Parents Giving Children a Helping Hand

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 16 November 2018
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered:

The closer involvement of parents in their children’s education is now accepted as an important success factor in pupil achievement. As a result we are seeing television advertisements composed by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland promoting greater input from parents. The Department of Education has spent £160 thousand on the “Helping Hand” parental advice campaign. Launching the new campaign, department permanent secretary Derek Baker said that education opened up a world of opportunities for children, stating parental engagement with children is a strong indicator of educational success. Children need their parents to actively support them to fulfil their potential and to deliver the best possible outcomes.

"Parental involvement and encouragement plays an essential part, from the very early years through to the vital exam stages. Read to them from an early age; show an interest in their day at school; talk to them about their homework; and help them make the decisions now that will shape them into the adults they will become in the future”.

The Department of Education has published information for parents in tandem with the television commercials. The campaign highlights the essential role that parents and carers can play in helping their children do well at school and improve their life chances. The department has also provided information for parents/carers on how to give their child a helping hand, including ideas for games and activities to do with their children which are available on the NI direct website:

There is of course another dimension to this more direct input at classroom level by parents. Geoff Barton General Secretary of ASCL writing in The Guardian points to the fact that;

“..the dynamics between schools and parents have changed dramatically. The voice of parents is louder, their expectations higher – and it’s much easier for them to instantly broadcast a complaint on Facebook for example. He highlights Research by academics at Bath Spa University which suggests that in some cases the often delicate relationship between parents and teachers has shifted. Abusive behaviour by parents is experienced by a third of primary teachers, either online or on the school premises, at least once a month and a fifth of secondary school teachers are exposed to such behaviour once a month.

He balances these concerns, however, by pointing out that closer parental scrutiny of schools and higher expectations do not always lead to disputes and negative outcomes. Previous generations of parents often saw their role as secondary, with their child’s success depending on whether they had worked hard or not. Schools didn’t hear as much from parents and weren’t expected to respond instantly to parents turning up in reception asking to see a teacher. Schools are adapting, says Barton, and parents are getting a huge amount more from schools than they did even ten years ago with much more accountability and openness of information. ASCL therefore recommends much more support for new head teachers to help them learn how to deal appropriately with this type of issue.

Tania Tirraoro, founder of Special Needs Jungle, a website that gives advice to parents who have children with special educational needs, also agrees that parents are more empowered than ever before and sees that as a positive development. “When we were kids the school was always right, but nowadays, especially with the information you can find on the internet, people are more willing to stand up for their children to make sure they get what they need.”

Vic Goddard, headteacher of Passmores academy in Harlow, which was profiled in the Channel 4 series Educating Essex, argues that parents are entitled to criticise schools but need guidance about how to approach schools appropriately. Advice was provided by his school in an induction session for parents whereby they received information about how this is best approached.

Russell Hobby, head of the National Association of Headteachers, feels that most disputes can be quickly solved if schools have a clear policy. He recommends that when faced with angry parents good practice is to allow time for them to cool off.

He makes a sensible point that in today’s world it is not just teaching staff who are being challenged by the public, stating we live in a society that is less deferent of professional expertise. People challenge [experts] more and that’s good in many ways:

So is this more direct input from parents effective in raising pupil achievement? Looking at research on the effect of parental help and pupil achievement a number of points are of particular interest.

In the Educational Review Journal Volume 66, 2014, S Wilder considers a study on the effects of parental involvement on academic achievement. Interestingly the results show that the relationship between parental involvement and academic achievement was strongest if parental involvement was defined as parental expectations for high achievement of their children. However, the impact of parental involvement on student academic achievement was weakest if parental involvement was defined as homework assistance.

This research would confirm my own experience of working in a large post primary school. The culture among parents there was strongly orientated towards high academic achievement and this manifested itself clearly in their keen interaction in parent teacher meetings, open nights and indeed when problems arose. Equally important was the prevailing peer group culture in individual classes. Where this was positively orientated towards achievement, students performed well and achieved a lot but where disruption or negativity surfaced among some pupils, overall achievement dipped. A lot of my efforts as a teacher and head teacher would have been focussed on maintaining disciplined, positive learning atmospheres in classrooms. There was a strong link between resolving these problems and positive support from parents.

Accordingly, there are several takeaway points to consider. Encouraging parents to have high expectations of their children in relation to school and equally having them support teachers in maintaining a positive classroom learning environment will improve achievement levels. Monitoring and helping children with homework and projects is obviously valuable, particularly in their early years but taking a day-to-day interest and planning a career route for the future together is undoubtedly the top priority. Schools and society will need to strike a proper balance in attempts to achieve a closer home – school interaction in order to ensure that parents, children and teachers all have positive, beneficial experiences. 

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This article is correct at 16/11/2018

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

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