APPG — 27th March 2023

Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Parental Participation in Education gathered in Westminster on 27th March 2023. The group exists to promote the benefits of parents actively participating in their child’s education, and of building close and successful relationships between homes and schools.

Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parental Participation in Education met to talk about disadvantage. Parliamentarians heard presentations from Lee Elliot-Major, Professor of Social Mobility at Exeter University on addressing Britain’s parenting divide; the National Governance Association (NGA) on its Disadvantage Toolkit and Parentkind’s Research Manager about findings on disadvantage among parents.

What can parents do to minimise the effects of disadvantage?

Professor Lee Elliot-Major spoke about the impact of parents drawing on his extensive background in policy. He explained how efforts to tackle school inequalities will fail unless we address education’s parenting divide. There was an emphasis on the importance of the home-learning environment and support from extended family such as grandparents. Families may be divided by factors including money, health, culture and education. Although disadvantage is more complex than just variations in affluence, and many parents don’t have adequate guidance to help with their children’s education, Elliot-Major suggested some ways in which parents can minimise disadvantage for their child. These included reading, establishing regular routines and ensuring that children are ready. He suggested that good parental engagement plans in schools are essential to achieving this, as is ensuring that school cultures are genuinely inclusive. However, he concluded by remarking that much policy work is needed to make these cultural changes happen.

The power of parental engagement in addressing educational disadvantage

The National Governance Association (NGA) updated the group about its Disadvantage Toolkit, which is now available to school governing boards. The toolkit helps governing boards to find the right strategies for the right disadvantage. These cover:

  • Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), where children with an EHC plan are 2.5 times more likely to be permanently excluded than peers who do not have SEND
  • Poverty, where pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) made less progress between 11 and 16 years old than those not eligible for FSM
  • Vulnerability, where 27% of young carers (aged 11–15) miss school or experience challenges in their education
  • Pupil mental health and wellbeing, where children with poor mental health are more likely to be excluded or absent
  • Ethnicity, where children from a Black Caribbean background are three times more likely to be excluded than their White peers and on average 10.9 months behind academically by the end of year 11. 

Parental engagement was cited as a response to tackling disadvantage, because when parents are involved in their education, children do better on a wide range of measures. This includes building trust and improving relationships between parents and teachers, improving academic achievement, improving behaviour, reducing absenteeism and raising aspiration. The presentation ended with an overview of how school governing boards engage with pupils, staff, parents and the wider community so that they get to know their school and ensure that decision-making is robust. Schools’ and stakeholders’ feedback on the NGA’s Disadvantage Toolkit will help to shape future drafts.

Disadvantage amongst Parents

Parentkind’s Research Manager presented a summary of the charity’s recent data on disadvantage using eligibility for free school meals (FSM) as a marker for disadvantage. Disadvantaged parents have a different approach to parental engagement in school. Unlike more affluent peers, free time is not the most common barrier to engagement that they cite. They are more likely to point to financial barriers. This includes the likely uptake of extensions to the school day such as breakfast clubs if there is a financial cost attached. They report that the biggest barriers to supporting their children’s learning as much as they would like are the cost of some learning activities as well as the perception that they don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge. They are more likely to donate to the school fund, and donate more per month than parents not eligible for free school meals. However, children of disadvantaged parents are more likely to experience mental health or wellbeing challenges.

The meeting included a healthy conversation about tackling disadvantage for the benefit of families and outcomes for children.