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Children benefit when their parents go back to school

29 June 2006

Mothers who go back to school as adult learners may find that their children’s education benefits too.

Mothers who go back to school as adult learners may find that their children’s education benefits too.

A study of parents who undertake some form of learning suggests that half of mothers and a third of their partners think it has a positive impact on their children’s schoolwork. Many feel more confident as a parent as well.

The findings, published today (June 29) by the Department for Education and Skills, come from research involving more than 5,000 of the families taking part in the Children of the 90s study based at the University of Bristol. The children were aged between 9 and 12 at the time of the survey, in 2004.

In the last three years, three quarters of the mothers and partners had undertaken some form of learning – everything from informal on-the-job tuition to courses at adult education centres, colleges or universities. Some were studying from home, or enrolled on ICT courses.

Nearly 95% of respondents, including those who had not done any adult learning, agreed that learning new skills was valuable, whether or not there was actually a qualification to show for it at the end.

Among the mothers 68 per cent said that their recent learning experience had improved their interpersonal skills. Their partners tended to see the main benefits as developing skills that could be used in their jobs.

Minister for Lifelong Learning Bill Rammell MP said: "Learning doesn't have to stop at the school gates. This survey demonstrates that learning later in life can help both adults and their children.

"We want more adults to gain the qualifications, skills and confidence they need to make a success of life, whether that is in work, with a family or in the community.

And we know that parental confidence and attitudes to education are important factors for the success of their children. So we are committed to ensuring there is a wide range of learning opportunities for adults.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Just under half of the mothers (or mother-figures) and a third of their partners who had studied in the last three years said their learning had a positive impact on their children's schoolwork. And 51% said that they felt more confident as a parent as a result of their latest learning experience.
  • The most common reason given by respondents for engaging in learning was to help in their current job. This was more likely than to improve job prospects for the future. Intrinsic interest in the subject was the other main reason for taking up a course (the classic 'evening class' in a recreational subject). Some carers or partners deliberately went on courses in order to help their children learn, but this was not so common.
  • Childcare, family and caring commitments were the most important barrier to learning for mothers - more so than work/ time pressures or course costs. The majority of mothers and their partners said that cost was not really an issue in deciding which course to do. This backs up the findings of other recent reports which suggest that many learners are prepared to pay towards their learning experience (even if it is free currently).
  • Responses from those who had not done any adult learning show that 13% of mothers and 14% of partners said that this was because they felt they were too old (the average age for women was 42 and for partners 44).



Adult Learning and Families – Research brief based on data provided by the ALSPAC study team at the University of Bristol


1. In this study ‘parents’ refers to the primary carer for the child (in most cases the biological mother) and the person that the carer regarded as their ‘partner’ at that time (which may or may not have been the child’s father, and may or may not have been living in the same household as the mother at the time of the survey).

2. ALSPAC The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s) is a unique ongoing research project based in the University of Bristol. It enrolled 14,000 mothers during pregnancy in 1991-2 and has followed most of the children and parents in minute detail ever since.

3. The ALSPAC study could not have been undertaken without the continuing financial support of the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol among many others, including the Department for Education and Skills in recent years.


This press release in PDF format (PDF, 42kB)

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