Parents play a far more crucial role in the child's education than the school, it has been found in a research at the University of Leicester and University of Leeds.
The socio-economic background of a family not only affects the child's educational attainment — it also affects the school's effort.
Researcher Professor Gianni De Fraja, who is also the Head of Economics at the University of Leicester, said: "The main channel through which parental socio-economic background affects achievement is via effort.
"Parents from a more advantaged environment exert more effort, and this influences positively the educational attainment of their children.
"By the same token, the parents' background also increases the school's effort, which increases the school achievement. Why schools work harder where parents are from a more privileged background we do not know. It might be because middle class parents are more vocal in demanding that the school works hard."
The study is based on the very simple observation that the educational achievement of a student is affected by the effort put in by those participating in the education process: the schools attended by the student, the student's parents, and of course the students themselves. The researchers analysed the effort of these three groups as jointly determined: students respond to the effort exerted by their parents and their schools, and correspondingly schools also respond to the effort exerted by their students and their parents and parents to the effort exerted by their children and their children's schools.
The researchers estimated their model using the National Child Development Study, which follows the individuals born in a given week in 1958 throughout their lives. Effort is measured using indicators of a student's attitude, for example the answers given by 16-year-olds to questions such as whether they think that school is a "waste of time", and the teacher's views about students' laziness. Other questions regard the parents' interest in their children's education, measured, for example, by whether they read to their children or attend meetings with teachers, and the teacher's perception of this interest. For schools there are variables such as the extent of parental involvement initiated by the school, whether 16-year old students are offered career guidance, and the type of disciplinary methods used.
The authors used statistical techniques to separate the role of effort from individual, family, or school characteristics, such as the student's ability, the parents' social background, income and education, the type of school, whether state or private, the role of peer pressure, and so on.
Their findings suggest there is a relationship between children's performance and the effort put in by parents in supporting their education.
Professor De Fraja added: "We found that children work harder whose parents put more effort into their education.
"In general, the efforts exerted by the three groups of agents-parents, school and child - affect one another. On the other hand, the propensity of children to exert effort is not influenced by their social background. Children from better off household do not necessarily try harder than those from less advantaged background.
"Interestingly, there is a trade-off between the number of children and their parents' effort: the number of siblings influences the effort exerted by that child's parents towards that child's education. If a child grows up in a more numerous family, he/she receives less effort from parents."
Professor De Fraja said the results suggest that parents are very important for educational achievement: "In general, what we are saying is that a child whose parents put more effort into his or her education does better at school. Therefore policies that aim at improving parental effort might be effective in strengthening educational attainment. Influencing parental effort is certainly something that is much easier than modifying their social background."
Ms Tania Oliveira, also in the Economics Department at the University of Leicester and Luisa Zanchi, at the Leeds University Business School, collaborated in the research. The study has been published in the latest issue of the MIT based Review of Economics and Statistics.