Talking to 'Invisible Parents' 


Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research (SSPR) has been awarded more than $180,000 to investigate barriers that prevent parents of struggling students from being involved in their child’s schooling.

Funded by an Australian Research Council linkages grant, the School will partner with The Smith Family on The Invisible Parents project over three years, conducting research in a number of Territory schools.

Project leader Associate Professor Tess Lea said the anthropological research aims to break down assumptions and misconceptions.

“In a jurisdiction where education outcomes and student attendance lags behind the rest of the country, there are a lot assumptions made about parents,” she said.

“If a child is not coming to school, is misbehaving, or failing academically, it is easy to blame the parents without any real knowledge of them or the challenges they face.”

The project will be one of the first that aims to build relationships of trust with people who may be anti-institutional by instinct. One of the issues investigated will be whether parents feel alienated because of the stigma placed on them by the school community.

The results will be used by The Smith Family to inform their work in early intervention for children who are at risk of education failure. Benefits will flow particularly to remote and rural communities, to help them determine what factors contribute to a successful and vibrant school community.

The research team involves anthropologists Kate Senior and Tess Lea, joined by Professor Lesley Barclay, and will provide an opportunity for a PhD candidate to undertake sustained fieldwork on a key social issue.

To learn more about the SSPR’s education research and initiatives, go to