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Back to school: how teachers can boost parental engagement with numeracy

14 Aug 2023

By Anna Purcell

Parents, carers and families give children their first experiences of maths.

Older person helping children with homework

Even once children reach school age, what they learn at home has a big impact on how children respond to maths at school and beyond.

Research shows that engaging parents and carers with their child’s education leads to raised attainment at school and can also improve children’s behaviour and attendance. There is also evidence to show that children are more motivated to learn about maths when their parents talk with them about the numeracy in everyday life.

Supporting parental engagement: how can National Numeracy help?

So what can schools do to support parents and carers to engage positively with their children’s maths learning? How can we help families feel more able to support their children with maths?

At National Numeracy, we’ve been working with primary schools on parental engagement for nearly ten years. Our parental engagement programme runs in a variety of locations each school year and provides support, training and resources to participating schools. From these projects, we’ve learnt a lot about what schools in both England and Scotland can do to encourage parental engagement.

On our website, you can find lots of tips for developing your parental engagement approach. You can also find further information about our parental engagement programme, which recruits new schools in identified locations between February and May each year for the following school year.

Alongside this, our Family Maths Toolkit activities are available free of charge to support schools in promoting positive parental engagement in maths. These are short, fun activities for children and families to do together, exploring maths in creative ways and real-life contexts. The activities are available for all year groups from Primary 1 to 7 and support key topics covered in the curriculum.

Family Maths in your school: how are the activities used most effectively?

The Family Maths activities are a great way to engage parents in children’s maths learning and open up a dialogue between home and school. They can be used instead of other maths homework or alongside the usual homework in alternating weeks, and teachers can select activities that match what’s being learnt in class at the time to help reinforce learning and assess understanding.

Best practice for using the resources in school includes:

  • Introducing, exploring and modelling an activity in class before sending it home, to ensure that children are enthused and understand what is involved – this enables them to explain it to parents if needed. If necessary, break the task down into smaller steps.
  • Using activities from lower or higher year group packs if necessary – none of the worksheets are labelled by year group.
  • Sharing completed activities in class to ensure all children are included in mathematical conversations about different approaches. Show & Tell can encourage maths talk and motivate others, or some schools use class assemblies to share and discuss examples.
  • Encouraging any family members to engage – it doesn’t just have to be parents but can be older siblings or grandparents too.
  • For EAL families, using a translation app can be a really helpful way to enable parents who don’t speak English to get involved.
  • For children who have no other support, you could introduce year group buddies (e.g. pairing a Y6 child with a Y1 child) or hold a small TA group or homework club.
  • Holding a parental drop-in homework club weekly or fortnightly where parents can come in to ask for help or use resources they might not have at home can be a good way to promote engagement. Alternatively, having the maths lead or a parent ambassador on playground duty once a week to be available for any questions from parents is also valuable.
  • Showcasing and celebrating good examples at parents’ evenings, on maths displays, in your school newsletter (e.g. mathematician of the week), on Sway, and/or on social media can help families gain confidence by seeing what others are doing. It also helps to create a buzz around the initiative in your school community.

Hundreds of schools across the UK have used the Family Maths resources, and in a recent project, 100% of teachers said they would recommend the activities to another school. In our Scottish cluster of schools in 2021-22, 84% of parents who used the Family Maths activities said this helped them feel better able to support their child.

More parental engagement tips: what do other schools recommend?

The Family Maths activities are a useful resource but there are lots of other things schools can do to support parental engagement in maths.

From our work with parents, we know that understanding the methods used in school is a key barrier for many parents. Getting parents/carers into the school and talking through the methods you use in school can help them feel more able to support their children.

Running parent and child activity sessions is also a great way to get parents engaged and help them feel comfortable supporting their children and engaging with the school. One school we worked with chose 4 or 5 activities from the Family Maths Toolkit to do in a workshop with parents and children together – other schools have held board game sessions or created a maths trail for parents and children to complete together.

To encourage uptake and attendance at in-school family activities, many schools recommend providing food! Whether it’s a croissant and coffee in the morning or pizzas in the evening, it always goes down well. Getting children to write the invitations to their parents also encourages parents to attend. For parents who are less comfortable coming into the school, it can be helpful to explain exactly what’s going to happen or to encourage attendance for a short time, e.g. 10 minutes, if they are hesitant.

From holding workshops to having chats in the playground, sharing resources to celebrating children’s work, running family games sessions to sharing videos – each school has their own ideas to bring to parental engagement.

Whatever approach you take, supporting families to engage with children’s maths learning can have a big impact on children’s confidence with maths.