Parent power – how to enable parents to support children’s learning in primary mathematics

    Published: 07 December 2021

    Parents are powerful! 

    Whilst we know that work inside our schools is crucial in supporting our children’s learning, what happens at home plays a significant part too. I think that most teachers know this and it is acknowledged early in the EEF guidance report, “Working with parents to support children’s learning”. What can be challenging is ensuring that all parents know their importance and crucially, that the school – parent relationship is fully developed to enable all parents to support their children’s learning.

    Perhaps it is worth noting here, that when I talk about parents, I include all parents, carers, grandparents, older siblings… in fact, anyone who has significant caring responsibilities for children in our schools. And of course, just as each child brings with them their own strengths and needs, parents too have varied contexts and starting points. Particularly in considering mathematics, parents can bring with them their own anxieties. So how can schools fully engage parents and enable them to support their children’s mathematical learning? 

    Look at evidence carefully considering your school context

    Whenever we look at evidence, it is crucial to ensure that we consider it critically. This is none more so the case than when aiming to identify what is effective in supporting parental engagement in children’s learning. Firstly, a school’s plan should meet the needs of their communities and be “informed by an understanding of families’ lives” (EEF, 2018, p10). Secondly, “strategies for parental engagement will be different for different age groups” (EEF, 2018, p13). And finally, even the EEF recognise the “limitations of the current evidence base” (EEF, 2018, p11). 

    In knowing this, the priorities must then be to make sure we understand the lives of our families through listening to and working with them; to establish the aims of parental engagement based on our understanding of pupil needs at different developmental points and to ensure that whatever we chose to put in place, we continually evaluate how effective it is being in meeting those aims.

    Consider what effective parental engagement looks like within your context

    To establish the next steps in developing parental engagement within your context, it is best to reflect on what already happens, what is working and where there are things that you feel could be improved. Be clear about the development that you are trying to implement – where is it needed? For whom? What would it look like after successful implementation?

    I would urge caution here and ask that you consider the eyes that you are looking at this development through. What a school views as effective parental engagement may not be the same as the views of parents within it! Step one then remains to establish true understanding of the lives of families in our schools – their needs and the opportunities they present.

    There are however many aims that schools may consider to ultimately support children’s mathematical development, and these might fall under four broad themes:

    • opportunities – working with parents to understand where there are relevant links to learning and opportunities to develop maths understanding
    • recognition – enabling parents to notice and value their child’s mathematical working and achievements
    • interactions – considering together what makes an effective interaction and supporting parents to be able to work through mathematical activities successfully with their children
    • modelling – developing parental understanding of how teaching has already happened in school and being able to reinforce this or simply ask relevant questions about it at home


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    Ensure that support is practical and linked to learning

    Whichever focus is selected, what matters is how able parents are as a result to take specific actions to support mathematical learning. So, sharing information about curriculum content may provide context, but what will support improvement is parent understanding of their importance and practical strategies and resources to enable them to unleash their power. 

    This was a key point we considered when designing the HfL training, “Enabling parents to support primary mathematics at home”. For example, as part of the training, one pre-recorded session and associated resources is heavily focused on helping parents to see the importance of talk and understanding how they can notice and use everyday opportunities and their child’s own interests to develop mathematical thinking and articulation. Schools are provided with a template and supported in designing a bespoke parent session. Through practical and accessible examples and supportive sentence stems, parents are then encouraged to identify actions they can take immediately which will support mathematical learning.

    For anyone who follows the Herts for Learning maths team on social media or YouTube, you will know that we are huge advocates for the use of games to support learning rehearsal. Time spent showing parents how to play and understand the purpose of well-chosen games can support continued rehearsal and reinforcement at home. Ensuring that parents have the resources to play the game at home once shown can be overlooked but will make the difference in terms of impact on pupil learning.

    Consider how to maximise the impact of homework

    Homework is another potential opportunity to support parents and to make links to learning. The EEF guidance identified a few points relevant to homework in primary schools and these are outlined below.

    • at primary level, the evidence is strongest for short and focused homework projects.
    • the quality of the homework completed is more important that the absolute quantity.
    • schools can improve the quality of homework by ensuring that homework tasks are tightly tied to main class teaching.
    • parents can have a positive effect on homework completion and help children to develop effective learning habits. (EEF, 2018, p16)

    It was through considering these key points, requests from schools and consideration of how to support parents, that the HfL home learning tasks were written. These tasks are shared (all 118 of them) as resources accompanying a second pre-recorded session in the training. The resources have been developed to support parent understanding of pupil mathematical learning with key features that will enable parents to ask relevant questions, understand taught models and to support learning reinforcement.  


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    Plan for successful implementation

    Successful implementation will be key in establishing impact and this should be considered while gathering evidence and planning new developments. It is so important to develop your vision, share it with stakeholders and to plan carefully to make it a reality. 

    If you are currently reflecting on your vision and considering how to engage parents in supporting children’s mathematical learning at home, join the primary maths team in June 2022 for our Enabling parents to support primary mathematics at home training.

    Following the training launch, teachers said:

    “I am going to incorporate the Maths Everywhere examples into the KS1 and KS2 parent workshops next week.”

    “I liked having the key parent session template slides ready to adapt and also the focus on language and times tables.”

    “I loved the idea of sharing videos of playing games. I plan to talk to our EYFS and KS1 teams about filming short videos to share on our school website for our youngest children and families to engage with at home”.

    “The home learning tasks will really help with teacher workload.”

    “The home learning resources are great. I love how they link in with the same methods and equipment that the children are used to seeing in class.”


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    Enabling parents to support primary mathematics at home

    References and further reading:

    Working with parents to support children’s learning – Guidance Report, EEF, December 2018, p.16

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