New Report Finds Offering Parents ‘Family Learning’ Sessions Might Improve Literacy

An evaluation report on the Family Skills programme has found that offering parents ‘family learning’ sessions that aim to give them the tools they need to support their child’s learning at home might improve literacy, but supporting them to turn up regularly can be difficult.

An evaluation report on the Family Skills programme has found that offering parents ‘family learning’ sessions that aim to give them the tools they need to support their child’s learning at home might improve literacy, but supporting them to turn up regularly can be difficult. This is according to new research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) that adds to the growing evidence of how to engage parents effectively.

115 primary schools in England took part in a randomised controlled trial of Family Skills, a programme delivered by a partnership led by Learning Unlimited that aimed to improve the literacy and language of children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL).

The trial was funded by the EEF with The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy, as part of a funding round focused on raising the attainment of EAL pupils. Earlier research from Oxford University, commissioned by these organisations, found that the attainment of EAL pupils varies widely and that average attainment figures mask a huge range of outcomes for different groups of EAL pupils. The research also found there is a lack of high-quality evidence of what really boosts attainment for these disparate groups.

Over the course of one term, parents of four and five year olds were offered weekly sessions with family learning tutors. The two and a half hour sessions focused on topics like reading to children, phonics, making the most of bilingualism, learning through play, and understanding primary education in England. Families were encouraged to do learning activities at home with their children, and were also given opportunities to visit a local library and take a tour of their child’s school.

The independent evaluation conducted by the National Centre for Social Research found that, overall, children of parents who were offered the Family Skills intervention did not make any more progress in literacy than children of parents who were not offered it.

However, the evaluation also suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not. While the evaluators are cautious about this figure (noting the impact might have been between 0 and +2 months’ additional progress), this may indicate some potential if ways can be found to ensure more parents attend.

The key challenge the evaluation highlighted is that some schools struggled to get parents to turn up -- only around one-third of eligible parents attended at least one session.

Today’s new findings add to a growing body of research that highlights the difficulties of recruiting and retaining parents to face-to-face programmes. During previous projects, EEF studies have identified many reasons for this. These include not being able to find the time between their busy work schedules and childcare commitments, or reluctance to attend because their own experiences of school were not positive.

The vast majority of schools taking part in the trial of Family Skills said that they would recommend it to other schools, highlighting that it provided a good opportunity to build home–school links and engage parents in their children’s learning. They also reported that regular reminders and personalised recruitment helped to boost attendance, and tutors reported that more time to engage parents before the programme started would have been beneficial.

Previous EEF evaluations of Parenting Academy and SPOKES - two programmes designed to equip parents with the skills to support their child’s learning through intensive sessions – reported similar barriers and found that both struggled to persuade parents to attend regularly. However, the trial of Parenting Academy found that parents who were paid £30 to attend each session were more likely to attend, suggesting that financial incentives can be an effective way to engage and retain parents in programmes of this type.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:
“Parents worry for and care very much about the future of their children wherever they come from or whatever their circumstances. The EEF’s trials in this area provide vital information about how best to provide parents with the tools they need to support their child’s learning.”

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:
“We know that it can be very difficult to get parents more involved in their child’s learning. This new research tells us how difficult it is to expect parents to turn up at school for classes of their own.”

“Taken together, our body of parental engagement research gives schools hugely useful insights into how we can better engage parents with children’s learning – which has the potential to have a significant impact on their results.”

The evaluation report is available on the Education Endowment Foundation’s website.



  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £96.3 million to 160 projects working with over 1,000,000 pupils in over 10,000 schools across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. The Bell Foundation is a charity whose main aim is to overcome exclusion through language education by working with partners on innovation, research, training and practical interventions. Through generating and applying evidence, we aim to change practice, policy and systems for children, adults and communities in the UK disadvantaged through language.
  3. Unbound Philanthropy is a private grant-making foundation dedicated to ensuring that migrants, refugees, and their families are treated with respect and dignity, are able to contribute fully in their new communities and can ultimately thrive in a society that is comfortable with the diversity and opportunity that immigration brings.
  4. The delivery partnership for Family Skills included 16 local delivery partners, the Campaign for Learning, and Institute of Education at UCL.
  5. The materials for the Family Skills project are listed as one of the Finalists in the British Council’s ELTons Awards 2018 Local Innovation category.