The ACT will spearhead new research into how parents should best engage with their children's learning, with international evidence showing engaged parents can improve learning by the equivalent of six months of school attendance and have a life-long positive effect.
Education Minister Joy Burch has commissioned the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) to establish a definition of parental engagement, a measurement tool to look at levels of engagement across the ACT as well as benchmarking how parental engagement can improve outcomes.
Findings will then be used in a four-school trial - across two government schools, one Catholic and one independent - with the entire project scheduled over two years at a cost of $200,000.
With the federal government also considering ways of raising parental engagement in the education debate, the ACT research is likely to have national implications.
ARACY chief executive Lance Emerson said a growing body of global research found overwhelming evidence that parents who engaged with their child's learning through conversation, reading and general interest, helped them achieve consistently better outcomes.
He believed the development of a survey to measure engagement levels in the ACT would be able to show how students with engaged parents fared better on educational measures such as NAPLAN tests, as well as having better social outcomes.
"It has been strangely under-recognised in Australia that parents play a crucial role in educational outcomes. Yet we seem to assume parental responsibility stops at the school gate," Dr Emerson said.
International research over the past 40 years showed parental engagement consistently led to better test scores, higher grades, better attendance, higher graduation rates, lower drop-out rates, greater likelihood of higher education attainment and, on the social front, improved behaviour, personal competence and a life-long love of
learning. The most cited research found family participation in education was twice as predictive of students' academic success as socioeconomic status, that parental engagement was equivalent to $1000 in extra funding a student a year and that students whose parents regularly read and talk with them scored an average 25 points higher on the Program for International Student Assessment, or six months of a school year.
Dr Emerson stressed that parents did not have to replace teachers in the home nor understand complex subjects; they just needed to talk with their children about their learning, keep the lines of communication open and show an interest in how their child was progressing at school.
''It's not talking about rocket science; it is reading the paper and sharing an interesting point with your child; it is about keeping a dialogue about learning open.''
Ms Burch said parental engagement was a crucial factor in raising standards across schools - placing it in the same category as quality teaching and school infrastructure. But there was no data to support the role of parental engagement in the ACT, nor Australia. ''What we are doing is a first, and I am sure it will be of interest nationally,'' she said.
The research funding has been wholeheartedly welcomed by parent groups across the ACT, with the Association of Parents and Friends of ACT Schools noting its budget submission last year suggested ARACY research the role of parental engagement.
Association president Charuni Weerasooriya said ''it is fantastic to see the ACT's Education Minister Joy Burch doing the heavy lifting on a national reform that will end up showing that parental engagement is the missing link in education''.
''This project will broaden the dialogue and involvement of parents beyond fetes, helping in classrooms and tuck shops, and come to the core of what is required of the partnership between home and school for the learning and wellbeing of our children,'' she said.
Catholic Education Office director Moira Najdecki said the project would ''provide research and practical engagement strategies that will ultimately benefit all children - no matter where they go to school in the ACT''.
ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations president Viv Pearce said the council had also been lobbying hard for a more structured approach to parent engagement.
''The evidence is clear that it improves outcomes but we seem to have lost touch with what it is instinctively, and we are leading such busy lives we assume the schools themselves are going to do all the educating,'' Ms Pearce said.
1. Read to and count with your children from birth - even 5 minutes a day can make a difference. Children who were read to when very young are much better readers at 15, in fact their reading scores are equivalent of up to a year's additional schooling compared to children who weren't read to.
2. Maintain a keen interest in what happens at school. This includes listening to your child's experiences at school and supporting them to have the confidence when they experience setbacks. It also involves building good relationships with your child's teachers and asking what you can do to help in their learning.
3. Talk with your teenager regularly about social issues. Talk about the issues of today and explore the 'why' questions - if you don't know the answers, work together to figure out where you might find the answer. Teenagers who have regular discussion on contemporary issues are more proficient readers - in fact, their reading scores are equivalent to around half a year's additional schooling.
4. Understand that your role is important and believe that your child can do their best. Supporting children's aspirations and showing faith in their ability to achieve their goals has a very positive impact on their educational outcomes. Even if you didn't enjoy school yourself, there is strong evidence that kids do better when their parents have high aspirations for them, when they talk about the importance of education and encourage them to think big about the future - to develop a lifelong love for learning.
5. Help your children work through things that impact their overall wellbeing. Sometimes there are apparently small things happening at school or at home which can be the biggest issue for your child. Help resolve these issue.
Source: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth