Giving parents a voice: Strategies to enhance parent capacity to support transition to school

This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. This post was written by Gonski Institute Research Fellow, Amy Graham. A link through to full article is provided at the bottom of this page. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.


The educational importance of parental engagement is well established, offering considerable academic and social benefits to children and across the life course. Similarly, there is a wealth of research on the importance of being school-ready and, more broadly, educational transitions. It is assumed that children's experiences at home influence their preparation for school, yet there is limited understanding of parental contributions before children start school. Children are born ready to learn, and the importance of parents in the educative process is considerable (Pascoe & Brennan, 2017).  There is a need for additional evidence on how parents engage with their children in the home. How, and to what degree, is their child’s preparation for schooling influenced by their behaviours, activities, attitudes, expectations and aspirations? 

There has been more than 40 years of international research into parental engagement in education and its importance is well rehearsed regarding student learning and achievement. The literature in the area of parental engagement varies considerably in quality. Although some sources provide a clear distinction between engagement and other forms of participation, the definitions used, and the way these relate to attitudes and actions, are not consistent. This inconsistency has led to imprecise measurement of parent contributions (Fox & Olsen, 2014). Broadly conceived, parental engagement promotes shared responsibility for education and relationships between families and schools to promote children’s learning and wellbeing (Fox & Olsen, 2014).

Research in educational transitions has been popular in the literature for more than 20 years (Dockett & Perry, 2001). Transitioning to school is seen as a process that evolves over time, beginning when children prepare for school in the home environment, continuing after starting compulsory schooling, and finishing only when they have adjusted to school (Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo, & Cavanagh, 2011; Northern Territory Government, 2017).

The mixed-methods project undertaken by Graham (2019) aimed to understand the contributions made by parents in preparing their child for school and relate them to the child’s outcomes in the first months of the schooling experience. Quantitative survey data were collected from 120 parents and 52 teacher-parent dyads to understand the role parents played in preparing their children for school and the relationship to children's school entry outcomes. Furthermore, 16 parents were interviewed and the data qualitatively analysed to identify the factors affecting parents’ capacity to engage.  This study was fundamentally grounded in the belief that children’s outcomes are enhanced when parents are engaged in the learning journey. The data showed that children come from a variety of family contexts and their home environments differ in many ways including parenting skills, the resources families provide, activities parents facilitate and the beliefs they hold. 

In the article, some key findings and implications for practice are offered to the education community so that parents can find their voice. It is now broadly accepted that everyone has a role to play in supporting children to reach their full potential, and education is a collective responsibility. Transitioning to school is a process that starts well before a child enters the school gate, and schools can only do so much. If parents are supported early, it sets the trajectory for their engagement once at school and makes the work of school leaders, teachers and policy architects easier.

Giving parents a voice: Strategies to enhance parent capacity to support transition to school