Perceptions of migrant parental engagement in primary schools in Ireland

February 29, 2024

This Bulletin summaries the findings from: Devine, D., Smyth, E., Darmody, M. (2023), “Perceptions of immigrant parental engagement in primary schools in Ireland”, Chapter 8 in Halleli Pinson, Nihad Bunar, and Dympna Devine (Eds.), Research Handbook on Migration and Education, Edward Elgar. Available at:

Background to the study

Parents’ engagement with their child’s school plays an important role in promoting positive attitudes to school and better educational outcomes. However, not all parents have the same level of familiarity with the system and cultural differences may lead to a lack of understanding on the part of teachers or parents. This research draws on Growing Up in Ireland Cohort ’08 data to provide new insights into home-school contact among migrant parents of primary schoolchildren. 

Data and methods 

When the children were five and nine years of age, the survey recorded four different types of contact (meeting informally, the parent talking to the teacher about the child’s behaviour, the parent asking about the child’s schoolwork and the teacher asking the parent to come into the school to discuss the child), as reported by teachers. These responses were combined to give an overall measure of the level of home-school contact. In addition, for each parent, a measure of teacher’s perceived interest was combined to distinguish between teacher reports of parents being (or, at least, seeming to be) either ‘very interested’ or less than ‘very interested’. Multivariate analyses were conducted to estimate the difference in teacher perceptions between migrant groups (UK, Western European, Eastern European, African, Asian and others) and Irish parents. The models looked at raw differences between the groups before controlling progressively for factors that might help explain these patterns.


The findings highlight significant differences in the level of contact between teachers and Irish and Western European parents on the one hand, and those who are from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia on the other. These differences were not evident on school entry but became apparent by the time the children were nine years of age. These differences cannot be explained by parental socio-economic background, the social mix of the school or teacher perceptions of the quality of their relationship with the child. In addition, at both five and nine years of age, teachers saw parents from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia as having less interest in their children’s education than parents who were Irish, from the UK or Western Europe. Teachers saw parents as more interested if they had more contact with them. However, even where levels of contact were the same, teachers reported parents from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia as having lower levels of interest in their children’s education. 

Conclusions and implications for policy

The research findings suggest a cultural distance between teachers and non-Western European parents. That these differences can gradually emerge over time is of particular concern given the long-established association between teacher expectations and children’s learning. The Growing Up in Ireland data do not provide a ready explanation for these patterns. However, insights from qualitative research suggest that differing levels of knowledge of the system might undermine parents’ confidence to become more visible in their children’s education and that teachers may view migrant parents as hard to reach. The findings highlight the importance of understanding the circumstances of migrant parents and their ways of engagement with schools and the education of their children among teachers and school leaders. Only by developing their own intercultural competencies to challenge stereotypes and foster the capacity to recognise and work with the full range of diversities can schools become fully inclusive.