What Do You Need To Know?

The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019
Cover image: © Chris Van Lennep | Dreamstime.com


The transition to secondary school can be as challenging for many families as the original commencement of school. Many of the concerns parents had initially about their children resurface as they become young people changing school. They question whether they will fit in and easily form new friendships and they wonder if they have the correct knowledge base to succeed academically.

These concerns are eased when families and schools work together to help new secondary school students ease their entry into a new environment. This module assists parents to help their child achieve their best by doing simple things both at home and with their child’s school.

A young person’s learning and wellbeing can be shaped by how parents connect and engage with their school. Engagement both demonstrates the importance of education and builds confidence. This matters all the way through a young person’s schooling - just as much in secondary school as in primary school.

The shift to secondary school is often accompanied by other changes in young people’s lives as they physically and emotionally mature and face puberty. The combination of new routines, a different physical environment, independent learning expectations and the various social challenges can be both exciting and challenging. Distress and pressures from adjustment are common across these years.

There are many benefits related to parental engagement throughout the high school years,

• improved academic achievement
• higher graduation rates
• young people with stronger aspirations for post-school learning and employment
• positive student attitudes and behaviour within school
• increased self-esteem and social relationships amongst adolescents
• fewer mental health issues

“Family involvement in education – defined as parenting, home-school relationships, and responsibility for learning outcomes – is just as important for older youth as it is for younger children.”
(Harvard Family Research Project, 2007).

(Above extract taken from the Progressing Parental Engagement Parent Fact Sheet - Parental Engagement in High School, p. 1). Fact sheet available at:


What you can do as a parent


Help your child have confidence in their new school and routine by making sure you know as much as you can about the school they will attend. Be certain of starting and finishing times, term dates, etc. Also understand school break times, school policies and procedures, and, for example, who you or your child needs to speak to when you have a question.

Use the parent portal, if the school has one, so you can engage with what is happening and keep up to date with your child’s learning and activities. Read the school newsletter as it is usually a great source of useful and vital information.

With all the best intentions, there are many reasons why parents might be less engaged in the secondary school years:

• It becomes more difficult to support teenagers’ education as they display the autonomy that comes with the more active role they are encouraged to play in their own education. This often extends to questioning parents’ authority and this usually challenges established routines.

• The content of school work becomes more complex and increasingly (as young people take on specific interests) is outside the knowledge and experience of parents. This can be compounded by the differences in how primary and secondary schools communicate student progress.

• Opportunities to engage seem to be less in secondary school, in part because parents feel that there are fewer invitations to participate, either from their children, or from the school. Parents need to overcome these perceived barriers to engagement as research shows that a young person’s development in secondary school is strongly influenced by the value parents place on school, and parent expectations and aspirations for their child’s future.

“When parents and caregivers create an environment at home that encourages and supports learning, it influences how children learn, more than direct parental involvement with the subjects they are studying.

Ways you can encourage and support learning include:

• Be sensitive to how teenagers want to be more independent, while giving them structure and support.
• Show that you value education
• Discuss aspirations and expectations for your child’s education and future achievement.
• Aim to provide a stimulating and supportive home learning environment.
• Have conversations and participate, with them, in activities relevant to learning and the wider world.
• Keep connections and communication open with teachers and support staff in secondary school.
• Balance support for school expectations such as homework with the need adolescents have for independence and other parts of life such as sport or work.”

The above information was an extract from Helping young people learn - what you can do in secondary school, by the South Australian Department of Education. An update of this information can be found at:https://www.education.sa.gov.au/parents-and-families/parent-engagement/helping-children-learn-secondary-years


What you can do with your child

Remember you don’t have to be an expert on every subject – just doing the simple things at home with your child is what really matters – supporting and encouraging learning is vital and often sufficient.

Before your child starts secondary school, and into the future:

• Spend time with them.
• Believe in their potential.
• Talk with your child – about anything and everything – build confidence that they can come to you with any problems or questions they may have.
• Read with your child – this is just as important in secondary school as in primary school.
• Set routines – help them to develop good habits and a positive attitude towards learning.
• Help them to learn persistence and resilience – sometimes it takes time to be able to do things.
• Support good relationships – help your child to be able to socialise and get along with others.
• Learn about the world together – take them places.
• Let them help you with chores and do things together so they can learn – this can prepare them for when they leave home.
• Talk positively about school and the importance of learning.
• Set expectations for your child’s behaviour.
• Help them to learn to occupy/amuse themselves – quiet time is important.
• Make sure they understand their school timetable and where they need to be.
• Make sure they understand the importance of being on time.
• Help them to understand the importance of participating in extra curricula activities.




Many researchers emphasise how family and parenting influence a child’s mental health. Effective parenting practices and positive parent-child relationships
are very important as young people transition into secondary school.

“Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. Parents as partners with
school in supporting children’s learning can have a significant and long lasting positive impact.

Research shows benefits of parental engagement include:

• improved academic outcomes
• greater engagement in learning
• children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well
• children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence
• enhanced relationships with others in the school community
• the development of effective partnerships — where families and schools can work together to address issues that may be impacting on children’s wellbeing and achievement.”

The above information is taken from the Progressing Parental Engagement Project, resources for parents – public school life. ACT Government, Education - this resource is available at:

The Australian Government’s Learning Potential free app and website provide information on topics about how to respond to the many impacts that secondary school has on students. Please refer to section 5 for links to this information.

The following information on transition to secondary school is taken from the Te Tari Arotake Matauranga Education Review Office (2016) and is available at:https://ero.govt.nz/our-research/evaluation-at-a-glance-transitions-from-primary-to-secondary-school

“The transition to secondary school often coincides with important social, emotional and physiological changes in the lives of adolescents” and parents’ and teachers’
understanding of these changes can enhance parental confidence and also enhance the confidence of young people.

“When students change class within or between schools, they must adjust to new surroundings, become familiar with new teachers and peers, learn new ways of working, and make sense of the rules and routines that operate in their classes (Sanders et al, 2005). While students are navigating the formal school environment, they are also adjusting to the social changes that happen when changing schools and classes.

Why the Primary to Secondary Transition matters.

Students need to make positive adjustments to their new school and classes so that their wellbeing is maintained and their learning is coherent and continuous. McGee et al (2003) found that there was a strong correlation between the extent to which students experienced difficulty following transition and their likelihood of dropping out from education. Other research indicates that poor transitions impact on students’ wellbeing and on their achievement in the future (West et al, 2008). Where students experience multiple transitions because of transience, there are identifiable negative impacts on their achievement.”




Following are resources with many ideas for parents and schools on effective strategies to undertake in assisting children in their transition to high school.

How to help your kids transition to high school.

Surviving the first week of high school – Maggie Dent.

Planning for High School Success – Council of Catholic School Parents NSW and ACT, January 2019.

Top 10 skills high school students need to thrive by Fagell, P.L.

Helping children and young people learn - what you can do in secondary school, Government of South Australia, Department of Education and Child Development.

Australian Government, Department of Education, Family-School Partnerships Framework - a guide for schools and families.

Making the transition from primary to secondary school (January 2013) by Coulson, J.

Reading Aloud at Any Age

Transition to secondary school for students with a disability.

How to help the transition to secondary school - Victoria University academics offer tips to parents so they can help their children make a successful move to secondary school.

Making a smooth transition to secondary school.

The Australian Parenting website - Starting secondary school.

This website is backed by Australian experts and provides parenting videos, articles and apps.

Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families. ACT Government – Education and Training.

Progressing Parental Engagement School Fact Sheet: Engaging with families of children with disability

Australian Government - Learning Potential

Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiring ways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).



What some Parents say


The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“I could be there for my kids to hopefully instil good values and empathy and things like that, because I think that’s really important, not just education.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“As a parent of children in secondary school, this is something I definitely grappled with at the beginning! It seems that many people think that parents (and their children) don’t want to be involved once their children reach secondary school but I feel this is absolutely not true. Where most schools seem to have good transition programs for children, it is not so for the parents.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Western Australia).

“My involvement is to keep tabs and what they have due which we receive through a parent portal. You click on each child’s name and you get a list of everything that’s due and check how they’re tracking on those things weekly.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“So, taking into account that I’m an expert in my child, I’ve never felt that the school had actually gone out of its way and actually asked me what do we need to
know about your child?”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Tasmania).

“What I’ve found has worked for me is that I like to be across everything that has happened in the boy’s day or week. I like to see every assignment that they have to do, we sit down and work out a study plan. It’s something that I’m interactive with the boys because if I don’t have a grasp of what their needs and requirements are for that weekend or for the week ahead then it’s hard for me to plan our family life around what’s required of them by the school. So that then, in turn, if I support them in a timetable for their extra work then it does help them in their education and it certainly improves their learning I believe.”
(Parent, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“I think trying to remember that we as parents don’t speak teacher language because it’s quite difficult – it’s like anywhere – I used to work at Centrelink and I could talk Centrelink till I was blue in the face. No-one else would know what I was talking about unless they worked there. The same with teachers and things
have changed you’re exactly right. My child has just started high school – I’ve had to explain to three different teachers that I have spoken to - I’m sorry my knowledge of high school was when I went and that’s a long time ago. So things are very different and I’m aware I don’t know it all but I need you to help me know what I need to know and make it clear … it’s fine to use the acronym but you need to tell me what it is.”
(Parent, regional secondary school, New South Wales).

“I don’t know about other parents but at the high school we really work as a threesome, student, mum and/or the parents and the school. So we’re all on the same page, so I find them a lot, oh it’s not cooperative but we think probably more as, as in partnership.” “... ’m getting the same thing with mine, with my daughter in high school. We work together with the teachers, her and myself and my husband and her poppy. So we all work together for her to a better and higher level - to push herself.”
(Parents, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).




The following quotes are taken from interviews conducted as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.

“So the boys would go through a number of transition activities, ‘get to know you’ activities that our house leaders and the student leaders would take the boys through and at the same time the parents are taken to two forums. One is on transiting your son from primary school to secondary school and the second one is communications that happen at the college.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“I think the enablers are giving opportunities in a number of different ways … (for example) giving parents a sense of feeling that what they have to add is valued
- and it’s certainly taken into consideration, we’re collaborative.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Queensland).

“But as I said, my thinking over time – I would have perhaps in my naivety as I was a bit younger, thought that as a school, that we had a really great influence over the children but I think ultimately we play a smaller part than what parents do. So, we need to acknowledge that and look for ways to actually work with parents to hopefully strengthen the relationships we have with them.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“And I think that parents need to understand that schools can do so much but parents need to be interested – very interested and very curious about what the students are learning and where they are wanting to go with their future study or career pathways.”
(Principal, regional secondary school, Queensland).

“But my view as an educator is that we … partner with parents in the education of their children, and it’s a three-way partnership between the family, the school, and the child and if those three partners are working in unison, then yeah, great things can actually happen.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).

“So to me the first thing is when we first meet and we talk about a three-way partnership, I make sure that that is understood by the parents, it’s understood by my staff and it’s understood by us as leadership that this is a three-way partnership between the parents, the boys and ourselves.”
(Principal, metropolitan secondary school, Victoria).



“Middle and high school family members are more likely to actively engage when their needs and interests are taken into account. As an example, student-centered, student-led conferences are gaining traction in middle and high schools across the country, replacing typical parent–teacher conferences and significantly
boosting family engagement in one district from 20% to 90% (Hechinger Report, 2016).”

The above quote is taken from Creating Conditions for Meaningful Family Engagement From Pre-K to High School. Safe School Healthy Students, Retrieved from:

“Parents who are viewed as ‘hard to reach’ often see the school as ‘hard to reach.’ Where schools have made concentrated efforts to engage the ‘hard to reach’ parents, evidence shows that the effect on pupil learning and behavior is positive (particularly of hard-to-reach parents), showing improvements in attendance,
behavior, and student achievement.”
(Harris and Goodall, 2007).

The Gonski II Report, Through growth to achievement - report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools, states:

“Recommendation 2
Develop and disseminate evidence based tools and resources to assist early childhood education providers, primary, and secondary schools to implement best practice approaches to supporting parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning throughout their education.

Finding 3
There is strong and developing evidence of the benefit of parent engagement on children’s learning. This will be further enhanced through the work currently underway to develop an evidence-informed definition of parent engagement, which will allow for a core set of agreed measures aligned to the definition to be established and used to drive improvements in policies and practice.”
(Department of Education and Training, Australian Government, 2018).

“Undeniably time is a major impediment to parent engagement. However, it is not insurmountable, as was exemplified and implied through many of the conversations with principals and parents. At a functional level, efforts to provide greater flexibility in how and when parents can engage (both formally and informally) and allocating specific time to teachers and other staff towards parent engagement activity were noted as valuable.”
(Stafford, Barker, Ladewig, June 2018).

“Parental engagement in children’s learning makes a difference, a very big difference. It is the most powerful school improvement lever we have.”
(Power and Goodall, 2008).

“Parents want to know when things go wrong at their children’s schools and the sooner the better. If something is heading off the rails, parents want to know and to be able to seek assistance about the kind of strategies to use at home to help. On the flip side, teachers also want to know what’s happening at home. It helps teachers to know if things are going on at home that might impact on a child’s behaviour or their schoolwork or motivation …”
(Picolli, A. Parents partnering with schools and teachers. Teacher: Evidence + Insight + Action 12 February, 2019).


Some useful books on parent engagement

Please click here to peruse a list of useful books on parent engagement



Department of Education and Training, Australian Government. (March 2018). Through growth to achievement - Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Commonwealth ofAustralia.

Harris, A., & Goodall, J. (2007). Engaging parents in raising achievement: Do parents know they matter? Coventry, England: University of Warwick.

Piccoli, A. (2019). 12 Ways your child can get the best out of school. ABC Books.

Stafford, N., Barker, B. and Ladewig, C. (June 2018). Parent engagement: Analysis of qualitative research with principals and parents. Unpublished report prepared for Catholic School Parents Australia as part of the Reenergising parent engagement in Australian primary and secondary schools project.



Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)),
Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.