Masters Reflections – The home/school relationship

At Durrington, teachers in their first five years of teaching are offered the opportunity to study a part-funded masters in education through the University of Brighton, led by Dr Brian Marsh.  Last week, Ben Crockett shared his reflections about following and then successfully completing his masters.  This week, PE teacher Louise Wallis-Tayler does the same:

Why did you decide to do a masters?

I decided to take part in a masters as I have not studied academically for over 10 years and when I saw this opportunity I thought it would be a good challenge to set myself. I wanted to reflect on my own teaching and hoped that it would improve my own classroom practice, as it would support me to become more evidence informed. I am not the kind of person who likes to be complacent and therefore looking at how I can develop my teaching is something I always want to do.

What was the focus of your dissertation and why did you choose this topic?

Research question: How do we support our parents in their child’s learning? Studying the home-school relationship and the potential impact closing this gap could have.

This study aimed to look at how we can help support parents and give them tools to be able to assist with their child’s work at home and potentially their achievement. Over the years I have met all sorts of families with such varied input in their child’s education and this has only become even more interesting to me as the years have gone on and starting at a different school. From a personal point of view, I strongly feel that having parents who were interested in education and who were able to support me at home has given me all sorts of skills and confidence that I may not have thought at the time. I approached this as my area of study with a real passion for building and strengthening relationships both with school and parents but also parent and child.

There are a number of studies based around the impact parental engagement can have and these vary from as early as 1947 to the current day.

For example; (Campbell 2011, p.5) states, “There is significant research, nationally and internationally to suggest that parental involvement in children’s learning is positively related to achievement.”

My study began with the use of questionnaires for parents and students (across all year groups) to judge their opinions on how best they work at home. I then asked if there was any support they feel they needed or how we as a school could better develop this link.

From these results, it was clear that parents wanted to help but maybe did not feel confident in all subject areas. This made me reflect on our current department practice and so my study looked at hosting ‘parent support evenings’ for a target group of GCSE PE students. The aim of the evenings was to give the parents the skills to be able to support their chid at home with the ever growing and demanding theory content.

Hill and Taylor (2004, p.162) have highlighted that, “… In the context of greater accountability and demands for children’s achievement, schools and families have formed partnerships and share the responsibilities for children’s education.”

Working in partnership ensures that students have a consistent approach to their education. By partnership, my aim was to have a collaborative approach between home and school. For me this was highlighted through using the same exam techniques and expectations in terms of responses. If the parents know the way in which the department approaches the exam then this can be replicated at home.

I then also questioned teachers opinions on this area and used case studies of students whose parents attended the evenings.

What did you learn from this?

  • I learnt that students, whilst they may not want to admit it (in particular the older boys) they do want their parents help and felt they needed their support. The students were aware of the importance of homework and that it supported their learning at school. The majority of students said that they completed homework as they wanted to do well at school. The majority of students completed their homework in either their bedroom or a dinner table.
  • The parents who answered the questionnaire on the whole wanted to help their child and saw the impact this could have. The level of confidence of the parents depended on their level of education and they all had subject areas where they did not feel they could help. The majority of parents said they helped by checking answers, checking spellings and looking at general work rate. Parents of older students stated that they used google to check answers and that they did not feel confident in all subject areas –  this was the reasoning for setting up the ‘parent support evenings’ in my own subject PE.
  • The ‘parent-support evenings’ were well received and parents were able to gain knowledge in specific exam and revision techniques we use within PE. The parents feedback was mainly positive with some still needing help in subject content. The students feedback from the evenings was strong and they were grateful for the support. The parents and pupils were given a revision pack to take home and the evening went through ways to use these at home. Being a teacher of some of these students over the two year period, it was clear that it had an impact on most of the students work rate and attitude. Whilst with the year 11 students this may have been a natural progression, the fact that I had a good relationship with their parents  definitely helped with some of the more challenging students.  However, there are clearly many factors that can influence a child’s work rate and attitude (and this was a small sample), so we need to be cautious when drawing a causal link with this. 

How has this impacted on your teaching/leadership?

  • We have developed these evenings over the past two years and they have been really well supported by the PE department. I have been very lucky that the other members of staff have helped with trying to get as many students  to attend and also to support in the delivery of the evening.
  • The evenings have highlighted how we as a department have tried to keep communication with home at the forefront in terms of student progress. Having these evenings have also given parents the chance to ask more specific PE questions and have opened up that dialogue.
  • It has helped us to look at our own revision resources  and to create even more for the students. We will now look at the current year 11 students and how we can develop the programme this year. We are going to look at hosting one evening with a weekly email attachment of exam questions in the run up to the exams in May.

What has been the best thing about doing a masters?  

  • The biggest challenge I faced was trying to get the parents in for the ‘parent support evenings.’ This forced me to look at reasons why parents migh not engage with their child’s school and/or learning.

What challenges has it presented and how did you overcome these?

  • It has been a challenge, but now that I have passed it has definitely been worth it. I have really enjoyed the academic reading and also putting it into practice within our department. It has been very interesting to get opinions from staff, students and parents and looking at how we can close the gap.
  • Research carried out by The Nuffield Foundation in a number of secondary schools across the northwest aiming to improve parent/school partnerships found that the nature of secondary schools could form a barrier and there are several reasons why engagement at secondary level is not as easy for parents:
    • Secondary schools tend to be larger and further from home.
    • The curriculum is more sophisticated.
    • Pupils have more than one teacher.
    • Parents of older pupils are more likely to be in full-time employment.
    • Children are beginning to establish a sense of separation from their parents.” (Campbell 2011 p.5)
  • Whilst looking at the groups of students that we targeted, each one has such a different home context, so the challenge for me was to try to suit everybody. Whilst looking at the borderline students there are some whose parents had never attended parents’ evenings before and whose phone numbers were disconnected. The challenge was to be able to try and get them involved, although this study may not have catered for the extremely hard to reach parents and carers.

In December 2018, the EEF will producing a new guidance report entitled ‘Working with parents to support children’s learning’.  It will be available here.



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