The effect of parental support and pupil characteristics on school performance
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different
drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears however measured or far away. "
Henry David Thoreau (1854 p288)
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 and died in 1862. In 1845, Thoreau decided to go and
live in a remote cabin in an area called Walden Pond. He went there to write and think. The
quotation is from 'Walden', his best-known work, which he wrote during this period. Among
other things, Thoreau was considering the nature of human individuality.
This thesis looks at learning and cognitive styles and some of the factors which are the
foundations of 'human individuality' causing learners to keep step with a 'different drummer'.
The study examines the relationship between Cognitive Style and the presentation style of the
teaching material. Different styles of presentation are offered to examine whether there is a
difference an individual's ability to abstract information from a text. The results of the tests on
the information gathered from different presentations will be correlated with the identified
cognitive style of the pupil. The purpose of the study therefore, is to identify whether there is a
particular style of document presentation that is best suited to a range of cognitive and learning
processes. As there are many variables acting on the learner, consideration will also be given
to the impact of some of these - parental support, short term memory, reading ability and
gender on performance.
The idea that individuals have a unique learning style has an intuitive appeal, as every teacher
notices that pupils vary tremendously in the speed and manner by which they pick up new
information and ideas. Because learning is an individual and unique activity, it is a possible
cause of disengagement and alienation from formal education. As, being unable to access the
activities or lesson, regardless of external factors like parents and school culture, could create
the foundations of boredom and disruptive behaviour. This dissertation looks at some of the
aspects of uniqueness of style particularly those related to learning and school performance -
attendance, gender, reading and the efficiency of information processing and considers some
of the factors which can affect achievement in secondary schools.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of all children to 'free,
relevant and quality education'. The United Nations Declaration goes on to identify the
benefrts of education as providing the tools and knowledge needed to understand and
participate in the world. It is seen as providing the basis of lifelong learning. School and
education are a central part of the daily life of many young people particularly in the developed
world. The majority of school pupils are motivated to succeed and view their schooling as
important to their long term well being and economic success. For some, however, this view
does not apply and they are disaffected from school and may demonstrate disruptive
behaviour. PISA in an international study of student engagement noted:
"Moreover, engagement is not an unalterable trait of individuals, stemming solely from
students' genetic make-up or their experiences at home. Rather, it entails attitudes and
behaviours that can be affected by teachers and parents and shaped by school policy
and practice. "
PISA (2003 p9)
As the PISA report identifies, why some individuals are engaged in their education and others
are disaffected appears to be a combination of the person's genetic make-up and the attitudes
and behaviours cultivated by parents and schools. There are therefore a number of reasons for
considering parental support as an important feature in individual performance and
Questions Underpinning the Research
• That pupil performance is affected by a number of variables some of which are external
to the pupil. These factors affect different individual cognitive styles in different ways.
• In reading and understanding written material the style of presentation is a variable
which is related to the cognitive style of the individual.
• The level of parental support as well as being correlated with gender is also correlated
with the cognitive style of the individual.
• The cognitive style of an individual affects the achievement of individuals as measured
by external examinations.
This thesis will consider the presentation of learning material as a variable that could affect
school performance. Since the study will be confined to a single secondary school the peer
culture and the school culture will be similar for all pupils and are not included as variables.
Further, since there was generally an overall focus on performance rather than on particular
subjects, present knowledge of the subject by the pupil will also not be included. The variables
studied will include (those which are Significant but are omitted from this study are in italics):
Variables external to the pupil:
• Parental support
• Peer culture
• School ethos
Variables within the pupil:
• Information processing efficiency
• Cognitive Styles - Wholist-Analytic and Verbal-Imagery
• Present knowledge relevant to the subjects taught
The effect of these variables on five key aspects of school performance will be assessed.
The first two aspects could be considered as being fairly central in contributing to subsequent
• Reading attainment at entry to secondary school.
• Learning and the structure and mode of presentation of textbook type materials.
The final three aspects concern school performance in terms of attainment, behaviour and
• Conduct, learning and emotional behaviour.
• School attendance.
• Attainment at SATs and at GCSE in core subjects.
The overall aim will be to observe the effects of the variables that are likely to affect
schoolwork separately and also in interaction, with the intention of clarifying their relative