Annual Report 2007‚Äď2008

Parents' involvement in children's education

This section is an edited extract from a paper published in Family Matters no. 79, "Parents' involvement in their children's education", by Donna Berthelsen and Sue Walker from the Centre for Learning Innovation, Queensland University of Technology.

This section examines the nature of parental involvement in children's education in the early years of school, using Wave 2 data for the K cohort from Growing Up in Australia. At the time of the Wave 2 data collection in 2006, these children were in either Year 1 or 2 at school. The analyses consider the expectations that parents hold for their children's education, the level of responsiveness that parents believe schools and teachers have for their needs, the level of involvement of parents in the education of their children as perceived by teachers, and the nature and level of contact that parents have with their child's school and teachers in the early years of school. The analyses were restricted to families for whom there were teacher data available (n = 3,380).

Engaging families in the education of their children at home and at school is increasingly viewed as an important means to support better learning outcomes for children. When schools and families work together, children have higher achievement in school and stay in school longer. Although there is considerable research on how parents influence children's development, less is known about the specific ways in which parents socialise their children in terms of school-related behaviours. While extensive research indicates there are important links between parenting and children's academic and behavioural competence at school, there is less research on "academic socialisation", which is conceptualised as the variety of parental beliefs and behaviours that influence children's school-related development.

What expectations do parents hold for their children's future education?

The primary parents (97% of whom were mothers) were asked a single question on how far they would like their child to go in their education. This has proved to be an important predictor of children's achievement over time. Parents responded to the question: "Looking ahead, how far do you think [child] will go in his/her education?" The response options for this question were: obtain postgraduate qualifications at a university, go to university and complete a degree, complete a trade or vocational training course, complete secondary school, and leave school before finishing secondary school.

Most parents (95%) expected their child would complete their secondary schooling and 79% of parents expected that their children would obtain some form of post-secondary qualification (e.g., university degree or vocational course). The responses on this question are represented in Figure 12.

Figure 12: Parental perspectives - graph

Figure 12: Parental perspectives of how far they think their child will go in his/her education

How do parents perceive the responsiveness of schools to their needs?

Parents responded to five questions on a scale rating the responsiveness of schools to their needs. The items are rated on a 4-point scale (very well, well, just okay, not done at all). The percentage responses for each item are presented in Figure 13. Parents thought schools were doing well or very well at making them aware of chances to be involved and take part in school activities (87%), as well as letting them know about their child's progress in class (77%).

Figure 13: Parental reports of responsiveness of schools - graph

Figure 13: Parental reports of the responsiveness of schools to their needs

How involved are parents in their child's education as perceived by teachers?

Teachers responded to a question that asked for their global judgement on the question: "In your opinion, how involved are this child's parents in her/his learning and education?" Response options were: very involved, somewhat involved, and not involved. Teachers reported that 60% of parents were very involved in their children's education and 37% of parents were somewhat involved. Only 3% of parents were reported as not being involved.

What is the nature of the contact with the child's teacher and school that parents report?

Five items were used to assess parents' contact with their child's school program. A number of activities in which parents may have participated at their child's school were identified to which parents could give a yes/no response: "During this school term, have you: contacted child's teacher, visited child's class, talked to parents of other children at the school, attended a school event in which your child participated, volunteered in the classroom or helped with a class excursion". Engagement in three or more activities was indicated by 76% of parents. Percentages for these various activities are shown in Figure 14. Parents were most likely to have talked with other parents at the school (92%) or visited the child's classroom (87%) and least likely to have volunteered in the classroom or helped with a class excursion (48%).

Figure 14: Parental reports of involvement in school program - graph

Figure 14: Parental reports of their involvement in their child's school program

Summary

The findings of these analyses into parental involvement in their children's education indicate relatively high levels of parental engagement. This was evident by parental self-report and teacher report. In a global rating of engagement, teachers indicated that almost two-thirds of the parents were very involved in their children's education, although this still leaves a substantial proportion of parents who were not seen by teachers to be highly involved. Most parents also expected that their child would complete school, and four in five expected their child would complete post-secondary study (either a university degree or a vocational course).

Parents reported that schools were relatively responsive to family needs and supportive of family involvement. Schools were viewed by parents as doing very well in making them aware of opportunities to be involved in their child's schooling. The level of engagement in particular school-related activities, as reported by parents, indicated that parents most frequently talked with other parents at the school or visited the child's classroom.

It is early days in the school careers of these study children and it will be important to continue to track the level and nature of parental involvement with children's schooling over time. In the early years of school, there is likely to be higher involvement by parents. Much of the current research focuses on parental school involvement when children are in primary school. Parent involvement is known to decrease in secondary school, which may not necessarily reflect parents' wishes but may be influenced by changed structures in the delivery of secondary school programs, or that parents may believe that they cannot assist with more challenging secondary school subjects. However, it is unlikely that parents stop caring about or monitoring the academic progress of their children throughout their schooling. Thus, it remains important that Growing Up in Australia continues to track the impact of parent involvement on children's school achievement and adjustment.

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