Relationship between parents and achievement of Primary Children

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Throughout this chapter I hope to investigate in more depth the relationship between the involvement of parents and the academic achievement of Primary school children. I will firstly, take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of parental involvement in relation to their children`s educational development. I will continue by exploring the six types of involvement described by Epstein, identify the differences between home-based and school-based involvement, , and take a look at the expectations and perceptions of teachers, parents and the children themselves, Finally, barriers to parental involvement will be investigated. This chapter will reflect my personal views, and reference to literature will be made.

2.2 Parental Involvement

Parents are the ones who mostly influence their children throughout their early stages in life. Without any doubt, one of the major issues which parents face is their involvement in their children`s education. "Parents are their children`s first and most important teachers, and for students to succeed in school, parents must participate actively in the children`s academic lives." (Coulter- Kern, De Planty & Duchane, 2007). From this statement, it is evident that children benefit substantially from the active involvement of parents. In addition to this, Loucks (1992) affirms that 'Research shows that parent involvement in the school results in improved student achievement' (Loucks, cited in LaBahn J. 1995).

When children become aware that their parents are actively involved in school, the level of motivation in children will increase. "Lack of Parental support or involvement at home greatly affects student motivation" (Brooks.N, Bruno. E, & Burns.T, 1997). Motivation can be of two types; intrinsic and extrinsic. By seeing their parents interested in what they are doing at school, there is a great chance that children will increase their interest themselves in the given tasks, and work harder to achieve their personal goals. The perceived motivations of the family context and the school context, together with the student`s competence in school, are linked together in influencing the achievement of students (Marchant et al, 2001). Personal satisfaction and self belief motivates the child intrinsically. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation refers to 'external factors such as praise and rewards' (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Reeve, 1996), which makes the individual push further to achieve what one wants. When a child is extrinsically motivated, there is a higher chance to perceive goals as being unattainable, than when being intrinsically motivated (University of Michigan, n.d). These two types of motivation, together with the involvement of parents, will influence both the 'cognitive and social development' (Clarke-Stewart, 1983, Kreider, 2000 cited in Beaumont.C, 2007) of the children. Kreider also states that parental involvement increase cognitive development and improve the child`s motivation (Kreider, 2000 cited in Beaumont.C, 2007).

"Parental involvement improves student performance" (Sussell et al, cited in Hornby. G. p1.) as well as other aspects which can be beneficial for children, teachers and the parents themselves. Children tend to achieve better marks, complete their work and studies, and the level of absenteeism and disruptive behaviour in the classroom decreases (Ballantine, cited in Horbny. G, p.2). Being intrinsically motivated and going to school with a positive attitude "often results in improved behaviour in school and less suspension for disciplinary reasons." (Olsen. G, & Fuller.M.L., 2008).

Parents themselves can gain from their involvement by becoming more familiar with what is happening in the classroom and with the 'school curriculum' (Olsen. G, & Fuller. M.L, 2008). This will enable them to develop a more positive attitude towards educators and the school itself (Sussel et al, 1996 cited in Hornby. G, p1). The parents will have more opportunities to speak to the classroom teachers, and work together in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the children. This will help classroom teachers to discuss any dilemmas which they are facing in class, and become more knowledgeable about the children`s background which might be interfering or helping in their academic development. According to Michigan Department of Education, "support from parents is the most important way to improve schools."(Michigan Department of Education, 2001). In 1997, Karther and Lowden stated that parental involvement contribute to 'overall school improvement' (Karther and Lowden, cite in Hornby.G. p.1).

Although most arguments are in favour of parental involvement, researchers found out that this is not always the case. This could be due to the different definitions which researchers give to Parental Involvement, such as 'good parenting', 'talking to teachers', 'an ongoing participation in school functions and school governance' (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003 p.14), and 'academic guidance and support' (Blooms, cited in Oluwatelure & Oloruntegbe, 2009). According to Desforges and Abouchaar, research showed that "The more parents talked to teachers, the less well their children seemed to be progressing" (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). This might be because there isn`t mutual communication between the teacher and the parents on regular basis, but only when a problem emerges. Therefore the child associates parental involvement to problems at school.

