Parenting Academy

The Parent Academy was a series of classes for pupils’ parents, designed to improve the English and mathematics attainment of pupils in Years 3 to 6 in English primary schools. Parents were offered the opportunity to participate in 12 Parent Academy classes, 6 on English and 6 on mathematics, delivered fortnightly by tutors with teaching qualifications and experience of teaching adults. The programme also included an educational family trip.

The evaluation used a two-arm randomised controlled trial to test the efficacy of two versions of the intervention. In the first version, parents were incentivised to attend with a payment of £30 per session and in the second version they were not. Children of both groups of parents were compared with a similar group whose parents were not offered Parent Academy. Sixteen schools in two urban local authorities took part in the trial. A total of 2,593 children were involved. The project also included a process evaluation which assessed how the intervention was delivered and reported on its perceived benefits. The intervention was developed by the University of Chicago. It was not manualised and involved the development of a new adult learning course. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and the KPMG Foundation. The trial took place between September 2014 and July 2015 with classes delivered between November 2014 and June 2015.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. There is no evidence that offering free Parent Academy classes improved mathematics or reading outcomes for the children in the trial, even when parents were given a financial incentive to attend.

  2. In general, parental attendance at sessions was very low. However, even when the evaluators took this into account they found no evidence that parental attendance improved pupil outcomes.

  3. Offering financial incentives improved attendance at Parent Academy, suggesting this may be an effective way to engage and retain parents in interventions of this type.

  4. In general, evaluation participants felt that attending Parent Academy gave parents the confidence and skills to engage more effectively with their children’s learning.

  5. Staff reported that having a designated project lead in each school and using multiple methods to engage parents (rather than just written communication) were necessary for successful delivery. Schools need to consider these cost implications when deciding whether to adopt this intervention.

What is the impact?

Table 1 below presents the main results. The evaluation did not find evidence that offering parents either incentivised or non-incentivised Parent Academy classes improved maths or reading outcomes for pupils in the trial. The estimated impact on each outcome was close to zero. This is true for the group of all pupils in Years 3 to 6 and for pupils eligible for free school meals. For children whose parents attended the non-incentivised sessions, the estimated impacts on maths and English were actually negative, but these results may have been due to chance, so we would not conclude that Parent Academy has a negative impact.

The intervention had a very low attendance rate. Six in ten parents (60%) who were offered the Parent Academy did not take part in any sessions and only around one in ten (11%) attended all twelve sessions. To assess whether the low attendance rates might account for the lack of impact, additional analysis was done taking account of how many sessions parents had attended. There was no evidence that the intervention had more impact for parents who attended more sessions. Although the intervention does not appear to have had an impact on pupil outcomes, there is evidence that the use of financial incentives did increase attendance at Parent Academy sessions. This suggests that financial incentives can be an effective way to encourage attendance at this type of intervention.

This evaluation measured pupil outcomes within a few weeks of the intervention ending. Because the Parent Academy is designed to have an impact on pupils via changes in parent behaviour, it is possible that it would take longer than this for any impact to occur. It would therefore be valuable to monitor pupil outcomes over time.

The process evaluation collated the views of class teachers, Parent Academy tutors, and parents. Parents reported that they had a better understanding of the school curriculum and other school issues, which gave them more confidence to engage with their children’s learning. Teachers felt parents who attended the Parent Academy became better at communicating with teachers about their children’s schooling. Parents were more actively helping children with their English and maths homework. Participating parents who had been considered ‘disengaged’ were seen to be more engaged with their child’s education after taking part. The full-time area programme manager appears to have been an important factor in ensuring that the Parent Academy was developed and delivered successfully. Schools generally also allocated a significant amount of staff time to engaging with parents and to supporting the intervention.Manualisation of the intervention would help to standardise the Parent Academy approach and support consistency in delivery across local areas and over time. 

GroupEffect size (95% confidence interval)Estimated months’ progressSecurity ratingCost rating
Incentivised classes (Maths)0.01 (-0,20, 0.22)0 months
Incentivised classes (Reading)0.00 (-0.17, 0.17)0 months
Unincentivised classes (Maths)-0.04 (-0.24, 0.16)-1 month
Unincentivised classes (Reading)0.02 (-0.15, 0.19)1 month

How secure is the finding?

Findings from this study have moderate to high security. The study was designed as a three-arm randomised controlled trial which aimed to compare the progress of pupils whose parents were invited to participate in Parent Academy with those whose parents were not. The trial was an efficacy trial, which means that it tested the intervention under ideal, developer-led conditions. The trial was well designed and well powered, and the sample was well balanced on all observable characteristics. The proportion of pupils excluded from the analysis because they did not complete the tests at the end of the intervention was just over 10%.

How much does it cost?

Total intervention costs comprise one-off set-up costs including tutor training and advertising, and ongoing running costs consisting mainly of the material and staff costs of running Parent Academy classes and, for the incentivised group, incentives.

Over three years, the average annual cost of running the Parent Academy would be £641/pupil for the incentivised group and £280/pupil for the unincentivised group. 

EEF commentary

The EEF tested Parent Academy, a programme designed to provide parents with guidance on how to support their children’s learning at home. We funded this because although we know parental involvement is associated with improved child outcomes, there is very little good evidence about how to increase parental engagement or the particular activities that are most likely to be beneficial.

Our evaluation did not show any improvement in English or maths attainment for the children whose parents were offered Parent Academy, and this was true even when we took into account the fact that some parents attended very few sessions or did not attend at all.

However, the evaluation provided valuable information on incentivising parents to attend school-led programmes. Some of the parents were paid £30 to attend each session, and for these parents, attendance was much higher, suggesting that financial incentives are an effective way to engage and retain parents in programmes of this type.

The evidence in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that developing effective parental involvement to improve children’s attainment is challenging. In this context it is interesting to consider our Texting Parents project, which engaged parents using text messages rather than a face to face programme, and delivered a small positive impact on maths attainment and absenteeism at very low cost to schools.