National Survey of Parents and Children: Family Life, Aspirations and Engagement with Learning 2008


What the resource is:
This research report presents the findings of a national survey of a representative sample of 2572 parents with resident children aged 0-19 and 1154 children aged 10-19 in relation to providing "insights into family attitudes and that the relationships within the family could be explored in depth" (p.1).


The aims of the resource:
The report aims to aid understanding of the complex relationships between parents and their children in relation to many different views which they hold on family, education, identity and philosophies. As stated on page 1, "The key aim of the project was to provide insights into family attitudes and dynamics, and to help the DCSF communicate beyond the traditionally engaged classes, to families which are "harder to reach" in terms of their attitudes and engagements. These objectives fit within the framework of the Children's Plan set out in 2007".


Key findings or focus:
Key points of interest to ITE trainees, mentors and tutors are summarised below, although it should be pointed out that the findings of this lengthy report are more substantive than the summary produced for this review.  The findings summarised here relate to family relationships and views of education. Whilst some are taken from the chapter summaries, other details and the statistics come from within the report chapters.Views held were rarely universal, but trends emerge relating to factors such as the age of the children, economic and social status, educational background and working status of parents, ethnic origin and family units.  Shared family activities (for example, mealtimes, watching TV, playing games and going out together) were viewed as important by both children and parents (p.14), Parents in the 11-14 age bracket reported less quality time with their children than parents of younger or older children. 80% of children said they would confide in their mother if there was a problem, although 16% also reported that there was no point in talking to parents about important matters. Most children said their parents praised them, although 15% reported that praise was inconsistent and 4% reported praise as non-existent. 

Most parents stated that "family should be given a higher priority than work and that money was not the over-riding indicator of success" (p.17) although these views were less commonly held by Black and Asian parents. Whether or not parents, and in particular mothers, work, impacts upon their attitudes and their children's attitudes to whether or not this affects family life.

Factors such as qualifications of parents, age of parents and their socio-economic status affect their views on various subjects, and also their confidence and self-esteem in certain respects. Whilst 88% of parents viewed education as important, parents with a higher socio-economic status also felt that their children "‘should be pushed to if they are to reach their full potential rather than being allowed to develop at their own pace" (p.13). However, some children felt very pushed by their parents (42% overall and 52% of those from ethnic minority families). Children who felt pushed were more likely to argue regularly with their parents and live in a deprived area. 

Parents with a lower socio-economic status and younger parents with a low level of qualifications were more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of inability to cope with parenting, social isolation and to lack the confidence to help their child approach the teacher at school. Parents of children with SEN and those who display ‘risky behaviour' (drinking, smoking, truancy, use of drugs, etc.) were also likely to report that they struggle to cope.

The report highlights the need for the children of these parents to be given additional guidance in relation to educational choices at age 16+, since the children of parents who perceived themselves to have left school with low levels educational achievements were more likely to want to leave school than continue in education. This has particular relevance to the current focus on careers information and advice (IAG). Overall, 57% of 10-15 year olds reported wanting to stay at school after the age of 16, whereas 68% of parents wished their children to study at university and only 2% wished their children to get a job upon school leaving aged 16. Nevertheless, parents who had their children when they were teenagers were more likely than average to discuss careers and staying on in education with their 10-16 year olds, and Black parents were most likely to discuss 16+ options. Getting good qualifications was a bigger priority for ethnic minority parents than finding an occupation their child was happy in. In relation to subject choices, 20% of parents reported not discussing subject selection at all, and this was most likely discussed with girls than boys, and discussed by mothers rather than fathers. However, it should be noted that the percentage of young people who reported discussing options was less than the percentage of parents who reported doing this.  This reflects the lack of communication between parents and children also highlighted in The "Oh, nothing much" report. 47% of young people reported making their own mind up which options to choose for year 10 and 47% reported making choices with their parents. The children of less well educated parents were the most likely to make decisions about their future independently.


Three perceptions on the role of parenthood emerged (p. 23):


  1. Parent is the facilitator - guiding the young person towards adulthood;
  2. Parent is shielding/safeguarding the young person from the world;
  3. Parent is only the provider of basic resources, either because further connection is rejected or "because the parent has limited interest in the parenting role and experience"


The ‘osmosis' approach to learning (i.e. developing experience, knowledge and skills through passive exposure) was considered more useful in early child development by 51% of parents, as opposed to adults actively stimulating children on a one-to-one basis (39%). A preference for active stimulation was more commonly reported by parents with higher school leaving qualifications and older natural mothers. More than 9 in 10 parents of children aged 1-5 reported reading to their children and actively helping them to learn basic skills (e.g. counting, the alphabet, colours etc.) These findings are particularly relevant for those involved in Early Years provision. 

