New research suggests that extra activities and homework assistance from parents have little impact on children’s academic performance. However, the issue is more complex than it appears at first glance. Lee Elliott Major, the UK’s first professor of social mobility, suggests that a parent’s own circumstances can have a significant impact on a child’s opportunities. For example, children with non-graduate parents are less likely to grow up in two-parent homes or family-owned homes than their peers with graduate parents. Additionally, children from the wealthiest households are twice as likely to receive private tutoring compared to those from the poorest households.
According to Major’s research, simple habits at home can make a significant difference in a child’s educational success. Spending just 20 minutes reading with a child each day, establishing regular routines, and ensuring their readiness for school (through proper sleep and nutrition) can all contribute to better academic outcomes. Additionally, Major notes that arts and sports activities offer significant educational value, improving confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing, and social and leadership skills. He recommends that children should devote as much time to these activities as to core academic studies, particularly as the school curriculum may be limiting availability in these areas.
However, despite the benefits of these activities, there is a widening divide between parents who have the resources to support their children’s education outside of school and those who do not. This gap has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced some parents to become more engaged in their children’s learning while others struggle to keep up. American sociologist Annette Lareau characterizes the activities of middle-class parents as “concerted cultivation,” involving structured cultural activities and discussions, while working-class parents tend to take a more hands-off approach to schooling.
To address these disparities, Major suggests that schools should establish non-hierarchical, respect-based relationships with all parents. In addition, schools should publish parent partnership plans, outlining how they are empowering parents to develop positive learning habits in the home environment. Such a “parent promise” would help prepare children for schooling and encourage attendance, benefiting teachers and students alike. Major also recommends teachers receive guidance in working effectively with parents to close these educational gaps.
Ultimately, education is more than just academic grades, and Major emphasizes the importance of recognizing the complex and varied circumstances in which families must navigate the education system. By bridging the gap between parents, educators, and students, we can better address the challenges of helping all children to find success in school and beyond.