Lack of proper evaluation makes it impossible to identify impact of increasing parental involvement on children’s attainment

21 November 2013

It is not possible to tell whether programmes designed to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education raise attainment or not, because none have been properly evaluated, according to a report published today by the Nuffield Foundation.

There is a lack of proper evidence on parental involvement programmes

A significant amount of public money has been spent in recent years on programmes designed to try and improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged families by changing the aspirations, attitudes and behaviours of children and their parents. But when academics reviewed the international evidence available on the impact of these programmes, they found the quality of evaluations was too poor to tell whether they had been effective in raising attainment or not.

Previous research has shown that on average, children whose parents are fully engaged with their education will have better test results than those whose parents are not. But today’s report shows it is not possible to identify whether parental involvement is the cause of the higher attainment.  

Evaluations too flawed to be considered high quality evidence

Professor Stephen Gorard and Dr Beng Huat See from Durham University found 68 evaluations of parental involvement programmes from around the world that met minimal criteria for quality, but concluded that all were too flawed to be considered high quality evidence. Common problems included small sample sizes and misuse of statistical techniques.

The parental involvement programmes in the review included a number of approaches, such as reading with children at home; help with school work or subject choices; involvement in parent teacher associations or extra-curricular activities; encouraging persistence in school work and participation in post-compulsory education; and family investment in books, tuition and computers.

Seven evaluations were rated as ‘medium’ quality. Four of these evaluated the same two parental involvement programmes, which they concluded had positive effects in raising attainment. One evaluation concluded the programme in question had no effect on attainment, and two evaluations found that the relevant parental involvement programmes may have had a negative effect on the children’s attainment.

None of these seven evaluations were of parental involvement programmes in the UK. The only evaluation of a UK programme included in the review was deemed low quality.

Report author, Stephen Gorard said:

“We set out to try and ascertain which programmes were the most successful, but found it an impossible task given the lack of any high quality evaluations of their impact.

“With that caveat, we did conclude that the most promising phase for parental intervention is likely to be pre-school and preparation for primary school. We also concluded that some types of intervention, such as those that merely encourage parents to work with their children at home, have so little evidence of promise that they can be abandoned if the main concern is with academic outcomes.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“These findings do not mean we should stop trying to increase parental involvement in education. Rather, it means that if we are going to invest in significant interventions, we also need to invest in high quality, rigorous research that will show to what extent they are effective in raising attainment.”

Download the briefing paper: Do parental involvement interventions increase attainment? A review of the evidence

Download the full report: What do rigorous evaluations tell us about the most promising parental involvement interventions?: A critical review of what works for disadvantaged children in different age groups? 

CONTACT: Frances Bright, Communications Manager, on 020 7681 9586 of fbright@nuffieldfoundation.org

Notes

1. The 68 studies included in the review were selected from a initial search of 756 on the basis that they were relevant, empirical and described in sufficient clarity to make judgements about the quality of the evidence.

2. Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education and Well-being, and Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University, and Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Beng Huat See is a Research Associate in the School of Education at Durham University. Their research was funded by a grant of £51,296 from the Nuffield Foundation.

3. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.