In an increasingly globalised and technological world, job market success in developed countries such as Australia depends on the attainment of post-secondary qualifications. However, young Australians do not all have an equal opportunity to attain this necessary level of education. As it currently stands, approximately two-and-a-half years of schooling separates the achievement scores of students in the highest and lowest socioeconomic quartiles, and student achievement differs significantly according to location (e.g. rural or metropolitan) and cultural background. All Australian governments have recognised the need to increase quality and equity in Australian schooling and one of the key ways in which they are currently seeking to achieve this is through improving parent-school partnerships and parent engagement in child learning.
The critical importance of engaging parents in their child’s learning and building parent-school partnerships has been established in the international literature but research in the Australian context is limited. It is well documented that disadvantaged parents, which in Australia would include Indigenous parents and those from lower socio-economic statuses, tend to have lower levels of engagement in their child’s school and learning, and face additional barriers to engagement when compared to more advantaged parents. Our results are consistent with these previous findings.
Although Principals from disadvantaged schools were just as likely as those from more advantaged schools to report using a range of engagement strategies, they were significantly less likely to find many methods effective in involving parents in their school. Furthermore, a less positive culture of parent volunteerism was reported by P&C Presidents from disadvantaged schools. This suggests that those schools in which the children stand to gain the most from increasing levels of parent engagement, are the same schools finding their efforts to engage parents the least effective. These findings highlight the need to identify what does work in disadvantaged schools and to ensure that interventions are tailored to the specific needs of these schools, as applying uniform strategies across all schools may only compound the advantage of those already doing well.
Principals in this study emphasised different barriers to parent involvement according to the school’s level of advantage. Time-pressure factors such as work and family responsibilities were more likely to be identified in more advantaged schools, whereas parent factors such as a lack of interest and a lack of confidence, along with transportations problems, were more likely to be identified in disadvantaged schools. This information can be used to guide the future development of interventions.