor and something that will probably not have been a priority during lockdown. Evidence suggests that it is more useful for parents to be encouraging students to do homework that to get directly involved – creating a daily homework routine, a bit like a schoolwork routine they may have had during lockdown, will need to prioritised in this changing situation. Homework may now be different from before – there may be more online learning used – and this is a good opportunity to instil new habits in students rather than a return to old ways.

3. Tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning

In our current situation it is vital that we are positive with parents – we want to encourage them to continue to do the good job they have been doing and not feel as if they have failed their children. Highlighting the positives as outlined above and encouraging them to continue with these good practises are vital.

Well-designed communications can be very effective for a range of outcomes, particularly for attendance. Generic emails or letters home are likely to be less effective that text messages or phone calls, and these are also typically low-cost and easier to introduce than more intensive programmes. Supportive texts can provide encouragement and reinforcement to both parents and students. In a recent trial involving 15000 students both progress in maths and attendance was improved after a programme of weekly informative texts about current topics and deadlines. Frequency, timing and audience should be considered and communications should not be overcomplicated. This nudge” approach could help particularly with motivating year 11 students, currently unsure about how their GCSE grades will be awarded or even when they will finish school this year. Small milestones on the way and shared progress with home could help to make the uncertainty more manageable.

4. Offer more sustained and intensive support where needed

Targeting of particular groups is likely to be needed and should be done sensitively. More intensive approaches can have larger learning gains but are hard to implement. Schools need to be particularly mindful of this when deciding how best to allocate government funding for catch-up and Summer education programmes – it is especially important that the right families are identified and that they also attend. Barriers to involvement are commonly the timing of delivery, which may conflict with parents’ working patterns or other childcare, or overly-complex communication. Being flexible and taking care to be welcoming and less intimidating are the key: at the heart of all of these is building relationships of trust”.

Our parents have had a difficult and unusual time recently but may have had more contact with school, directly or indirectly, than ever. This is our opportunity to harness this for the better and use our relationships to promote improved outcomes for all of our students.

You can read the full guidance report here:

Deb Friis

Deb is a maths teacher at Durrington High School. She is also a Maths Research Associate for Durrington Research School and Sussex Maths Hub Secondary Co-Lead and is currently delivering our training on the EEF Guidelines for KS2 and 3 Maths.

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