This project involved text messages being sent to parents using school communications systems, such as Schoolcomms. Texts informed parents about dates of upcoming tests, whether homework was submitted on time, and what their children were learning at school.
Using text message prompts to improve parental engagement and pupil attainment.
Queen's University Belfast
Organising your school
We funded this project because existing evidence suggests that engaging parents in their children’s education can have a positive impact on pupil outcomes. A study in the United States found evidence that texting information to parents about children’s attendance and homework submission records was successful in increasing their attainment.
This evaluation found a small positive impact on mathematics attainment and on decreasing absenteeism. While this result was small, the cost of sending texts parents is very low (a maximum of around £6 per pupil per year averaged over three years) making the intervention highly cost-effective.
Several studies of previous interventions that aimed to increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education have not found an impact on attainment, including more intensive and costly projects. The evidence in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit also suggests that changing parents’ behaviour is challenging - especially for parents of older students, such as those who took part in this project. The cost effectiveness of the approach and the easy availability of the technology to schools mean that communicating with parents through text messaging is an approach that school leaders should consider.
Children who had the intervention experienced about one month of additional progress in maths compared to other children. This positive result is unlikely to have occurred by chance.
Children who had the intervention had reduced absenteeism compared to other children. This positive result is unlikely to have occurred by chance.
Children who had the intervention appeared to experience about one month of additional progress in English compared to other children. However, analysis suggests that this finding might have been affected by bias introduced by missing data, so we cannot reliably draw this conclusion. There is no evidence to suggest that the intervention had an impact on science attainment.
Schools embraced the programme and liked its immediacy and low cost. Many respondents felt that the presence of a dedicated coordinator would be valuable to monitor the accuracy and frequency of texts. Schools should consider whether they would be able to provide this additional resource.
The vast majority of parents were accepting of the programme, including the content, frequency, and timing of texts.
Full project description
The Parent Engagement Project (PEP) was a school-level intervention designed to improve pupil outcomes by engaging parents in their children’s learning. The intervention involved text messages being sent to parents using school communications systems, such as Schoolcomms. Texts informed parents about dates of upcoming tests, whether homework was submitted on time, and what their children were learning at school. The programme was developed collaboratively by research teams from the University of Bristol and Harvard University and was delivered between September 2014 and July 2015. The trial involved 15,697 students in Years 7, 9 and 11 from 36 English secondary schools, with schools sending an average of 30 texts to each parent over the period of the trial.
This study was an efficacy trial in which the developers of the intervention managed its delivery to ensure optimal implementation. It was a cluster randomised controlled trial with randomisation at the Key Stage level, designed to determine the impact of the intervention on the academic outcomes of students in English, maths, and science, and the impact on absenteeism. A process evaluation used focus groups, telephone surveys, interviews, and an online survey to provide data on implementation and to capture the perceptions and experiences of participating parents, pupils, and teachers. The project was co-funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Nominet Trust as part of a funding round focused on digital technology.