Approximately a third of parents considered that parents and schools have an equal role in helping children learn to enjoy education and doing their best at school, whereas 44% thought this was mostly the role of schools and 18% felt this responsibility mainly fell to parents. More Black and mixed ethnic origin parents (30 to 39%) felt that they had a big responsibility in this regard. Parents with lower educational qualifications were most likely to consider that the school had had a significant responsibility for the progress of their child.  

About 30% of parents considered themselves to be very involved in their child's education (helping with homework and knowing how their child is progressing), although this varied by age of the child, with help most likely at primary school age and least likely where the child is aged 17-19. This varies by income, with those on lower incomes most likely to help on a regular basis (45%). However, those with lower educational qualifications were more likely to never help (21%). Parents of Black and Asian ethnic groups were most likely to help often (50% compared to 38% overall).   Around 50% of children think that their parents know a lot about their progress at school; this again could be compared with the finding from The "Oh, nothing much" report. 85% of parents had attended a parents' evening in the past 12 months; non-attendance was most likely from those not in work or those in routine occupations. Despite this, many parents were falsely optimistic about how well their child was doing at school and were not always aware when their child was struggling.

Only 2 in 5 children felt that school gives them the confidence to make decisions, although two thirds felt that they have some control about how successful they will be in life. Children from lower income families were likely to have less positive views on their education, control and outlook.  Black children placed the most value on academic achievement and higher education, and those from a Christian background were also likely to report valuing education. Views on the usefulness of university and qualifications as opposed to work experience were polarised and often influenced by family history and socio-economic status. 

Bullying was most common in children aged 10-13. The consequences of bullying typically included low self-esteem and negative feelings towards school. Low self-esteem and weak family relationships were commonly identified characteristics of children who display ‘risky behaviour'. Parents do not always know that their children are involved in risky behaviour, but more than 90% of children reported knowing that their parents would mind if they were involved in risky behaviours (p. 88). High levels of risky behaviour were also associated with high levels of conflict with parents (p. 89). 

High levels of participation in activities beyond the school curriculum were reported: 80% actively involved in interest or hobby, 14% passively involved in life outside of school, but 7% of children appeared to have no interests at all. This minority were characterised by low self-esteem and more negative feelings towards school and their own achievements.  Whilst reporting slightly lower participation in the most popular activity (sport) than the findings of Taking Part: England's survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport, many of the findings were synonymous.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
This report seems thorough and has sought the view of parents and children from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. Whilst the sample size is relatively small, it appears to be representative of the school population, although no information is given on the geographical sampling. The research methods are briefly described, and whilst closed questionnaire responses do not always yield accurate results due to the limitations they impose, the reasons for their inclusion, the wording chosen and the scales used are usually explained in the report, although truthfulness (which relates to reliability and validity) are ignored. A summary of responses is also given at the back of the report and broken down in many different ways. One slight criticism of the report is that the groupings (for example, socio-economic status, parental qualifications, etc) were pre-conceived, and by asking the questions in this way, there is little scope to explore other potential factors. 

The layout of the report is slightly confusing and the key points are not always highlighted in the chapter summaries; this synopsis has tried to bring together linked information from different chapters and present related topics together. 


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
There is so much of interest in this report for ITE tutors and mentors within their everyday work and with trainee teachers. In particular, it demonstrates the impact of parents and relationships upon educational experiences, achievements and aspirations for young people of all ages and at all stages of their education, which is extremely important to discuss with ITE students. It has relevance for many current educational concerns and initiatives, including Narrowing the Gap, Learning Outside the Classroom, health and wellbeing, 14-19 learning, careers information and advice (IAG), drug education, antisocial behaviour and school attendance. It gives an insight into some of the many factors which can affect children's education, social and emotional wellbeing.


The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
It is vital that ITE students engage with the issues of family influence and wellbeing at all stages of education. Hence the findings of this report need to be discussed and considered in relation to the teaching situations in which ITE students are placed, both within and beyond mainstream school. They particularly need to understand the influences outside of school hours, for example family, friendships, relationships with others learning outside the classroom and how these impact upon learning in the classroom, as well as their impact upon emotional and social wellbeing. Without this key understanding and reflection upon the young people they teach, meaningful and worthwhile experiences will be lost.


Reviewed by:

Dr Alison Daubney