Research has found that sending texts to parents about their children’s tests and homework can boost secondary pupils’ maths grades by the equivalent of a month in class.
The study, one of a series funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), involved 15,697 pupils in 29 schools across England, half of whose parents were sent texts. These texts mentioned dates of upcoming tests, warned about missed homework, and offered parents insight into what their children had been learning, with the aim of prompting conversations at home about school.
Overall, about 30 texts a year were sent, one a week during term time. Pupils were either in their first year of secondary school (Year 7), Year 9, or their GCSE year (Year 11).
Using baseline tests to determine pupils’ abilities taken at the beginning of the year and figures from the National Pupil Database to determine progress, the study found that texting had a small, positive effect on maths attainment, equivalent to one month’s progress over a year. No texts related to attendance were send, however, absenteeism improved, on average, by half a day per year. Researchers suggest that this might be related to an increase of monitoring by parents of their children’s school-related activities overall, creating an environment in which pupils felt less able or willing to truant.
However, there was no effect on attainment in English and science.
Schools have been using texts to communicate with parents for some time, and are seen as a cost-effective way to engage parents. The texts cost the school about £7.55 per pupil for the first year, including training for staff involved, falling to £3.25 per pupil per school in subsequent years.
Schools often report finding it hard to get parents involved, especially when their children get older. In this experiment, parents were generally satisfied with the frequency, content and timing of the texts, and in the majority of cases talked to their children about the information they were receiving via text from the school.
Texting parents can be compared to other strategies, for example paying parents £30 to attend school meetings improved attendance, with this measure is far more costly.
However, the strategy is more effective in improving exam results than some other measures that have been tested, for example individual tuition over the internet, joining the Scouts or exposure to classical music.