Outreach To Support Learning At Home
The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019
Cover image: © Jonathan Ross | Dreamstime.com
As a young person develops and transitions into secondary school, they usually become more independent with their learning. However, research indicates that the benefits of parents continuing to engage in their child’s learning and wellbeing in secondary school can be profound. Some thoughts around this include:
• The secondary school principal has a key leadership role around fostering a culture of parent engagement, where teachers and parents work in partnership to maximise the learning and wellbeing of their young people.
• Hopefully, this will involve extending a culture of engagement with which parents have grown familiar from primary school. Also, it could involve challenging beliefs such as parents engaging less as their child grows older and the content of their school learning becomes more complex.
• When a family enrols their child in a secondary school, the opportunity for them to share their parent knowledge about their child contributes to the quality of the developing school-family partnership. This assists families to continue their supporting role with their child around participation in school, learning and wellbeing.
• Principals create healthy school cultures by empowering teachers to value parent engagement and building this into every day teaching practice.
• Principals will help build the capacity of parents by providing them with strategies that facilitate partnering with teachers around their child’s learning and also ways in which parents can support learning at home and at school.
Children are the beneficiaries and welcome the partnership. The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People in 2018 reported that students want “families to provide a home environment that supports learning. This included having positive relationships, structure, promoting wellbeing and an interest in the student and their education. Students suggested families can support positive relationships between home and school by influencing the attitude of the student/s, and by providing advice or advocating on behalf of the student/s.”
What you can do as a principal
Outreach begins with leadership and support for teachers, parents and students. The role of school leader(s) in relation to this include:
• Welcoming parents as valued partners in developing the whole child and emphasising their important role as a support and guide for their child.
• Ensuring, and where necessary developing, a school and local community culture that values parent engagement in student learning.
• Assisting teachers to build their capacity to engage parents through positive feedback about students throughout their journeys in secondary school. This helps to create a school culture of family-school partnership that builds a relational approach to communication, and promotes proactivity rather than reactivity around teacher and parent interaction.
• Assisting teachers and mentors/class coordinators/year level coordinators/ pastoral coordinators to build their capacity to value collaborating with parents and ensuring parents know who to contact for various matters and how to contact them.
• Assisting teachers to build their capacity to engage parents in their child’s learning through two-way communication dominated by discussion centered on constructive feedback.
• Assisting teachers and parents with opportunities to collaborate through three-way conversations (teacher-parent-student), goal setting and monitoring.
• Sharing information with parents about what their child is learning and, through school and parent input, providing tips and strategies of how parents could better support learning at home.
• Ensuring staff and parents are aware of and have access to key education information, e.g. information through the parent portal on the ACARA website.
What you can do with your school
Some broader actions to facilitate positive impact on parent – child/student - school partnerships that you might take as a principal could include:
• Making formal transition to high school preparation part of the annual school calendar and including timely social gatherings for parents, staff and students.
• Providing professional learning opportunities for teachers and parents to generate better understanding of the processes of learning from the perspective of parent engagement as a key pillar in contributing to a growth mindset for learning at school and at home.
• Ensuring that teachers are providing information for parents about what their child will be learning and discussing with parents various strategies on how to support this learning at home.
• Ensuring teachers are providing regular updates to parents of their child’s performance and encouraging feedback from parents in relation to their child’s learning.
• Engaging parents and the extended school community in experiences that enrich student learning. These include, utilising various partnerships with community through parent volunteering and/or student participation in VET and/or paid work, and promoting the strategic roles that parents can play in these partnerships.
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
Many researchers emphasise how family and parenting influence a child’s mental health. Effective parenting practices and positive parent-child relationships are very important as young people transition into secondary school.
“Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. Parents as partners with school in supporting children’s learning can have a significant and long lasting positive impact.
