The importance of recognising parents as their children’s first and most enduring educators, and the value of finding effective ways to support them in this role, has been clearly evidenced in a number of wide-ranging research studies. In 2003 Professor Charles Desforges carried out an extensive literature review which showed that the influence of the home learning environment was ‘enduring, pervasive and direct’ (Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003). He concluded from this study that the influence of what parents do with their children at home has a significant positive effect on children’s wellbeing and achievement after all other variables have been eliminated. Since then, large-scale research projects including the EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education), REPEY (Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years) and ELPP (the Early Learning Partnership Project) have confirmed these findings. One of the most frequently quoted studies, the EPPE project (Sylva et al, 2004) showed that:

  • the home learning environment and what parents do makes a real difference to young children’s development
  • irrespective of children’s backgrounds, the home learning environment has a greater influence on their intellectual and social development than the occupation, income or level of education of the parents
  • there are a range of activities that parents undertake with pre-school children which have a positive effect on their development. These include reading with their child, teaching songs and nursery rhymes, painting and drawing, playing with letters and numbers, visiting the library, teaching the alphabet and numbers, taking children on visits and creating regular opportunities for them to play with their friends at home.

The research also showed that when comparing different forms of pre-school provision there were more intellectual gains for children in settings that encouraged parent engagement in their children’s learning. Researchers found that the most effective settings shared child-related information between parents and practitioners, often involving parents in decisions about their child’s learning. In addition, the best outcomes were achieved when settings shared their educational aims with parents, enabling them to support children at home with activities or materials that complemented their experiences in the setting.

The REPEY study, which had an in-depth focus on settings identified as high quality in the EPPE project, found that involvement in learning activities at home was closely associated with better cognitive attainment in the early years (Siraj-Blatchford, 2002). More recently, the ELPP, which targeted vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ families, demonstrated that parents participating in programmes designed to support their involvement in early learning became more aware of their children’s needs and more confident in providing appropriate learning opportunities (Evangelou et al, 2008).

Ways of supporting parental engagement
There are many different approaches to engaging with parents and other family members. These include:

  • incorporating partnership with parents into the everyday planning and organisation of the setting
  • organising one-off activities to engage with groups of parents, such as family workshops or sessions targeted at particular groups, for example, fathers or teenage parents
  • leaflets for parents about different aspects of children’s play and learning, including ideas to use at home.

Each month Early Years Update will feature an article written as an information leaflet around a specific topic. The information will be addressed directly to parents and will include some background information and practical activities for parents to use at home, suitable for children under two, two- to three-year-olds and three-to five-year-olds. Brief links to the EYFS framework will be included so that parents can clearly see how children’s play and exploration supports their learning and development.

The articles will cover either one of the six areas of learning in the EYFS or a broader aspect of children’s early learning and development, for example ‘the value of play’ and ‘listening to children’. They are designed to be photocopied and given to parents to support the other information and activities you organise to help you develop your parent partnership.

The framework for parent partnershipThe key documents which define quality early years practice – the EYFS framework, the EYPS standards and the Ofsted inspection framework – all highlight the importance of practitioners engaging with and supporting parents. In the EYFS, Commitment 2.4: Parents as Partners states: ‘When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children’s development and learning.’ To achieve EYPS practitioners have to demonstrate how they meet the following standards and can lead and support others to:

  • recognise and respect the influential and enduring contribution that families can make to children’s development, wellbeing and learning
  • establish fair, respectful, trusting and constructive relationships with families and communicate sensitively and effectively with them
  • work in partnership with families, at home and in the setting, to nurture children, to help them to develop and to improve outcomes for them
  • provide formal and informal opportunities through which information about children’s wellbeing, development and learning can be shared between the setting and families.

Partnership with parents is considered a key element of the leadership and management of any early years setting. The Ofsted inspection framework looks at how well parents and carers are provided with quality information about the early years provision and informed about their children’s achievements and progress. It asks providers to demonstrate how parents and carers are encouraged to share what they know about their child and for evidence of how parents and carers have been encouraged to be involved in supporting their children’s learning and development.