Family learning courses struggle to recruit parents

Offering parents family learning sessions to support their Reception child’s learning at home might improve literacy, but getting parents to turn up regularly is hard, according to a new study.

  • Study finds family learning classes for parents can help parents to support their child’s learning, but getting families to attend is difficult
  • Only 30 per cent of families offered sessions attended
  • Families who did attend sessions reported gains in skills and confidence

Parents of Reception class children who attended the Family Skills sessions, a family learning programme, made better progress in literacy than children whose parents did not.

However, the research also found that take-up among parents was lower than expected and that some parents dropped out, highlighting the problem of recruitment and parental attendance.

The independent evaluation by the National Centre for Social Research found that overall, children of parents who were offered the Family Skills intervention did not make any more progress in literacy than children of parents who were not offered it.

However, the evaluation also suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not.

Analysis suggested that EAL children whose parents did attend at least one session made around one month's extra progress in literacy compared to EAL children in control schools at the end of Reception.

While the researchers are cautious about the extent of the impact (noting it might have been between 0 and +2 months’ extra progress for children whose parents attended the sessions), the EEF said that this may indicate some potential if ways can be found to ensure more parents attend.

Measuring children's literacy shortly after the end of the intervention may have been too soon to observe an impact on children's literacy, the report said.

Families who attended believed there had been a change in their knowledge and understanding and an improvement in their skills and confidence as a result of taking part.

The programme funded by the Education Endowment Foundation aimed to improve the literacy and language of children learning English as an additional language.

It focused on supporting parents and carers of four-and five-year-olds and involved them attending 11 weekly sessions of two-and-a-half hours at their child’s school, during a normal school day.

Parents attended on their own for most of the session but were joined by their children for 30-45 minutes dedicated to them learning together.

Family learning tutors covered topics, such as reading to children, making the most of bilingualism, learning through play, and understanding primary education in England. Some tutors also offered extra sessions, which involved phonics and visiting a local library.

Parents were expected to take part in follow-up activities at home with their children and discuss their experiences of these activities during the sessions.

One hundred and fifty schools took part in the trial of the programme between September 2016 and July 2017.

Only around 30 per cent of families given the chance to attend Family Skills sessions attended, around eight per school.

The level of take-up was lower than expected and may have been due to the limited time available to recruit parents for the trial.

The report noted that the intervention was 'relatively cheap to deliver' at around £143 per pupil, assuming full take-up by eligible parents.

The EEF said that the findings add to a growing body of research that highlights the difficulties of recruiting and keeping parents’ attendance for face-to-face programmes. During previous projects, EEF studies have identified reasons including parents not being able to find the time between their busy work schedules and childcare commitments, or reluctance to attend because their own experiences of school were not positive.

Previous EEF evaluations of Parenting Academy and SPOKES - two programmes designed to equip parents with the skills to support their child’s learning through intensive sessions – reported similar barriers and found that both struggled to persuade parents to attend regularly. However, the trial of Parenting Academy found that parents who were paid £30 to attend each session were more likely to attend, suggesting that financial incentives can be an effective way to engage and retain parents in programmes of this type.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said, ‘Parental involvement is key to successful outcomes for children. Parents worry for and care very much about the future of their children wherever they come from or whatever their circumstances. The EEF’s trials in this area provide vital information about how best to provide parents with the tools they need to support their child’s learning.’

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said, ‘We know that it can be very difficult to get parents more involved in their child’s learning. This new research tells us how difficult it is to expect parents to turn up at school for classes of their own.

‘Taken together, our body of parental engagement research gives schools hugely useful insights into how we can better engage parents with children’s learning – which has the potential to have a significant impact on their results.’

On Monday, the DfE announced a £5m home learning environment fund, run by the EEF, to give families extra support to help with children’s early language and communication skills.

  • Read more about this in our ‘Interview’ with Sir Kevan Collins in the next issue of Nursery World out on 14 May.

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month


© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved