Kids who get on best with mum and dad top the class in maths

Children who have a harmonious relationship with their parents have the edge over their peers in maths, a new study by the University of Sussex reveals.

The progress in maths made by year six pupils with the most harmonious relationships with their parents was a third higher compared to children with the least harmonious, according to the study published today by the Royal Society.

Experts at the University of Sussex’s School of Psychology believe that a more positive parent-child relationship might infer that parents are more compassionate and accommodating when responding to their child’s changing needs.

However, the impact of a positive parent-child relationship was not as significant an indicator of a pupil’s ability in maths as the parents own level of educational achievement, the study found.

Danielle Evans , researcher in achievement in mathematics at the University of Sussex, said: “A more harmonious parent-child relationship, greater parental involvement in school activities in year six, and higher parental educational qualifications were all associated with better maths grades in SATs exams, and were associated with children progressing at a quicker rate.

“The advantage of having the best-rated harmonious relationship with parents compared to the worst-rated was equal to a difference of 0.152 national curriculum levels at age 11. Children usually progress by 0.5 levels per year, so this difference in attainment would be equivalent to almost a third of a year for the bestand worst-rated children.”

The study used secondary analysis of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), to investigate parental influences in childhood and early adolescence as predictors of maths attainment trajectories as children moved from primary to secondary education.

The authors looked at several indicators of the home environment and parental factors including: early home teaching, parental mental health, parent-child home interactions, parent-child relationships, school involvement, parental education qualifications and child gendered play.

Child IQ, parental socioeconomic status and parental education were all adjusted for in the models to ensure the effects could not be reduced down to family background.

The study found that pre-schoolers who participated in “masculine play” were likely to have lower maths attainment by the time they sat their SATS but children who participated in “feminine play” had higher than average grades.

However the study authors said the impact was extremely small and their findings show there is very little effect of gender-stereotyped play on maths attainment, suggesting that sex differences in maths attainment stem from other factors requiring further study.

The academics were also surprised to find that the level of interaction between child and mother and the amount of home teaching in numeracy and literacy as a child grows up did not significantly predict maths attainment at age 11.

Miss Evans said: “What our study has shown is that parental education still had the strongest association with maths attainment and has a greater effect compared to parent-child harmony.

“Understanding which factors in childhood have negative impacts on the trajectory of maths attainment will help enable strategies for mitigating the difficulties many adults have with mathematics and will be vital to solving the UK’s maths crisis.”

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 8 July 2020