Parent engagement

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Category: Uncategorised

Suitable ages: Primary and secondary


Parents have a major influence on students’ engagement and achievement in STEM. Parent engagement initiatives aim to improve student STEM outcomes by informing parents about the importance of STEM education, keeping them updated on student progress, and encouraging them to speak with their children about STEM and STEM careers.

Successful parent engagement strategies focus on the local context and use a variety of communication channels. These may include brochures, websites, emails or face-to-face communication. Both generic and individualised messages have been shown to be effective. Based in Oakland, California, Techbridge Girls’ guide for parents on supporting STEM learning is a good example of the kind of language and information that can be effective (see case study below).

Parents can be an untapped resource in STEM education as the major influencer of student subject choiceNot a replacement for high quality school STEM experiences
Parent engagement can complement other STEM initiativesParent circumstances or attitudes may inhibit engagement in some cases
Can strengthen ties in a school community 


There is evidence that this initiative type has a positive impact on student STEM engagement or achievement.

Parent engagement has a strong impact on student outcomes in school education. There is significant qualitative and quantitative evidence to demonstrate this. While some research focusses on parent engagement interventions specifically in STEM education, some looks at parent engagement in school education more generally.


  • Helping Parents to Motivate Adolescents in Mathematics and Science: An Experimental Test of a Utility-Value Intervention by Judith M. Harackiewicz, Christopher S. Rozek, Chris S. Hulleman, and Janet S. Hyde. This randomised controlled trial in the USA (2012) found that sending brochures and a custom-made website to parents led to students taking an average of one additional semester of science and mathematics in the final two years of high school.
  • The underutilized potential of teacher-to-parent communication: Evidence from a field experiment by Matthew A.Kraft and Todd Rogers. This randomised controlled trial (2015) found weekly one-sentence individualised messages from parents to students significantly reduced the failure rate in a high school credit recovery program. Messages that emphasised what students could improve produced the largest effects. Some of these students were taking maths and science courses.
  • Engaging the future of STEM: A study of international best practice for promoting the participation of young people, particularly girls, in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by Ms Sarah Chapman and Dr Rebecca Vivian. This research commissioned by the Australia Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Office for Women in 2016 found that parent involvement is very important for engaging girls in STEM experiences.
  • Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research by Dr Lance Emerson, Josh Fear, Dr Stacey Fox and Emma Sanders and published by the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth for the Family. This report shows that parental engagement of various kinds has a positive impact on student achievement in school education.
  • The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review by Professor Charles Desforges with Alberto Abouchaar. This 2003 literature review found that parent involvement has a major impact on child achievement, but that research on parent engagement interventions was largely inconclusive.


Parent engagement initiatives vary considerably in complexity. Few resources are required for a simple parent engagement initiative. However, a sustained and multifaceted approach is most effective, especially when starting with a low level of parent involvement.

Implementation tips:

  • Focus on the local context. Consider what parents might be interested to know about STEM education and the best way to get information to them.
  • Use more than one way to communicate. A sustained approach using brochures, websites, email, and face-to-face communication is more effective than a one-off message.
  • Make use of existing groups or networks in the school community. For example, help and encourage parents and friends associations to promote STEM.
  • The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has a number of best practice case studies on how schools can engage with parents.

Industry involvement

A school-business partnership can be a catalyst for parent engagement in STEM.

  • Partnership activities such as workplace excursions or real-world projects are a great way for schools to start a conversation with parents about the benefits of STEM and future opportunities for their children.
  • Businesses might help by producing materials and information about STEM education and career opportunities.

Case study: St Gabriel’s Primary School

Teachers at St Gabriel’s Primary School in Adelaide engage parents and the community as part of the teaching and learning culture of their school. There is a strong emphasis on connecting learning at home with learning at school. The teachers develop relationships by sharing classroom teaching strategies with parents, for example in numeracy. They also run regular ‘open houses’, where parents visit the classroom and students show them their work. Teachers use online tools to collect parent feedback. Parents are also involved in authentic assessment. For more information, see the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s case study and video on St Gabriel’s Primary School.

Case study: Techbridge Girls, USA

Techbridge Girls provides free STEM learning programs for girls from low-income families in three US states. This non-profit organisation makes a special effort to engage parents and families and to bust myths about girls in STEM. They provide information about career pathways and tips on talking to children about STEM. They help parents encourage a ‘growth mindset’ in their children to support curiosity and persistence. They also provide simple activity ideas to support STEM learning. Their creative guidebook for parents Science: It’s a Family Affair is available online for free. In a survey, 98% of parents said their daughters’ confidence in STEM had grown because of Techbridge.