A £1 million fund to support and evaluate parental engagement projects designed to bridge the attainment gap in the early and primary school years was launched by the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation today.

At the start of school children from the poorest backgrounds are 19 months behind their most affluent peers of the same age in development of vocabulary. The attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and all other pupils persists through school. At age eleven the gap between Free School Meals pupils and their peers stood at 19% in reading, writing and mathematics in 2013.

Existing research shows that involving parents in their children’s learning is associated with improved attainment and educational participation, but less is known about which methods of engagement are the most effective, or why.

The Parental Engagement Fund will support the growth, increased effectiveness and measurement of impact of projects, led by not- for- profit organisations, aimed at improving children’s cognitive development through parental engagement, for up to three years.

It will complement the work of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) by supporting organisations to develop evidence of their impact. The EEF aims to extend and secure the evidence on what works and can be made to work at scale. The Fund will also aim to contribute to best practice guidance for the sector as a whole.  Applications open today.

James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust, said;

“We know from our research that by the time children start school there’s already a 19 month gap between the most and least advantaged pupils. Tackling this disparity early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility.

“The Parental Engagement Fund commits significant resources to finding the best ways to enable parents to help their children achieve more.  We are delighted to be working with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation on a project that can give more children access to the significant benefits of parental involvement in their education.”

Caroline Mason, Chief Executive of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation said;

“We have a long history of funding organisations working to improve the quality of life for children and young people in the UK, and have made grants of more than £65m in the last ten years in this sector. We know that early intervention is vital if we are to change the life chances of the most disadvantaged.

“To have the greatest impact, our funding should be the catalyst for further support, and through this partnership with the Sutton Trust we hope to help charities with great ideas to grow and prove their models for parental engagement, enabling them to get the evidence, recognition and funding they need, and parents and children the future they deserve.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities throughout the UK both now and in the future. We do this by funding the charitable work of organisations with the ideas and ability to achieve positive change.  The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK.  We make grants of £30 – £35 million annually towards a wide range of work within the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change. We also operate a £26 million Finance Fund which invests in organisations that aim to deliver both a financial return and a social benefit. www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk
  3. The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement through evidence-based research. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £52 million to 93 projects working with over 630,000 pupils in over 4,500 schools across England.
  4. Sutton Trust Social Mobility Report in 2012 found a 19 month gap in school readiness between the richest and poorest four and five year olds in the UK.
  5.  Sound Foundations, a report by Oxford University academics for the Sutton Trust, highlighted the importance of parental engagement during the early years on positive child outcomes.


Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Hilary or Ruby. If it's out of office hours, you can call or text 07917 462 164.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news