Research shows benefits of parental engagement include:
• improved academic outcomes
• greater engagement in learning
• children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well
• children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence
• enhanced relationships with others in the school community
• the development of effective partnerships — where families and schools can work together to address issues that may be impacting on children’s wellbeing and achievement”.
The above information is taken from the Progressing Parental Engagement Project, resources for parents – public school life. ACT Government, Education - this resource is available at:
The Australian Government’s Learning Potential free app and website provide information on topics about how to respond to the many impacts that secondary school has on students. Please refer to section 5 for links to this information.
The following information on transition to secondary school is taken from the Te Tari Arotake Matauranga Education Review Office (2016) and is available at:
“The transition to secondary school often coincides with important social, emotional and physiological changes in the lives of adolescents” and parents’ and teachers’ understanding of these changes can enhance parental confidence and also enhance the confidence of young people.
“When students change class within or between schools, they must adjust to new surroundings, become familiar with new teachers and peers, learn new ways of working, and make sense of the rules and routines that operate in their classes (Sanders et al, 2005). While students are navigating the formal school environment, they are also adjusting to the social changes that happen when changing schools and classes.
Why the Primary to Secondary Transition matters.
Students need to make positive adjustments to their new school and classes so that their wellbeing is maintained and their learning is coherent and continuous. McGee et al (2003) found that there was a strong correlation between the extent to which students experienced difficulty following transition and their likelihood of dropping out from education. Other research indicates that poor transitions impact on students’ wellbeing and on their achievement in the future (West et al, 2008). Where students experience multiple transitions because of transience, there are identifiable negative impacts on their achievement.”
SOME IDEAS AND RESOURCES
Following are some resources that will help both parents and teachers to support learning at home.
Australian Government - Learning Potential
Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring ways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).
Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with families of children with disability.
Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Family-School Partnerships Framework: A guide for schools and families.
ACT Government - Progressing parental engagement school fact sheet: Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families.
NSW Department of Education - Literacy and Numeracy Strategy – support for parents.
What some Principals say
“One of our big points of discussion with families … has been growth mindset and I think just continuing to help our staff to be able to speak about that because whilst we talk about it here at school and we might have trained them to do that the more we can help parents to use it as a framework at home, the greater the effect on their children will be.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Victoria).
“I think some of our parents work in partnership really closely with us, especially those who are reading to their children, those who are forming good relationships with teachers, those by whose presence really indicates to the child that things are important.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, South Australia).
“So I think it’s harder to engage parents within the school, but I think that providing electronic platforms that make it easy for parents to navigate around timetables, student assessment feedback, when it’s due, course notes, those sorts of things are really important for the parents that want to jump online at any time and say well, ‘what are they actually doing in history at the moment in year eight’ and ‘why is this assignment framed like this’ and ‘how can I sort of help my child?’ Now I reckon we get about fifteen to twenty percent of our parents that do that and I think that’s a reasonably high strike rate.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Australian Capital Territory).
“I think the enablers are giving opportunities in a number of different ways … (for example) giving parents a sense of feeling that what they have to add is valued - and it’s certainly taken into consideration, we’re collaborative.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).
“That means a lot of parents are on contract work, shift work, two parents if there are two are operating three or four jobs or three jobs plus a business, so they’re time poor and I think they appreciate the ability to get the technology, a technological platform to help them navigate where their kids are at.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Australian Capital Territory).
WHAT SOME PARENTS SAY
“Teenagers are non-communicative and will give you the most miniscule amount of information. So what teachers have started doing, which has been really helpful, is providing an overview of what’s due and some of the teachers send out an email every couple of weeks saying this is what we’re covering; this is what they should be up to.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).
“Talking about expectations together is really important. I know that having high expectations of children has a significant impact on their outcomes so parents and schools being on the same page here is a no-brainer.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).
“I think if teachers felt that working with parents was more part of their job than just actually teaching the students, it would almost feel like a holistic learning approach, that parents would be regularly involved with the teachers.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).
