Schools can boost pupil performance by sending texts about homework to parents

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HELPING PARENTS to engage in their child’s learning by texting them about upcoming tests or homework deadlines can boost secondary school pupils’ maths results by the equivalent of an extra month in the classroom, according to a new research.

Around 30 texts were sent to parents, roughly one-a week, over the course of a year with messages ranging from dates of tests, warnings about missed homework or conversation prompts about what their child had learned that day.

The research, published today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), involved almost 16,000 students in 36 English secondary schools.

Independent evaluators of the Parent Engagement Project found that pupils receiving the intervention made an extra month’s progress in maths compared with a similar group whose parents did not get the texts. Absenteeism was also reduced among the pupils whose parents received texts.

The schools were said to have embraced the programme and a vast majority of parents were supportive of “the content, frequency and timing of texts”.

The project was carried out by Harvard and Bristol University and evaluated by Queen’s University Belfast.

Previous research has shown that while parental engagement is an effective way of improving attainment, little is known about how to do this successfully.

The EEF has also published evaluations from two other trials aimed at engaging parents through face-to-face programmes. A Parenting Academy, delivered by researchers from Chicago University of Chicago offered parents the opportunity to take part in 12 classes over an academic year. The sessions were designed to equip them with the skills to support their child’s learning in numeracy and literacy.

And SPOKES (Supporting Parents on Kids’ Education in Schools), delivered by Plymouth Parent Partnership and Oxford University, gave parents of five and six-year-old struggling readers ten group sessions to help them support their children’s learning at home.

Both independent evaluations found the interventions struggled to persuade parents to attend regularly. However one of the aims of the Parenting Academy trial was to find out whether financial incentives could be successful in changing parents’ behaviour and improving their attendance. Some of the parents were paid £30 to attend each session. For these parents, attendance was much higher, suggesting that financial incentives may be an effective way to engage them.

EEF chief executive Sir Kevan Collins said: “We know it can be very difficult to get parents more involved, particularly when children get older. It would seem that the simple and cheap approach of regular texts could be a better bet for schools than expecting parents to turn up at school for classes of their own. Taken together, these three results give us hugely useful insights into how we can better engage parents with children’s learning.”