Successful Home-School Partnerships

Publication Details

The purpose of this research project is to improve understanding of the key elements of successful home–school partnerships, and how these partnerships operate in different school settings. The project has two parts—a review of evidence, and an empirical research component. Both parts of the project are reported on here.

Author(s): Ally Bull, Keren Brooking & Renee Campbell

Date Published: June 2008

Report prepared for Ministry of Education

Executive Summary

This report describes the findings of a research project designed to improve understanding of the key elements of successful  home–school partnerships and how they operate in some different school settings. The project includes a review of evidence and an empirical research component.

The review of evidence draws on seven international case studies that have data linking home–school partnership initiatives to improvements in student achievement, and four recent evaluations of New Zealand home–school partnership initiatives. The empirical research component consists of seven New Zealand case studies (and one mini case study). These case studies cover a range of schools including primary and secondary, low and high decile, urban and rural, a special school and a kura kaupapa Maori. In each school, interviews were held with the principal and groups of teachers, parents, and where appropriate, students.

The research literature is unequivocal in showing that parental involvement makes a significant difference to educational achievement. Given this, it is not surprising that during the last decade or so there has been a high level of interest in interventions aimed at involving parents (especially “hard to reach” parents) more fully in the education of their children, as a means to raising educational achievement of children who are currently not performing to expectations in the education system. Research on interventions designed to promote parental involvement identifies a perceived need and increased demand; high levels of creativity and commitment by providers; and a range of approaches; and appreciation by families. However, as yet, there is little evidence as to what sort of involvement makes a difference to student achievement. The research literature does, however, suggest that successful home–school partnerships display many of the following features:

  • Relationships in successful home–school partnerships are collaborative and mutually respectful.
  • Successful partnerships are multi-dimensional, and responsive to community needs.
  • Successful home–school partnerships are planned for; embedded within whole school development plans; well resourced and regularly reviewed.
  • Successful partnerships are goal oriented and focused on learning.
  • Effective parental engagement happens largely at home.
  • There is timely two-way communication between school and parents in successful partnerships.

These features are also evident in many of the New Zealand case studies. However several other key ideas emerged. Within the case studies, there are examples of initiatives designed to serve a range of different purposes. Sometimes the purpose is simply giving information to parents, sometimes it is about aligning home–school practices, and sometimes it is about the school and home working together to create something that neither partner could have produced on their own. Regardless of the purpose of the initiative, the development of positive relationships is an essential first step in developing successful home–school partnerships, and in some initiatives this is the whole focus.

Building successful home–school partnerships takes time and commitment. In nearly all the case study schools, teachers, parents, and sometimes children, thought the principal was a key player in the establishment of successful partnerships. Teachers’ attitudes also seem to be critical to the success of home–school partnerships. The manner in which power is shared is also an important influence on how partnerships develop.

Context affects the nature of partnerships and the way they develop. Home–school partnerships are perceived to be easier to establish in small schools, and in closely knit communities, and more difficult with secondary age students. “Outreach” workers can play an important role in establishing home–school partnerships in communities where the language and culture of the home is different from those of the teachers. The special character of special schools and the kura kaupapa Maori mean that the partnerships in those settings are qualitatively different from those in “mainstream” settings.

The case studies show that technologies such as mobile phones, the internet and DVDs are being used creatively to strengthen links between school and home. Several case study schools are also exploring ways of modifying current school practices such as parent–teacher interviews and homework as ways of facilitating genuine two-way communication between school and home.

One interesting finding was how little we really know about the effectiveness of home–school partnerships as strategies for reducing disparity and/or developing successful 21st century learners. The report concludes by raising some questions that we think are important to consider. Specifically it suggests that there is a need to find out more about exactly what sort of home–school partnerships are beneficial, how they are beneficial, and to whom.

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