Coming up to the end of the school term, you may have noticed a news story about in the press about a new and simple method of improving pupil performance. The method: sending parents text messages to inform them whether homework was completed on time, let them know what their children were learning and remind them of significant dates in the school calendar. Researchers from the University of Bristol and Harvard University carried out the project which was evaluated by a team at Queen’s University Belfast and charity the Education Endowment Foundation.
I was fascinated by the research. It seemed like such a simple idea. I asked the EEF to elaborate. The result: the guest post below, written by the EEF’s chiarman, Sir Peter Lampl. I hope you find it enlightening!
By the time children start school, those from the richest homes are already 19 months ahead of those from the poorest in terms of school readiness. This gap in attainment only widens throughout school and university and is one of the reasons why those from more privileged backgrounds continue to dominate the UK’s top jobs. As the Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the EEF, two charities committed to breaking the link between family income and educational outcomes, it can often feel like the challenge we are facing is impossible.
But a landmark report from the EPPE project in 2003 painted a hopeful picture: as a parent, your occupation, education and family income matter less to your child’s intellectual and social development than what you actually do with your child. Research continuously shows that getting parents involved in their child’s learning is one of the most effective ways of improving attainment from the early years through to GCSEs. But we know much less about how to engage parents effectively, especially those whose own experience of school might not have been positive.
To help get a better idea of what does and doesn’t work, the EEF has funded independent evaluations of a number of different projects designed to improve pupil attainment through parental engagement. One recent study tested whether getting schools to text parents of secondary school pupils could help boost their grades.
And what about younger children? The EEF has been active in this arena also. The EEF has funded trials of four different projects, designed to boost learning in the early years. They include Family Skills, a family learning programme for families who don’t speak English as their first language and Maths Champions, which helps nursery staff to support toddler’s numeracy skills. An Early Years Toolkit has also been launched, that sorts different ways of learning by cost and impact.
Back to the Parent Engagement Project. What the findings from the project tell us is that texting parents could be a straightforward and cost-effective way of getting parents involved in their child’s learning and improving attainment. And whilst we will never find a ‘silver bullet’ that breaks the link between family income and academic achievement, results from projects like these are absolutely vital in supporting parents and schools to ensure that every child in every part of the country is able to fulfil their potential.
Pic credits: Mobile phone image, Frank Spin. Reproduced under Creative Commons agreement. Sir Peter Lampl image, EEF / Sutton Trust.