Ambitious middle-class parents help their children get better grades at school by making teachers work harder, according to new research.

Reading bedtime stories, helping with homework and regularly attending parents’ evenings all encourage children – and their teachers – to put in extra effort, the study by Leicester and Leeds Universities suggested.

In fact, the level of parental involvement has a greater impact on a pupil’s eventual grades than the efforts of either the school or the child themselves, the researchers said.

Education experts have long known that parents with “sharp elbows” are more likely to get their children places at the best schools and to play the system to their advantage.

But today’s study, “Must Try Harder: Evaluating the Role of Effort in Educational Attainment“, suggests that pushy parents have a knock-on effect on how hard teachers work for their children, as well as whether pupils put in the effort in class.

Professor Gianni De Fraja, head of economics at the University of Leicester, said the level of interest parents take in their children’s education is six times more important for a pupil’s eventual grades than the child’s own effort.

It is also four times more important than how hard the school works to help children progress.

Many more parents from middle-class backgrounds are prepared and able to put in the extra effort to help children with homework, read them stories and attend parents’ evenings.

The reason why children from good families do better is because their parents work harder,” Prof Fraja said.

If I could make sure that the parents from poor socio-economic backgrounds also made the right type of effort, I would expect their children’s educational achievement to improve.

The study found that teachers were likely to work harder for children whose parents were engaged and came from affluent backgrounds than from families that were not interested in education.

“The parents’ background also increases the school’s effort, which increases the school achievement. Why schools work harder where parents are -from a more privileged background we do not know,” Prof Fraja said.

“It might be because middle-class parents are more vocal in demanding that the school works hard.”

However, the researchers also found that children in large families suffer from a lack of parental attention and lower levels of engagement from their mothers and fathers in their schooling.

And coming from an affluent home is no guarantee that a child will do well: pupils from better off homes do not necessarily try harder than those from poorer homes, the report found.

Using the National Child Development Study, which follows a group of individuals born during one week in March 1958 throughout their lives, the researchers looked at the effort pupils, parents and schools made towards a child’s schooling.

It looked at pupils’ attitudes, such as whether they thought school was a waste of time and teachers’ views about pupils’ laziness.

Researchers also measured how interested parents were in their child’s education, such as whether they read to the child or attended parents’ meetings.

They then compared these factors with the results gained by pupils as they progressed through secondary school, taking O-levels and A-levels or other courses.

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