Good parenting matters more than the quality of a school when it comes to academic success, according to new research.

A study of 10,000 teenagers has found the home environment is three times more important than the school, when it comes to 18-year-olds’ test results.

Researchers found that pupils at weaker schools, who came from homes where parents were closely involved in their children’s education, performed better in tests than children at better schools who had apathetic parents.

However, they said the quality of a school still mattered – particularly at secondary stage when children were more liable to be influenced by relationships outside the home.

The team, from North Carolina State University in the US, studied the relative importance of what they termed “family social capital” with that of “school social capital”.

Family social capital was based on how much parents trusted their children, how often they checked homework, discussed school activities, and attended parents’ evenings and school events.

A school’s social capital was based on how highly parents rated teachers, morale amongst pupils, participation in sports and extracurricular activities, regularity of contact from school to parents, and the lack of problems like absenteeism and bullying.

They came up with scores for each pupil, who were all part of a long-term educational monitoring project.

These measures were then compared to pupils’ test scores in maths, reading, science and history.

Toby Parcel, professor of sociology, and one of the three authors of the study, said: “While both school and family involvement are important, the role of family involvement is stronger when it comes to academic success.

The difference was not marginal, she noted: it overwhelmingly showed the home environment mattered more.

She said: “I don’t want to suggest that schools are unimportant, because clearly they are important.

“However, I do think that parents should realise how important they are to their children achieving academic success.”

She noted the study looked at older teens who were “just about to go off to college or work”, yet “we are still finding that family social capital is very important”.

Parents might matter even more when their children were younger, she thought.

However, she said what they found was probably the cumulative result of years of parenting.

“I personally believe that the parents who do these things to help their children start doing them early,” she said.

Checking homework or talking about school not only mattered because they helped children get the right answer or react properly in class: “Parents are also signalling to their children that they think school’s important.”

She cautioned that their study, published in the journal Research and Social Stratification and Mobility, did not look at the influence of school spending per child on academic achievement, which could be considerable.

Nonetheless she and her fellow authors said the research indicated more attention should be paid to getting parenting right, rather than simply investing in schools.

They wrote that policy makers “may be reluctant to advocate for strategies that would encourage the creation of greater social capital in the family”, because of the “primacy and privacy of family life”.

The research is published in the same week that David Cameron defended Eton, his old school, by saying he wanted “every child to have a great education”.

By Stephen Adams

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