Seeing the parents with high expectations regarding academic achievement, and having the child feeling incompetent to these expectations, may be inhibiting the child from progressing. Without wanting to, parents might be transfering their own fears, and preferences towards certain subjects to the children (Oluwatelure & Oloruntegbe, 2003, p2.), and influencing them in their performance at school. These fears and preferences could be linked to the parents` own experiences at school.

2.3 Types of involvement (EPSTEIN)

J. Epstein `s framework guides parents in being involved in their children`s educational development by combining home-based involvement to school-based involvement. Epstein divides parental involvement into six types. These are 'Parenting', 'Communicating', 'Volunteering', 'Learning at home', 'Decision making' and 'Collaborating within the community' (Epstein, 1995).

The main target of 'Parenting' is to emphasise the importance of home-based learning, and to guide the family members in offering support and guidance to the children. Parenting also refers to 'Good Parenting' (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003) by providing children with the basic needs such as nutrition, care and safety (Epstein, cited in Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). Epstein suggests that there should be home visits, especially 'at transition points to pre-school, elementary, middle and high school' (Epstein, 2000), and a variety of learning opportunities for parents through workshops, meetings, courses and family support programmes.

Mutual communication between parents and teachers is an essential key to a child`s success in learning. Two-way communication and working as partners, makes it easier for both the teachers and parents in identifying the children`s strengths and weaknesses and in providing help were needed. This is due to the fact that they can both help from two different perspectives, as "Teachers are viewed as experts on education and parents are viewed as experts on their children" (Hornby. G, p.20). Parents can communicate to teachers through telephone contacts, meetings held inside or outside the school premises, and through writing. The school is also an essential component in communicating with the families about school activities, policies, reforms and other educational issues (Epstein, 2000). By noticing the parents and the teachers discussing school achievement, there is a great chance that children will improve their academic performance.

Although it is challenging for teachers to make frequent contact with all the parents, this should be a priority as most parents feel the need to learn more about new methods of teaching including phonics in English, or new concepts in Mathematics. (Marjoribanks. K, 1979). Becker & Epstein reported that although teachers perceive communicating with parents as being important, it is very time consuming (Becker & Epstein, cited in DePlanty, Coulter-Kern & Duchane). Frequent communication enables teachers and parents in identifying problems at an early stage, and enables the school in understanding one`s needs.

Having the parents volunteering in school can be an opportunity for them to cooperate with the academic staff, even during extra-curricular activities. In most schools in Malta, volunteering is mostly done by those few parents making part of the Parents` School council, mainly by organising school outings. Open days encourage a large number of parents and guardians to visit the school, see their children`s work on display, meet the classroom teacher, and visit the classrooms (Hornby. G, p. 34). During open days, the parents will become more familiar with the environment in which their children spend most of their time while being at school. Parents can volunteer by helping in school productions which draw a large proportion of parents to school, especially during the Price days, plays during the Nativity and Easter periods, talent shows and other school concerts. Parents might also volunteer in work being done the classroom mostly during the mid-week activities, although this is rarely done in Malta. By seeing the parents volunteering in school, children will become more aware of the contributions of parents in their education, while parents will feel more welcome in the school and understand better the roles, responsibilities and duties of the teachers (Joyce. L. Epstein, 1995).

Learning does not only take place within the few hours which children spend in the classroom, but also at home. Home learning activities enable the children to link between the what they are learning in school to what they are experiencing at home. Monitoring, helping and encouraging children in their studies and homework, enables the parents to become aware of the learning taking place in the classroom. It also promotes children with a more 'positive attitude towards schoolwork' (Joyce. L. Epstein, 1995). Learning at home provides the parents with the possibility to be more on the lookout of any difficulties which the children are encountering, and discussing these issues with the teacher at an early stage.

