Attainment - Parents to be paid to 'do the right thing'

15th November 2013 at 00:00
Controversial project will reward attendees of parenting academy

Parents in England are to be rewarded with cash for attending special "parenting academies", where they will learn how to help their children with reading, writing, maths and science, it has emerged.

The US-inspired project - funded to the tune of nearly #163;1 million - could mean that parents get rewards of more than #163;600 for learning how to support their children with schoolwork.

The scheme, which is likely to include many disadvantaged families, will ensure that participants receive free childcare and meals to help them to attend. Education leaders have both welcomed the trial and expressed concerns about how effective it will be to pay parents to "do the right thing".

The initiative echoes this week's controversial revelation that, in a pilot scheme in Sheffield and Chesterfield, new mothers are to be paid #163;200 in shopping vouchers to encourage them to breastfeed their babies until they are six months old.

Some parents or carers taking part in the education trial during the 2014-15 school year will get full grants of around #163;600 if they attend all 18 academy sessions, although the exact amount of money is yet to be fixed. They will lose a portion of the money for each of the 90-minute sessions they miss or turn up to late.

The scheme is being funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which supports innovative projects to raise attainment among disadvantaged children.

Asked why parents should be paid public money to receive help to bring up their children, EEF research manager Robbie Coleman said: "This was a group of local authorities and schools that wanted to do something like this anyway. We are not saying it is right to pay parents. We are not taking a moral view. We are saying, if this activity is happening, the key point is that we evaluate it rigorously to find out whether or not it makes a difference."

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he would have "concerns" about parents who needed to be paid to see the value of supporting their children's education. "I have reservations about simply paying them. But if the money enabled parents to take time off work in order to attend, it could be very helpful," he said.

Graham Stuart, Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: "If parents will engage with experts to improve their skills, that's great. However, the evidence of efficacy will have to be overwhelming before I can accept that the state should have to pay parents to do the right thing."

The project was set up after local authorities in Middlesbrough, north-east England, and in Camden, London, said there were parents who wanted to support their children in school but lacked the skills and knowledge to do so. The EEF put the authorities in touch with the University of Chicago, which had already done research on the idea in the US.

The ongoing American project in Chicago Heights, Illinois, looked at the results of children who were given extra help at a pre-school with highly qualified staff. They were compared with those of children who did not go to the pre-school but whose parents were paid up to $7,000 a year to attend two sessions a week at a parenting academy. According to the EEF, it was attendance at the academy that did most to raise outcomes.

The project in England will involve 14 primary schools. It will select parents and carers from 1,500 families who it believes could benefit. They will be randomly divided into three equal groups. One will be paid for attending the parenting academy, another group will have access to the academy but will not be paid and the final group will not go at all.

The children of all the parents will be tested on literacy, numeracy, cognitive ability and attitude in July 2014, before the programme begins, and again after it finishes in July 2015. A report on the findings is expected early the following year.

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