“If there is a rapport with the teachers, the parents need to ask if there is anything they can do to help families support their child’s learning. It may be to do extra reading on a subject, the family can help by giving time at home for this and maybe helping to get extra resources. If parents don’t know they can’t help.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).
“Without parents helping children to be prepared for school, making sure they’ve got the right resources, the right times, good communication between the school and the parent to ensure that there’s ample time to prepare children for class, if they’ve got to collect paraphernalia to go in for reports or projects or those sorts of things, practice at home for certain things if they’re doing orals, support with homework, guidance to help them choose their time wisely, help to get on to particularly internet resources, I mean, there’s so much. There’s so much that parents do in terms of education.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).
What some Researchers say
“Research (Melhuish et al 2008) has found the way in which boys and girls are perceived from a young age, and the way their parents interact with them, can impact their future educational learning outcomes” ... and “It’s essential that regardless of age and gender, parents must regularly communicate with their children; demonstrating support and keeping motivation and desire to succeed high” ... and “The ASG Parents Report Card demonstrates the value of building strong parent school partnerships, to enable a greater understanding of expectations and responsibilities, which factor in cultural influences and sensitivities to ensure all children have access to a well-rounded and quality education.”
ASG Report Card 2017- Australian parents’ perceptions of the state of education in Australia; Australian Scholarships Group and Monash University, 2017. This article is available at:
“Principals considered the role of parents at this stage to be one which they maintained a home environment supportive of their children as independent learners, including setting boundaries, encouraging self-inquiry and development, and taking an interest in terms of subject choices and transition to further education and/or work.”
(Stafford, Barker and Ladewig, 2018).
“The aspects of parental engagement that appear to matter most - Family led learning.
• High expectations and aspirations for children: parents’ aspirations and expectations for their children’s achievement and participation in further education is consistently identified as the strongest and most influential aspect of parent engagement. It is theorised that parental expectations shape children’s own beliefs about their potential, the value they place on education and their sense of academic competence (Eccles, 1989; Fan & Chen, 2001; Flouri, 2006; Flouri & Buchanan, 2004; Gutman & Akerman, 2008; Hill & Tyson, 2009; Jeynes, 2005b; Singh et al., 1995).”
(Fox and Olsen, 2014).
“Based on the study, the main factors that enhance Indigenous student retention and attendance in school are:
• Demonstration of a positive cultural identity
• Family support
• The undertaking of Aboriginal Studies as a subject or as integrated units of work in school subjects
• Culturally responsive relationships between teachers and students
• Culturally supportive school environments and
• Indigenous educational support programs such as school scholarships, school-based homework centres and the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Program (ITAS) … Parents were shown to support the interviewed students through the application of high expectations, motivating them to be at school, helping to maintain positive schooling attitudes, providing them with a comfortable and resourceful home environment and just being there when things get tough. This was shown to have a critical impact on the desire of these students to complete Year 12, their attitudes towards school and carrying out their schooling responsibilities and their levels of school attendance.”
Extract from Education Today, Term 4, 2018 regarding a study Reaching out to indigenous students by Dr Kiara Rahman.
Noted researcher Epstein (1992) writes: “students at all levels do better academic work and have more positive school attitudes, higher aspirations and other positive behaviours if they have parents who are aware, knowledgeable, encouraging and involved”.
Some useful books on parent Engagement
Commissioner for Children and Young People. (2018). Speaking out about school and learning - The views of WA children and young people on factors that support their engagement in school and learning. Western Australia, Perth.
Epstein, J.L. (1992). School and family partnership. In Encyclopedia of Educational Research, ed. M. Alkin, pp. 1139-1151. New York: MacMillan, 6th Ed.
Fox, S. & Olsen, A. (2014). Defining parental engagement. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Canberra. (p.15).
Stafford, N. Barker, B. & Ladewig, C. (2018). Parent Engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with principals and parents. Unpublished report.
Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.
Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)),
Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.