Researching Parents

Home factors have more of an influence on pupil performance than school factors, and parents are certainly the biggest influencers of pupils at home, especially in their early years.

Parents can influence a child’s attitude towards education in various ways:

  • The amount of time they spend reading with their children in early years
  • How they play with their children more generally, and how educational that play is.
  • How strict they enforce rules.
  • The importance they attribute to education themselves
  • The amount of interest they show in their child’s education

As a result of early socialisation, children end up being either culturally deprived or having cultural capital (or somewhere in between), which means they are either ill-prepared for school or very well prepared, which will make an enormous difference in how well they adapt to school life when they first start.

If you wish to research pupils, you may well need the consent of parents, so some minimal contact may well be necessary even if it’s not them you are actually researching.

Problems of researching parents

Validity issues

Middle class, pro-school parents are more likely to want to engage with research about education, as they will be more interested and will probably be able to use it as an opportunity for self-validation – they can show off how much they care about their children’s education. They will also be more familiar with filling in questionnaires, and engaging in social research, which are quite ‘middle class’ pursuits.

Working class parents, who themselves maybe didn’t have such a positive experience of schooling, might be more reluctant to take part in research, feeling less comfortable engaging with the middle class researchers.

Parents may also try to ‘impression manage’ with researchers, exaggerating their involvement in their children’s education for example, because this paints them in a more positive light.

Practical Problems

Gaining access to parents could be difficult – if you don’t want to hang around the school gates or at parents evenings then you would have to approach them either at home or via phone/ email.

Gaining access to parent’s private addresses is going to be difficult because schools will not share that data with you because of GPDR, thus if you wanted a representative sample by postcode then you wouldn’t be able to get it.

Schools might agree to send out questionnaires or letters asking for interviewees to parents on your behalf, but then you’ve got the problem of getting a self-selecting biased sample back. The chances are only those parents who are pro-education would want to take part in your research.

It could be very difficult to gain access to the parents of traditionally underachieving groups – white working class parents or traveler parents for example.

When it comes to researching, it would be more difficult to get parents into a group to research them (also, this might be pointless anyway), so you’d probably have to do one on one research which could be more time consuming.

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