Robert Simons examines whether levels of parental engagement can be improved by increasing the capacity of schools and principals for local decision making.
There are multiple actors in a child’s learning and formal education. Parents, teachers, schools, the wider community and peers all play a role. Research suggests that school improvement interventions have most impact when they link behaviours of families, teachers and students to learning and educational outcomes.
The report Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research, published by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in 2012, describes parental engagement as consisting of partnerships between families, schools and communities that raise parental awareness of the benefits of engaging in their children’s education – at home, as well as at school – and provide them with the skills to do so.
The report found that successful parental engagement focuses on local needs and contexts and incorporates a variety of communication channels. According to the report, parental engagement includes the following core behaviours and beliefs:
- parents’ efforts to increase a child’s enjoyment of and belief in the importance of learning;
- parents’ belief in their ability to help their children learn; and
- parents focusing on their children’s emotional wellbeing, as well as their learning, during the school years.
Further, the report found successful parental engagement in learning is continuous – from infancy, throughout childhood and into teenage years – and that parental engagement initiatives combine a focus on student learning together with student development and wellbeing.
The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) recently examined parental engagement in schools as part of its evaluation of the Empowering Local Schools (ELS) initiative. Under the Australian Government initiative, which is being carried out between 2012 and 2014, more than 900 schools have been given the flexibility to make more decisions at a local level.
ACER’s examination of schools in the ELS initiative has found evidence that levels of parental engagement can be improved by increasing the capacity of schools and principals for local decision making. Surveys of ELS principals measured increases in the extent of parental engagement in governance arrangements, and in decisions about funding and infrastructure, and workforce performance.
In terms of parental engagement in school governance – understood broadly as processes to engage parents, carers and community stakeholders in the school – the average number of parents on school boards in the government sector was 5.5; in the Catholic sector, five; and in the independent sector, three. From April 2012 to June 2013 the vast majority of schools in the ELS initiative reported increased parental input into a strategic plan or mission statement.
Case studies from selected schools in the ELS initiative provide examples of parental engagement in learning in the home. A number of case studies conducted in some schools in the ELS initiative and interviews with jurisdictions show how they are involving parents in learning at home through online initiatives, such as:
- ‘flipping classrooms’ between home and school;
- providing parents with online access to how lessons and timetables are being planned; and
- monitoring their children’s performance between reporting periods.
The case studies also show how increases in parental engagement are having an impact on the way decisions are made locally in schools.
The challenge in moving forward is to identify strategies that leverage greater parental involvement in school decision making with broader engagement of parents in their children’s learning at home. ■
This article is based on a presentation delivered by ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Robert Simons and Federal Department of Education A/g Branch Manager Dr Amanda Day to the Conference of the Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO) in Canberra in September 2013.