PEN’s views on the research

Most parents want the best for their children but they aren’t sure what to do to help them. This project was about helping parents understand how their children learn and how to make learning active and fun – and giving them the resources to use. School staff often haven’t been well trained or resourced to work with parents. The training and sharing with other schools helped the staff to feel more confident and some schools have seen longer term impact on their motivation and ability to work with parents. It makes a difference if schools reach out to parents early on in nursery – particularly to parents who might find it harder to engage with schools. If barriers are broken down and relationships developed this can have a much longer term impact in terms of parents feeling confident to engage with the school and support their children’s learning. If parents also get to know other parents the relationships and networks they build up can last right through school. PEN has always believed in the importance of training school staff and that this helps to make the work sustainable. This report clearly recognises that ‘training school staff to deliver workshops and activities directly to parents, which enables the programme to become incorporated into the setting’s practice rather than relying on external professionals, makes an intervention easily embedded within schools, cost effective and sustainable. Emma Beresford, Director PEN Click here to read Oxford University‘s positive research findings on Engaging Parents Effectively.

Oxford University‘s positive research findings on Engaging Parents Effectively

Click here to find out more about the research, training and resources available. Download the report Visit the Sutton Trust website Report by Oxford University
  • This report, authored 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 impact on the home learning environment, parental support for learning and children’s attainment.
  • It highlights the findings  of a small-scale randomised control trial where 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 Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
  • It found that the programme did positively influence parental behaviour at home, that it developed the skills and confidence of staff to engage parents and that it was cost effective, easily embedded within schools and highly scalable.
  • The analyses showed a significant effect of the intervention on the child’s Home Learning Environment score. There was also a trend (p=.056) towards a difference between intervention and control groups on the Family Support subscale from the BESSI. Taken together, the significant impact on Home Learning Environment scores and the near significant trend on the Family Support subscale suggest that the PEN programme positively influenced parental behaviours at home.
  • 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. Schools have also reported that this initial engagement has led to continued involvement by these families in the school – one school reported that engagement in reception workshops had increased by 70%.
  • 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 thought the intervention had impacted on children’s progress in terms of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)profile outcomes. At Claremont Primary School 70% of the targeted children involved in the project made accelerated progress (3+ levels) in teacher-assessed reading compared with 45% of the whole nursery year group, and 70% of the children involved in the project made accelerated progress in speaking compared with 48% of the year group as a whole.
  • The sustainable nature of the intervention has already 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 setting staff to deliver directly to parents, which enables the programme to become incorporated into the setting’s practice by the staff rather than relying on external professionals. On a practical level, this makes the intervention cost effective (see costs in the report), 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.
Sarah Rudd, Headteacher at Newall Green Primary School said, “I have been very impressed by the uptake and the very positive outcomes from the project. This is exactly what we need – practical fun ways to engage parents in learning”.  “Doing this work for many years –the new research publication on the Sutton Trust website  feels like a real  breakthrough. It  showed  that it  really is worthwhile reaching out to the parents who don’t normally get engaged and if supported and encouraged that they will do  more at home, helping their children to thrive” – Emma Beresford, Director PEN. The training and resources to do the project are now available to other schools via

After school family learning events at Acacias Primary School

Becky Riley from Acacias Primary School talked about their termly whole school family learning events at the PEN network meeting on Nov 1st.
  • They do three parent learning events across the year; one per term. They are held after school, during staff meeting time (3.45 – 4.45). Each event has a theme, which links in with a themed week across school.
  • At the event, they run a variety of activities (generally around twelve), each manned by two or three staff. The children go around the activities, with their parents/carers, completing as many as they feel they can.
  • For each activity they complete, they get a stamp on a record card. Any child who gets 6 stamps or more receives a certificate and a prize.
  • A ‘working party’ of staff work together on thinking up the activities for the event, but it is up to individual staff to resource and set up the activity they are manning.
  • Example of event: Celebrating Cultures. We celebrated some of the cultures represented in our community through a variety of activities. The activities that we held were; Zumba, mask making, Chinese lettering, Arabic lettering, Sari tying, using chopsticks, making Mango Lassi and food tasting (with foods from around the world). There was music in each room linked to the culture that was being celebrated. The stickers, certificates and prizes were all linked to the theme of celebrating cultures.
  • Example of event: Brilliant Britain. We looked at what makes Britain brilliant, incorporating the British values that are taught in school. The activities that we held were; voting for our favourite things, creating crowns, making our own Banksy art work, food tasting (scones and cucumber sandwiches), biscuit decorating, making poppies, creating a Union Jack from British things, mapping Britain, quizzes and cricket (indoor due to weather – rain couldn’t stop our play!).
  • During the week around the Parent Learning Event we also had local boxer, Stacey Copeland, come in to school to talk to the children. We also had a red, white and blue day on the Wednesday, where children dressed in the colours of the Union Jack.
Becky Riley the organiser said that “the events create a great atmosphere and sense of community – with parents, children and staff working together”. Comments from parents included:
It was very interactive, engaging and fun. It was good to meet the staff. It was great to do something in school together with the kids.

PEN is now part of the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme

PEN is now part of the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Trade Up Programme, in partnership with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) and jointly funded by Big Lottery Fund. Emma Beresford, Director of PEN, has won a place on the 2017 Trade Up Programme. She is receiving training and working with over 20 other social enterprises in a programme that includes action learning sets, witness sessions, and mentoring to learn about how to develop and grow PEN. Find out more about the programme by clicking here.