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Research About the Value of Family Literacy and Learning


Of course parents play a major part in children’s education success.  After all, they are their children’s first teacher. And children spend much more time with their families than at school. However, while almost all parents want the best for the children, not all parents know how to support their children to learn and be successful in education.

The educational achievements of parents are significant because parental levels of literacy and numeracy have a direct impact on the next generation. Children are more likely to have low literacy if their mother also has low literacy. Approximately 57% of New Zealand adults in the 2006 Adult Literacy Survey who had both very low literacy and very low numeracy (ALL level 1) had a mother with less than 3 years secondary schooling (Sutton 2009).

Family learning works because it increases parents’ capacity to be effectively involved in their children’s learning. This leads in turn to a positive effect on children’s achievement at school (Hattie 2009).

The value of family learning is being recognised internationally. The recent report from the Inquiry into Family Learning in England and Wales (NIACE 2013) argues that family learning is cost-effective because it is a single intervention with multiple outcomes and contributes to breaking the long tail of underachievement. In addition to increasing schooling achievement, family learning can reduce the cost of supporting vulnerable families in non-education policy arenas.  This important report makes recommendations for England and Wales that are equally relevant to us:

  • Family learning should be integral to school strategies to raise children’s attainment and to narrow the gap between the lowest and highest achievers.
  • Family learning should be a key element of adult learning and skills strategies to engage those furthest from the labour market and improve employability,
  • Every child should have the right to be part of a learning family. Many children grow up in families that can support their learning but some do not. Public bodies should target support to help these families.
  • Key government departments should include family learning in their policies and strategies in order to achieve cross-departmental outcomes.
  • Government should regularly review the funding for and supply of family learning against potential demand.
  • There should be a joint national forum for family learning to support high quality, innovative practice, appropriate policy and advocacy, research and development.

Extra reading and resources