Family Learning: Supporting parents to support their children

Family Learning: Supporting parents to support their children

Our Family Learning service (FL) aims to work with partners based in areas of Bradford district with high deprivation to engage parents who have low levels of literacy and numeracy.

Nearly 223,000 people in Bradford – 44% of the district’s population – live in areas that are ranked in the 20% most deprived in England. Three-quarters of our learners live in these most deprived areas.

In 2010 figures showed that over 25% of children in the district lived in poverty, which is a recognised barrier to educational success; only 59.7% of adults were qualified to level 2 (equivalent of a GCSE), well below the national average; and 18% of the working-age population have no qualifications at all.

We work with approximately 1,800 parents a year on a range of courses aimed at increasing confidence, raising aspirations, understanding how important their role in supporting their children’s educational achievements is and giving advice and guidance on how they can help their children to achieve. We encourage parents to progress both academically and socially.

FL targets areas of multiple deprivation and offers a wide variety of courses at various times of the day in familiar community settings which provide a safe environment for the learners we are trying to attract.

Family Learning is broadening its range of partners to engage more hard to reach families, including children’s centres, nurseries, primary and secondary schools, community centres, housing associations and libraries.

We focus on developing the English, maths and speaking skills of parents who have not attained a GCSE in either maths or English. We help to develop confidence and the language skills which are necessary for parents to support their children’s learning in the home and at school. We actively encourage and seek to increase the participation of dads in the learning process.

Child poverty and ‘closing the gap’ in achievement rates are two priorities which guide our planning, as we work with parents to move them closer to the job market. Effective partnerships have been developed with colleges, training providers and other agencies to support parents in their progression to further education or work.

FL has engaged in local and national initiatives such as Bookstart, Early Words Together, Talk English and Better Start Bradford.

The impact

The Family Learning Festival engaged 26,000 learners (adults and children) across the district as part of a partnership with the National Media Museum and the Library Service.

Feedback from learners is very good, 88% of learners who responded thought their course was excellent or good. At the end of their programmes 42% of learners wanted to carry on with further learning through more FL courses, 13% were looking at the possibility of paid employment or voluntary work, 26% were considering going on to further education and 7% were not sure.

74% of learners report that they involve themselves more often with their children – taking them on outings, reading, playing games, having shared time, helping with homework and attending school events. These are all activities which are recognised by the schools as being very valuable.

88% of learners report a growth in confidence as a result of taking part in a Family Learning course, which has enabled 76% to have greater confidence when talking to teachers and 67% have thought about or tried new things.

A survey of 58 learners showed that 97% engaged in more social activity in the community, 26% have explored work opportunities – with 12% getting a job – and 76% have planned further learning.

For example:

Supporting children’s learning: One mother used her skills in creative crafts to add a new dimension to story-telling. She made a ‘lift the flap’ story map and masks and showed a deep understanding of the techniques taught to engage children. Her children reported enjoying her efforts and the new level of mutual engagement.

Managing their children’s behaviour: A mother was extremely anxious over her five-year-old son’s behaviour. During the course she learnt some strategies for this and was observed by the tutor implementing them. By the end of the course the mother had lost her anxieties and the child was much happier too.

Community Cohesion: The project found that learners gained from the experience with quotes such as: ‘I go out with my family now’, ‘I know people in my street now’ and ‘I try new things and my English gets better’.

Local Leaders of Governance

Local Leaders of Governance is a scheme of school-to-school support for chairs and governing bodies, aimed at raising standards and improving governance.

The scheme in Bradford district:

  • provides appropriate support and challenge to the senior leadership of schools 
  • provides support from experienced chairs to inexperienced chairs 
  • helps governing bodies in challenging circumstances develop confidence and additional expertise 
  • assists school improvement by developing partnerships, supporting and extending good governance models and spreading good practice 
  • helps chairs and governing bodies focus on their strategic responsibilities, develop effective monitoring and evaluation systems and ensure accountability to stakeholders 
  • raises chairs’ understanding of their accountability in leading change and securing improved schools

The scheme is an extension to the well-established partnership arrangements used for brokering school-to-school support.

Discussion with chairs identified the need to develop partnerships between schools and within localities, and foster effective relationships and shared objectives with school leaders, as a means of leading governing bodies from comparative weaknesses to sustainable improvement.

Chairs expressed the view that governors were sometimes isolated from effectively contributing to partnerships, even when their schools were constructively involved.

Success in launching the initiative and maximising its initial impact was dependent upon effective communication with partners, notably chairs but including the National College for Teaching and Leadership and the Church of England Diocese West Yorkshire and the Dales.

Local Leaders of Governance has assisted 17 fellow chairs and governing bodies to raise the level of challenge and support for school leaders in primary and secondary schools, denominational and community schools, Pupil Referral Units. It has also supported members of Interim Executive Boards (IEBs) and Shadow Governing Bodies.

The scheme helps to improve school performance by supporting chairs to focus on raising standards and leading improvement, understand their strategic role and interpret data, and supporting relationships between headteacher and chair by:

  • coaching chairs in developing solutions to identified issues 
  • providing effective challenge to senior leaders 
  • assisting chairs develop productive relationships with school leaders

The scheme also improves governance skills and understanding by:

  • assisting chairs evaluate their performance and develop their leadership, effectiveness and confidence 
  • observing governing body meeting 
  • providing advice on procedures, protocols and behaviours 
  • assisting chairs identify priorities and develop action plans 
  • mentoring chairs through particular issues 
  • providing expertise to assist with a particular aspect of a governing body’s work 
  • signposting or brokering training and support

Termly meetings ensure the scheme meets its objectives and responds to new demands.

The impact

The Local Leaders of Governance scheme has successfully met its main objectives and is well placed to grow. As a result, the local authority has access to governors with a wealth of experience who are prepared to be deployed to, or support, governing bodies of schools causing concern or those schools not yet good.

Achievement has risen and governance standards have improved in all schools where Leaders of Governance have been deployed and this is reflected in inspection outcomes. Examples of successful support include Bradford District PRU, Lower Fields Primary School, and Sandal Primary School which together illustrate a range of positive interventions ranging from advice and support for chairs, adding capacity to governing bodies, and individual case work with governors.

Writing to acknowledge Local Leaders of Governance support one chair wrote: “Our meetings helped inspire me to continue with the role, as I was considering resigning. We have just had Ofsted and I think I was able to show good leadership of the governing body.”

Inspectors have commented on the scheme’s positive impact as the following extract indicates: “The IEB has a very clear view of the school’s progress. Meetings focus sharply on monitoring improvement priorities and shaping the strategic direction of the school. The IEB is working closely with the local authority governor service.”

All new chairs are provided with information about the scheme and chairs and governing bodies are matched according to experience or challenge.

Evidence indicates the scheme has assisted in raising school and Academy performance by supporting school improvement, preparing for and responding to inspections, encouraging better governance processes, including developing chairs’ leadership, effectiveness and confidence, and by reviewing governance procedures, protocols and behaviours.

Local Leaders of Governance has provided support to chairs and governing bodies facing a range of challenges including relationships with head teachers, leading schools to Academy status, governance issues, where schools require improvement or are inadequate, and support in using data to monitor and evaluate progress.

Local Leaders of Governance have helped build capacity by joining governing bodies and Interim Executive Boards and modelling good practice. Evidence of success includes improved conduct of governing body, better understanding of statutory responsibilities, evidence of challenge and relationship building.

Get involved

School governing bodies have considerable responsibilities. In order that these responsibilities are carried out effectively, it is essential that every governing body is at full strength, has the appropriate balance of representation and that governors with a range of relevant skills are recruited.