In order for parents to be able to help their children, they need to be aware of what is going on in school, be informed about new methods of teaching, and any changes within the curriculum and the syllabus. These changes are to be communicated with the parents through school meetings, newsletters and through parents representatives. By being involved in decision making, parents will not only have a choice in the decisions being taken which influence their children`s education but they can also give their input and opinions into policies that might affect the child`s education (Epstein, 1995). The Individualised Educational Program (IEP) enables the academic staff, the parents and other expertise, to meet together with the child in concern in order to discuss and develop a program appropriate for the child to make it easier for him/her to fit into the classroom and be provided with the work appropriate to ones needs. As stated by the law, 'parents must be present and involved in any and all meetings that discuss the identification, evaluation, IEP development and educational placement of their children'(Brown. E. as cited in Understanding Learning Disabilities).

When speaking about education, one needs to focus on the children and work hand in hand with other members within the community for the benefit of the children. Collaborating will strengthen not only the students` achievement but also family practices and school programs (Joyce. L. Epstein, 1995). As Epstein suggests, families, the school and students should be provided with information regarding health, culture, social support and 'activities linked to learning' (Epstein, 1995). The curriculum is one important aspect which requires the collaborating of various stakeholders within the community including teachers, parents, learning support assistants, school psychologists, private tuitions, the children themselves, school visitors, and the media. (Prof. C. Borg, Understanding Schools lecture notes, 2011). As quoted from the Education Act of 1980, school governors and local education authorities were to provide the parents with written information about what was going on in school, including curriculum, results, and discipline (Education Act, 1980).

2.4 Home-based Vs School-based Involvement

Involvement is view from two different perspectives, home-based and school-based involvement. Home-based involvement involves having the children talking about their days at school, the parents helping their children with homework or other studies, and engaging both children and parents in learning-stimulating activities. This type of involvement is also linked to two of Epstein`s types of involvement, 'learning-at-home' and 'parenting'. Apart from increasing academic achievement, home learning environment can also influence the children`s behaviour, including confidence, sociability with other children, sharing and high level of cooperation (Melhuish et al, 2001 cited in Prof. Desforges & Abouchaar,2003). The complexity of home-based involvement depends on various factors including, the age of the children, the educational background of the parents, resources, and the amount of time parents dedicate to their children`s needs.

When the children are very young, parents can guide them through drawing activities, crafts, letter sound and letter names recognition. Usually, the parents introduce their children to literature by reading to them nursery rhymes, and stories. Reading activities at home have a significantly positive effect not only on reading achievements, but also on language comprehension and other language skills (Gest, Freeman, Domitrovich, & Welsh, 2004; cited in Clark. C. 2007) .

As children start getting older and more independent, they will be more able to do their homework on their own, but they still require some guidance, and someone to refer to when they encounter difficulties. This will now depend more on the Educational background of the parents, as the older the children are getting, the harder the academic material becomes. Parents can also be involved in shared reading between themselves and the children, taking them to the library or even playing online educational activities together. In certain cases, home-based involvement have a higher influence on achievement than school-based involvement (Ho & Willms, 1996; cited in Suizzo & Stapleton, 2007).

Communicating, volunteering, decision making, and collaborating with the community (Epstein, 1995) are more linked to school-based involvement. This type of involvement aims in improving the children`s academic performance regardless of their ethnicity, ability or disability, gender, socioeconomic status of the family or the family background (New York State Education Department, 2009). Parents can be involved in school events by helping the teacher prepare performances for the school concerts, organising fundraising events, attend meetings with the teacher to discuss the children`s performance, attend seminars intended for parents, and helping the teaching in preparing resources. Parents can also be involved during a lesson to give a short talk about their profession and everyday life including policemen, firemen, nurses, artists, chefs, or lawyers. This will help both the children and the teachers to learn about other careers, and the parents to feel satisfied with their profession and contribution in class.

