Parents help less with homework as kids grow, 'Growing Up in Ireland’ report finds

By Niall Murray

Parents’ involvement with their children’s homework drops off significantly once they move into second-level school, according to new research.

The study shows that most parents had some involvement in helping their 13-year-old children with their homework, but the level of such support has fallen since they were last surveyed four years earlier when their son or daughter was aged nine.

For 80% of children who are being tracked by the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, their primary caregivers, who are usually their mothers, know what type of homework they were being given at age 13. 

All but 3% of the 7,423 children surveyed at this age in 2012 were in second-level education, a slightly higher number being in second year than in first year.

However, despite knowing about their homework, parents are far less likely to help with it after they move to second level.

When asked four years earlier, when their children were nine, just over half said they help always or nearly always with homework and another 20% did so ‘regularly’. Four years later, however, just 8% of 13-year-olds’ primary caregivers give homework assistance always or nearly always, and only 15% did so regularly.

Instead, the average parent helps now and again with their 13-year-old’s homework, while 13% never help out and 25% do so only rarely.

However, while 11.5% of primary caregivers in professional or managerial families said they never help with homework, that figure almost doubles to 22.5% if the primary caregiver has never been employed. 

Children in a one-parent household were also nearly twice as likely to never get help with their homework, as answered by 21.2% of their primary caregivers.

Cillian Murphy, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, and Carrie Staunton at the launch of the ESRI ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ report.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reports, however, that families were more likely to help with homework where the 13-year-old had a special educational need. More than one third (35%) did so always, almost always, or regularly, compared to a fifth of families whose child did not have a special need.

“Although not examined directly, it might be inferred that parents are more likely to help with homework where they feel more equipped to do so [e.g. because of their own level of education] or where the child needs help [e.g. children with SEN],” said the report.

Previous studies showed that informal involvement of parents in their children’s education has a greater influence on outcomes than formal involvement, and the GUI study examined the extent of different types of involvement by caregivers of 13-year-olds.

There was slightly more knowledge of their child’s schooling among those with daughters than those with sons, which was linked by the researchers to the far greater likelihood of girls to talk at home about school than boys.

On the question of formal contact with schools, 88% of primary caregivers had been to a parent-teacher meeting in the past year, but less than two-thirds had attended a school concert, play, or other event.

Irish ‘less interesting and more difficult’

Irish is less interesting and more difficult than many other subjects for students in first year and second year.

Asked about the extent to which they find four school subjects difficult, Irish emerges as the toughest. It is considered difficult by 24% of girls and 29% of boys, compared to next-hardest science, which 17% of boys and 21% of girls described as difficult.

The findings are among the data in the education aspects of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report, ‘The Lives of 13-Year-Old’ which is the latest major analysis of the Government-funded Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) project.

English is the easiest subject, with less than 5% of all 13-year-old survey respondents considering it difficult and more than 55% deeming it not difficult, with 40% categorising it as ‘OK’.

There is little gender difference on language subjects, but maths or science are considered tougher by girls than by boys.

Science is tougher than maths for all students but is considered difficult by 21% of girls compared to 17% of boys. Maths is considered difficult by 17% of girls, but just 11% of boys.

The ESRI reported that perceived difficulty is higher for second-year students than those in first-year for maths (16% compared to 11%) and science (21% of second-years find it difficult, compared to 16% of first-years).

However, there are no such differences in relation to English and Irish.

The study also finds a strong link between children’s performance when they were aged nine and later perceptions of subject difficulty.

Those with lowest reading scores four years earlier experienced more difficulty across all four subjects when they were 13, but the differences were smaller for English.

Maths performance at age nine is linked to finding Irish, maths and science difficult at age 13, but there is no association with finding English difficult.

Degree expectations vary widely

Children’s expectations about getting a college degree vary widely depending on their social background from as young as 13, an extensive study has revealed.

As part of the long-running Growing up in Ireland (GUI) research project, children are asked a range of questions about their experiences, including the transition from primary to second-level school.

The latest major report from the project looked at the lives of Irish 13-year-olds, including their responses to questions around their own educational expectations.

Just over half (54%) of all 13-year-olds expect to go on to obtain a college degree or higher qualification, according to the report published this month by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

However, there was a big drop when it comes to those with a special educational need, of whom just over one-third (37%) have their sights on a degree.

A similar proportion of children whose primary caregivers (usually their mothers) are not educated beyond Junior Certificate do not themselves expect to get a third-level degree.

However, the biggest gaps in expectation are between children of different social status.

Just 39% of those from the one-fifth of households with the lowest incomes expect to receive a degree, compared to 64% from the highest income category.

There are very similar expectation differences for children of parents who were never employed and those from a professional or managerial background.

A student’s social class is also strongly linked to their enjoyment of school, a factor which is known from international studies to be predictive of later educational achievement.

Although 29% of all 13-year-olds said they like school very much, this masks differences between those from different social backgrounds.

The same highly positive attitude was held by 34% of those whose primary caregivers had a degree, but by just 24% if the caregiver’s highest qualification was Junior Certificate.

Children with special educational needs also have less positive attitudes to school than their peers, as 25% said they like school very much, compared to 30% of other students.

Gender emerged as one of the most strong determinants of attitudes to school, according to the ESRI report. It shows that girls are much more likely to like school very much than boys — 34% compared to just 22%.

Based on their own responses, boys are significantly more likely to misbehave at school or to be punished for behaviour issues.

Nearly three-quarters of boys and 62% of girls said they had been messing in class at least once in the previous year. However 31% of girls got in trouble for not following school rules, much less than the 52% of boys, and the 27% of boys who had been given detention is nearly twice the 15% of girls.

Just 4% of boys had been suspended — but that is still double the rate for girls.

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