Parents and social mobility
The Sutton Trust recently released their Parent Power 2018 report, which follows on from their Parent Power? findings from five years earlier. It looks at the beneficial influence of parental engagement on a child’s education as a whole, but a key focus is the overall ability of wealthier parents to make a greater impact on improving the life chances of their child compared to their less affluent peers.
The inequality in ‘power’ at a parental level, the report finds, negatively impacts on social mobility (which exists when a person’s background has no influence on their life chances). Improving social mobility, and using education as a tool to do so, is a stated aim of the government, though as reports such as Parent Power 2018 show, there is much further to go.
But maximising the benefits of engaging all parents requires change in the education landscape.
Why schools should be more accountable to parents
As the report highlights, “Schools are increasingly reliant on extra financial contributions from parents, and parents feel under more pressure to prevent their children losing out. This has worrying consequences for equal opportunities in the school system.” Our Annual Parent Survey 2017 revealed that 42% of parents have been asked to donate to their school fund, but with more ABC1 parents (46%) than C2DE parents (36%) approached. 80% of those parents will go on to agree to donate, with 58% of C2DE parents pledging less than £10 per month, compared to 45% of ABC1s, many of whom are in a position to donate more, (32% of higher-earners give between £10 and £30 per month). Despite their vital financial contributions, almost half of parents (47%) told us they did not know how the money they donated was spent. When parents support their children’s learning at home and at school, and are increasingly asked to supplement the financial costs of their learning, schools ought to be more accountable to them regardless of the amount any parent is able to afford and whether or not they choose to donate. That starts with shifting the perception of parents as passive service recipients to equal partners, in consideration of the impact that all parents can have on a child’s outcomes.
There’s more to parents than their pockets
The evidence is overwhelming that positive parental engagement improves children’s school experience and outcomes, as the report rightly highlights, and this transcends background. Wealthier parents will be more able to afford private tuition and educational trips, but there are many ways to support a child’s learning at home that will help to minimise financial disadvantage, and all parents have valuable skills to offer when getting involved at their child’s school. Every parent, regardless of circumstances, can provide assistance to their child’s learning that will boost achievement and instil a passion for acquiring knowledge. Sometimes all they need is encouragement, and a strategy in place to ensure parents can access the information they need. As the report suggests, “To support the home learning environment, schools should take a ‘whole school’ approach to communicating with and involving parents actively through partnership. In particular, this should be supported by a key member of staff.”
All parents have a role to play
The report also recommends, “Schools should seek to ensure diversity in the representation of parents in school structures. All schools should seek to have a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) with a wide range of parents represented – and to be as open as possible.” Parentkind supports the Sutton Trust’s call for a parent body to be established in every school, ideally with clear lines of communication with the senior leadership team to bring parents further into decision-making. Helping parents of all backgrounds to get involved will boost outcomes and opportunities for all children, and as a consequence, act as a powerful and cost-effective tool in improving social mobility. The children of today are the parents of tomorrow, and they can pass this ethos on to the next generation. That’s why now is the time to understand and harness parent power, giving all parents whatever support they may need to truly make a difference. This can only be achieved by formalising mechanisms for schools and parents to work together, with buy-in from policy-makers.
Read the Sutton Trust’s Parent Power 2018 report.