2. 5 Expectations and Perceptions

Identifying the perceptions of teacher, parents and students towards each other is the initial step in understanding what they are expecting from each other. Negative perceptions might be one of the barriers to parental involvement, while positive ones enable a more successful parental involvement in education. Perceptions and expectations are not everlasting, but can change according to time, place, and the people involved.

According to Garry Hornby, most teacher do not have positive attitudes in working collaboratively with parents. Although teachers might view some parents as having lack of interest about what is going on in class, it might in fact, be the attitude of the teacher towards these parents which is preventing them from being involved. In my opinion, some teachers are influenced by the social class of the families, and this might result in treating different families unequally. In fact, Edwards and Young 1990, affirm that "middle-class teachers tend to view low-income families negatively, in terms of valuing their contributions or child-rearing practices" (cited in Grant & Ray,2010). Some teachers consider parental involvement to be stressful (Turnbull and Turnbull, 1986 cited in Hornby.G.). Parents are viewed as problems mainly when children have difficulties. This is because parents may deny the difficulty of the child and might not accept any additional help, such as a learning support assistant. Parents are sometimes considered as being 'over-anxious' and 'deny reality' (Horbny. G,2000, p. 6).

This might create a conflict between the parent and the teacher, as both have different opinions and priorities for the child. Some teachers do involve parents and try to keep a good relationship with parents, by communicating both the success and difficulties of the students. In my opinion, most teachers wish that parents are involved more in their children`s education mostly at home, for the children to be monitored, get additional help when needed and to be engaged in further learning activities.

"I believe that many of the problems are caused by poor parenting, a further result of which is that much of what the school achieves is nullified or lost at the end of each day and to a greater extend during holidays. Thus each day we start again to re-learn the lessons of yesterday." (The Guardian, 1990; cited in Hughes.M, Wikeley.F, & Nash.T.,1994).

I am of the opinion that the above quotation is generalizing the role of the parents and is lacking in gratification to those parents who are actively involved in their children`s education . The Guardian, is not taking into consideration the teachers and the school, but it is only looking at one negative aspect. On the contrary of what is being said in the above quotation, there are parents who desire to be more involved, but are reluctant in doing so due to the behaviour of the teachers and due to the way the school portrays them.

Parents might feel that they are not competent in helping their children in their studies, even if they have a lot to offer. A reason for this could be due to the barriers which teachers build not to have any parents interfering with their profession. According to Hornby, teachers view parents are being 'less observant, less perceptive and less intelligent' (Hornby. G. 2000).

Parents expectations of their children`s achievement vary from one family to the other. Thus, research says that parents of high-achieving students are more likely to set higher goals and expectations, than parents of low-achieving students (Michigan Department of Education, 2001). Apart from setting expectations regarding academic achievement, parents also have expectations regarding other factors such as, the inclusion of their children in the classroom, equity within the class, respect and care. Tatar and Horenczyk, 2000, show that mothers seem to emphasis more on fairness in the classroom and help from the teachers than fathers (Davies. C., Paterson. E., Irving. E., Widdowson. D., & Dixon. R., 2010). Most parents do wish to be guided more in helping their children and to find time to communicate with the teacher even through written forms.

From my experience throughout my teaching practice, I have observed that children have a totally different perceptions of parental involvement from those of teachers and parents. Children tend to associate the involvement of parents mainly at home, and not at school. Most of the time, children consider speaking to the parents about what they`ve done in school and having the parents buying them books as parental involvement. Edwards and Alldred, 2000, showed that children tend to try and please the parents, rather than focusing on their grades and achievement. On the other hand, Edwards and Alldred, 2000, also mentions that children see themselves as independent, responsible for themselves and that they have 'a right to some privacy' (Edwards & Alldred, cited in Desforges & Abouchaar).

