The Chicago model of Parenting Academies, promoted by Steven Levitt and his colleagues, is now being adapted and trialled in the UK. These academies invite parents to sessions on how to help children learn at home and to brush up on their own maths and English skills. The project is being funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, who specialise in looking at how we can help children from the most disadvantaged backgounds improve their performance at school. Their interest in this area has been increased by the recent publication of a review which suggests there is very little robust data on the impact of parenting programmes, despite a number of them being rolled out already in parts of the UK.
In the US, when parents regularly attended the academies, there were marked improvements in children’s attainment. However, there are some concerns about the number of parents who dropout throughout the year. The Education Endowment Foundation has asked us to look into how well the Chicago model works for British kids and what can be done to maintain parental engagement year round.
To test the scheme a randomised control trial is being run in Camden and Middlesbrough. The parents involved will be assigned to one of three groups: some won’t be invited to the academy at all (and will act as a control group), some will be asked to attend the academy and some will receive a small payment to attend the academy. We’ll test children’s maths and English skills before parents start at the academies and then again one year on, focussing particularly on the most disadvantaged children, and we’ll also get the views of parents and teachers.
Paying parents to change their behaviour and attend sessions like this has been pretty controversial, with some concern about parents needing payment to ‘do the right thing’. But that bit of extra money may make taking time off work or getting childcare so they can attend the sessions more possible for some parents, allow them to engage more and lead to benefits for their children.
If it can be proved that these Academies really do make a difference to children’s attainment and life chances, and that for some parents the payment allows or encourages them to really engage with their children’s education – then surely that is a good thing. Thatis what we’re looking forward to exploring.