Report Overview

This report, written by Fiona Jelley and Kathy Sylva from the University of Oxford, looks at whether engaging the parents of disadvantaged children in the early years can influence the home learning environment, parental support for learning and children’s attainment. It highlights the findings of a small-scale randomised control trial in which school staff were trained to engage parents in a Home Learning Project developed by the Parental Engagement Network (a not-for-profit social enterprise) involving workshops and activities to do at home. PEN was one of 5 organisations supported through the Parental Engagement Fund which was set up by the Sutton Trust working in partnership with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The trial found that the programme positively influenced parental behaviour at home, with parents reporting an increase in the learning activities they did with their children. Schools also reported that the programme developed the skills and confidence of staff to engage parents and that it was easily embedded within schools

Find out more about the Parental Engagement Network and our partnership with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation here.

Key findings
  • The analyses showed a significant effect of the intervention on the children’s Home Learning Environment scores, suggesting that the PEN programme positively influenced parental support for home learning.
  • Experience from previous trials has shown that recruiting and retaining parents can be challenging, and this intervention has been notably successful in recruiting 84 families in the intervention schools and retaining 72 throughout the project (85% families). The trial prioritised disadvantaged, mostly pupil premium eligible families that the settings had not previously been successful in engaging.
  • Almost all the staff (94%) said they had gained confidence and skills in working with parents through the training and implementing the project
  • Most schools reported that they found the intervention had impacted on children’s progress in terms of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile outcomes.
  • The sustainable nature of the intervention has been demonstrated by the settings who have been involved in the trial deciding to continue with the project in subsequent years. Seven out of the nine intervention schools have continued to use some or all of the resources and strategies in the year following the project.
  • The PEN model involves training early years staff to deliver directly to parents, which enables the programme to become incorporated into the school’s practice by their own staff rather than relying on external professionals. On a practical level, this makes the intervention, easily embedded within schools and highly scalable.
  • The results from this trial show some promise of an affordable and easy-to-embed training programme for teachers and school staff to boost the supportive home environment of disadvantaged families.
  • PEN is a dynamic and committed organisation and one that we believe funders, local authority commissioners and school leaders should actively consider.