Barriers to Parental Involvement

The level of involvement vary from one family to the another due to external factors on which families might have little or no control of. In my opinion, there is a difference in the type of involvement related to the gender of the child. From my experience throughout my teaching practice, I have noticed that parents of female students tend to communicate with the teacher regarding the child`s success on regular basis, whilst parents of male students tend to communicate with the teacher when a behavioural or academic problem arises. On the contrast of what I have observed, Sui Chu & Willms, 1996, state that parents of male students contact the school regularly regarding the child`s education (Sui Chu & Willms; cited in Hong, You, Yoo and Wu,2010). As Prof. Desforges and Abouchaar also mentions, female students report more home discussion than male students (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003).

Pierre Bourdieu` s socio-economical-cultural capital, shows how the status of the family might support or inhibit their level of involvement. There is a strong relationship between parental involvement and socio-economic status which in turn influenced pupils` progress (Prof. Desforges & ABouchaar, 2003). The higher the economical capital of the family, the higher the chance for students to be provided with a larger variety of educational resources at home such as books, internet accessibility, and private tuition. A family with lower economical capital might have less access to educational resources, and sending the children to private tuition or to an independent school might be a financial burden on the family. Economic difficulties persist mostly for single parents, especially mothers (Grant & Ryan, 2010 p.94).

Cultural capital is another factor which puts families at a different status from each other, resulting in inequality of opportunities. The family social class have an impact not only on the educational achievement of the child but also on the psychological adjustment. Sacker`s 2002 model shows that parental involvement, the school composition and family resources contribute to educational achievement which in turn influences the aspirations of the parents towards education. Educational achievement and psychological adjustment are all linked together. (Sacker et al, 2002).

Bourdieu argues that "children`s academic performance is more strongly related to parents` educational history than to parents` occupational status" (Bourdieu n.d, cited in MacLeod.J., 2009). Therefore, the educational background of the parents have a great influence not only on their children`s attainment in education, but also in the way their children and adults themselves perceive education. Parents` experiences in school might condition the level encouragement and motivation provided to the children. Negative past experiences in school may create anxiety in adults as well as unwelcoming feelings when entering a school (Finders & Lewis, 1994; cited in Grant & Ray, 2010 p.11).

Even though parents with high educational background might find it easier to academically help the child, than a parent with a lower educational background, this will depend on the age of the children. As children grow older, parents tend to become less involved due to difficulty in academic material, or due to the children feeling a sense of independency and responsibilities towards their duties. Stouffer, 1992, sees a decline in parental involvement as children grow older (cited in LaBahn, 1995).

Spending time with children might be a priority for some and a difficulty for others. Dedicating appropriate time to work with children, not only increases the children`s motivation but keeps the parents monitoring what is happening in school and on the lookout for any arising difficulties. For a large number of parents, especially working parents, lack of time may be the major obstacle which is not enabling them to be involved enough in their children`s education (Kenway, 1998;cited in Beaumont. C). Most of the time, school meeting and school visits are held during working hours which makes it difficult for adults to attend.

Research shows that children`s attainment in school is also linked to family structures. Children living in a single-parent family tend to have higher educational difficulties than others in a nuclear or extended family (Grant & Ryan, 2010 p.95). In a single-parent family, where the parent is the only bread winner of the family, one finds it difficult to attend school meetings and to finding time to help the children with school work. In a nuclear or extended family, there is more chance for at least one member of the family to be involved in the children`s education. To conclude with, research showed that a higher educational attainment is seen in children living in a nuclear family than those brought up in a single-parent or blended families (Ginther & Pollak, 2004; Cited in Grant & Ryan 2010 p.91).

2.7 Conclusion

This chapter tackled varies aspects of parental involvement such as; the benefits and drawbacks, the different ways of being involved, perspectives and expectations, and barriers to the involvement of adults in education. The above research has helped me think more critically about the involvement of adults in relation to children`s attainment in education. I have come to the conclusion that despite certain conflicts between teachers and parents, one need to put these differences apart and work collaboratively together for the benefit of the child.