It is parents who have the greatest influence on whether or not pupils perform well and stay in school, new research has found.
Pupils whose parents take only a limited interest in their learning are far more likely than their peers to perform badly academically and to drop out of school, the study shows.
But pupils are also influenced by their friendships with other pupils, and tend to seek out friendships with others who have also dropped out of school .
Academics from three US universities analysed data from 140 Chicago school pupils. They then compared demographic characteristics with those of pupils across Chicago, extrapolating data across 681 schools.
In a paper published in the journal of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, the academics wrote: “How can we lower the number of failing and dropout students?”
Analysis of the data they collected revealed that academic achievement is directly related to the level of parental involvement. “Academic achievement is strongly dependent on parental involvement,” they wrote.
'A waste of time'
The researchers also found that dropout rates are higher among pupils who do not live with their parents.
However, if pupils become friends with other dropouts, this changes: the effects of parental involvement become insignificant, once negative peer pressure increases.
The academics wrote: “Eventually, the number of [dropout] friends increases. Moreover, a large number of students are contacting friends who think that attending school is a waste of time.”
But they believe that the impact of parental involvement is particularly important, because it allows schools to identify vulnerable pupils. Teachers can then attempt to prevent these pupils from spending time with similarly vulnerable or failing peers.
If they do this while fostering parental involvement in pupils’ schoolwork, the academics added, “then they can achieve sustained reduction in the number of dropouts”.