School performance owes most to parents

The influence of a parent may be more important than the qualities of a school when it comes to how well a child performs in the classroom, new research has suggested. Published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, the study found bonds such as trust that exist between mums and dads can play a big part in academic achievement.

Investigators from North Carolina (NC) State University, the University of California and Brigham Young University discovered opening lines of communication and being actively engaged in a young person's school life can enable parents to positively influence performance in the classroom.

Dr Toby Parcel, a Professor of Sociology at NC State, who co-authored the report, noted: "Parents need to be aware of how important they are and invest time in their children – checking homework, attending school events and letting kids know school is important."

He pointed out that while both school and family involvement are vital in this field, the role of close relatives is stronger with regard to academic success.

Dr Alan Thomas, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, comments:

"This research narrowly limits parental involvement to supporting school objectives. Parents have much more to offer than this in facilitating their children's intellectual growth. Based on my research with home educating families who adopt very informal approaches I would go much further.

"Often without realising it, parents assist their children to become culturally competent, including facilitating intellectual progress. Almost all children learn in this way before starting school; there is no reason why they should not continue to do so, certainly through the primary years, as I found in my research. The most important factor seems to be everyday spontaneous conversation with an adult, something quite rare in schools. 

So, while I agree with these research findings, they go nowhere far enough in recognising how important informal learning might be. As one home educating parent put it: " School seems unnatural. With a huge effort and cost and sometimes pain, you try to get something into children which would happen anyway."