Parents have a large, significant positive effect on the achievement and adjustment of young people through supporting their learning in the home (Desforges and Abouchaar 2003) (Harris and Goodall 2007). The Children's Plan highlighted the government's aim to help all parents become more engaged in their children's education (DCSF 2009).
Parental engagement is defined as parental engagement in learning, as opposed to parental involvement in schooling (Harris and Goodall 2007). The definition was made to ensure that practitioners and policy makers were not confusing the objective of getting parents involved with school life (e.g. attending parents' evening, which is seen as reactive to the school) and the objective of engaging parents with their child's learning (seen as proactive). However, much of the research literature and policy refers to 'parental involvement', referring to both parental engagement and parental involvement.
Parents' support of learning in the home has been shown to have a significant effect on children of all ages, from preschool to age 16 (Feinstein and Symons 1999) (Sammons et al. 2007). However, it is hard to measure, partly because researchers have to rely on the accurate perceptions from teachers or they have to assume parents answer truthfully, and not what they think researchers want to hear. In addition, parents vary in how they support learning in the home, such as reading to children or taking them to museums, and of course the type of involvement will be dependent on a child's age - whilst parents of younger children may help with their homework, parents of older children may discuss their subject choices and future careers.
The most involved parents tend to be from a higher social class, have higher maternal education qualifications, live in two parent households, have lower material deprivation, good maternal psychosocial health, have younger children, and children who take a very active role in mediating between parents and schools (Desforges et al. 2003). In addition, Peters et al. (2008) characterised the 'involved' parent as more likely to be a woman, have a child with a Special Educational Needs statement, or from a black or black British background.
However, we shouldn't be quick to separate 'involved' parents from others. Recent research has shown that almost half of parents of 14 year olds reporting increasing or decreasing their involvement in their child's school life over a 2 year period, despite there being no national programmes aimed at increasing involvement. The young person's attitude and behaviour were key factors, among others, that were associated with a change in involvement among mothers and fathers (Skaliotis forthcoming). Psychology research has argued that there are three constructs central to parents' basic involvement decisions: parents' role construction (the belief they should be involved), parents' sense of efficacy (the belief they are capable of helping), and general invitations, demands and opportunities for involvement from the child and school (Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler 1997).