Tiger Parents got another slap round the chops this week, I’m happy to report. Professor Stephen Gorard from Durham University took to the radio to report that if you’re looking to improve kids’ attainment at school, getting parents more involved isn’t a one-way ticket to Eton.
Gorard got airtime because the head of Ofsted would like headteachers to be handing out fines to anyone who ducks out of parents’
evenings consultations, fails to get their kids to do their homework or is, in his esteemed view, a ‘poor parent’.
But this toxic idea rests on the assumption that when parents are more involved, kids do better at school. Seems logical, no? Except that having reviewed all the evidence available, Gorard reports [PDF] that, erm, there isn’t any. And that’s a bugger, because the government spends a lot of money trying to do exactly that; and this is before Wilshaw’s peak-capped hit squad starts slipping Penalty Notices into naughty Edwina’s book bag.
To be accurate, Gorard finds some moderate evidence that these ‘interventions’ may help pre-school children. But beyond that? There simply isn’t the evidence to show that children do better at school when parents get more involved. In fact, of the few studies available that had a modicum of rigour, a couple actually reported negative results: kids’ attainment actually slowed.
Highly motivated parents often have motivated kids. Parents who are reluctant to help don’t improve matters much (if any) when they do. Parents who lack the skills themselves don’t make great tutors or motivators. All of this seems to be true, but none of this dictates that parents will boost their kids’ exam results by getting more involved.
(It’s worth pointing out that this is all about attainment: Gorard’s report comments that, “In terms of individual behaviours and attitudes, parental involvement remains the most promising approach [of those considered].”)
But let’s stick with school performance, and homework. Getting a stubborn 5-year-old to do her homework is invariably the lowest moment of our week. We’ve tried everything short of detentions but it’s often an hour of pure frustration on both sides, with the strong suspicion that not a lot of learning is going on.
Here’s some more evidence. In 2011, the Sutton Trust think-tank looked at all the ways that a school might boost performance. Skulking down the bottom of the list for primary kids? Homework. That research upsets a few apple carts, because class sizes also get a kicking. “Overall the benefits are not particularly large or clear, until class size is reduced to under 20 or even below 15,” the report comments. Get that cheque book out. Top of the list, incidentally, are a variety of teaching techniques.
All of which suggests that as parents we should stay (or get) involved, to do our best to shape our kids’ behaviour; we need them in class and sitting nicely, because the teachers should have a few tricks up their sleeves. But if homework isn’t completed to the letter; if enthusiasm wanes on either side for a while; or if homework is in danger of becoming a battleground, then let it go.
There are bigger things to worry about, and your impact on their progress might well amount to zilch in any case.
[Then after they’ve gone to bed I’d suggest you complete the homework yourself, holding the pen between your toes to disguise your handwriting, coz otherwise the head will smack you with a £30 fixed penalty notice.]
What do you think? Homework won’t go away and there’s still a job to be done, so how do you encourage your kids to get it over and done with so they can get back to Minecraft/Rainbow Looms? Leave us a comment and let us know.