In our research into the experiences of ethnic minority parents and their children’s education, we found that parents are often feel very uninformed about how the education system in Scotland works- particularly at a secondary school level (the full report can be read here). In a questionnaire of 164 EM parents only 7% of respondents felt that they understood the secondary school system very well and 49% were not sure what exams their children would sit. While in secondary school children are less likely to need their parents help with homework, it is still vital that parents are involved and are able to support their children with their education- particularly in making subject choices and understanding their career options. When asked what information about school they would like, several parents highlighted the need to get more information about secondary and the options open to their children
I would like to know more about the exam system, which are the important years, when the big decisions are made (Mother, Greece) I would like to be provided with information exploring choices of subject at secondary school level, the options they have, university entry requirements etc (Mother, Poland)
St Mungo’s Academy in the east end of Glasgow has seen a recent increase in the number of children who need EAL support (English as an Additional Language), many of the children are arriving in Scotland aged 14 or 15 and will only have a short time in school before moving on to the world of work or further education. St Mungo’s EAL teacher, Abdul Latif Fathi, wanted to make sure that these new Scots were able to get the best start in life and felt there was a need to empower parents to be able to support their children. As Latif said
The children (at secondary), they don’t have time. they have to work hard and then next step is life, reality, work university
With the support of EAL area leaders Shagufta Ahmed and Rosaline Martin, they started a group for parents in the senior phase of school (from S4-S6) to help the parents get a better understanding of the education system and what they could do to support their children. The group gave parents the chance to find out more about the education system as well as meet other school staff including careers guidance and the attendance officer. These staff found meeting the parent group really helpful as well, making them more aware of the lack of information some parents have and challenging them to think how they can better engage with these families. It also gave the young people the chance to use their language skills with some young people helping with interpreting, as well as welcoming the parents to the group, providing teas and coffees and generally being incredibly helpful. This gave the young people leadership experience to put on their CVs and applications for college and university and the school formally recognised the help they had given them in the form of awards.
Gathered Together were able to attend one of the meetings and speak to some of the parents, young people and teachers involved in the group. You can hear Latif and Shagufta sharing their experiences of running the group here and some of the parents and students talking about the impact being involved had on them here
We are always looking for good practice, and Maria one of the members of Golfhill Primary Parent Council in Glasgow told us what they did for parents with children starting Primary school. We think it’s a lovely idea and couldn’t wait till August to share it with you!
The first day at school is always difficult. We know that a lot of parents have a little tear in their eye as their child goes off for the first day at big school. Golfhill Parent Council understand this and wanted to do something to make that first day easier as well as welcoming the parents into the school family. They created “welcome packs” for each of the parents with a child starting school, all created with love and care. The packs included:
The pack also included some practical information about the Parent Council and a volunteer sign-up sheet so that parents knew they could get involved in the school. The pack caused a few tears but also showed parents that they were welcomed by both the school and the Parent Council.
Parents who are new to Scotland are unlikely to know what a Parent Council is and we believe that it is vital parents get this information as soon as their child starts school. Getting involved in the transition to school and making themselves known to all the parents on the first day of school helps Parent Councils build relations with new parents and ensures that they can be a voice for all the parents in the school.
On 1 February Gathered Together delivered our last “Equalities and Engagement” training at Hillpark Secondary, Glasgow. Hearing about the experiences of schools and parents is always one of the best parts of our work and in the recent training we’ve come across some fantastic examples of Parent Councils being creative and finding new ways to reach out to the families in their schools. We just wanted to share some of the brilliant ideas that have come out of our last few training sessions
Meeting new parents Not every parent knows what a Parent Council is or does, particularly those parents who come from another culture. To address this and get their faces known right from the start, Parent Councils are getting involved in the transition time- meeting new parents when they come to visit their child’s new school. This gives parents the chance to learn what a Parent Council does and how they can get their voice heard in the school, it’s also a really useful chance for parents to ask PC members the important questions that only other parents can answer like- where is best to buy school uniform?
Focus groups Parent Councils look at a lot of different issues- including supporting the school, fundraising, communicating with parents and developing policies. It can be hard for a parent to join these meetings when there is so much being discussed. In response to this one Parent Council decided to create smaller sub groups looking at a particular issue and feeding back to the main Parent Council. These groups look at things like improving the playground, planning for events, discussing policies around homework or bullying. By having meetings that are just looking at one thing, parents who are interested can get involved and have their voice heard without having to commit to joining the Parent Council.
Books in other languages When families come to Scotland, it’s really important that their children are supported to keep their home language (supporting the first language can make learning another language easier and means that children can still speak to their family back home). However it can be a struggle to find books in the home language. In response to this some Parent Councils are trying to create a multi-lingual school library- asking parents to donate books in their home language and, in the case of one school, getting parents from EAL (English as an Additional Language) families to vote for their favourite books and the PC bought the most popular books.
Keeping language “parent friendly” Schools send out huge amounts of information to parents. With the new Curriculum for Excellence a lot of information about the new system and how children will be taught and assessed has been sent out to parents, but this information can be hard to read with lots of confusing words, abbreviations and acronyms. One Parent Council raised this with the head teacher and the school started working with the Parent Council to make the information they sent out easier to read and avoiding education “jargon”.
On International Migrants day (18 December) we thought we would look back at some of the parents we’ve met over the past year who have come to Scotland. These parents are now an integral part of their school communities and through their involvement have helped to make their children’s schools, and Scotland, a richer place.
Jessie is originally from China, she got involved in her children’s nursery through the well-chosen words project and has helped other parents by translating materials into Chinese.
Ewelina (from Poland) and Haleema (from the UK) are parents at Pikeman nursery, with the help of EAL teacher Labinder Sekhon, they have been able to support their children with their learning- understanding the importance of their involvement and to see the crucial role that they have in supporting their children’s learning.
Christian is originally from France, he became involved in his daughters’ secondary school and joined the Parent Council. This gave him the opportunity to get involved in the early days of developing the Curriculum for Excellence as well as getting to know the local community and understanding the Scottish education system
Maria is from Bulgaria, she is an active member of Golfhill Primary Parent Council and also joined our workshop of Parental Involvement in November- sharing her experiences of being involved and the difference it has made for her and her family.
We are delighted to have a guest blog from Chloe Stewart from Pollokshields Primary Parent Council sharing their experience of running a winter arts festival that celebrated all the cultures in the school
‘He’s behind you!’ The front row were in a frenzy, trying to alert the Jester in the performance of Sleeping Beauty, taking place in the school gym. A typical Christmas scene, in which many of the audience were clutching the clay diva lamps they had made upstairs in the craft area (where reindeer could be decoupaged and jewellery made as well), with the sounds of the African drumming troupe echoing above, and Father Christmas and real live reindeer outside in the Winter Wonderland (until that morning the playground shed).
This was the Pollokshields Primary School Multicultural Winter Arts Festival, the fruit of the hard work of the staff, parents and pupils of the school, and an Awards for All Scotland grant. The event was open to the community and local shops displayed the children’s posters.
The school is on the southside of Glasgow, in an area which census data records as having an ‘ethnic minority’ population of 53%. 82% of school pupils in the area are recorded as ‘ethnic minority’. The school serves families from multiple cultures and the Festival showcased many of them. Street dancing, bhangra, Scottish country dancing and classical Indian dance were all performed, by school pupils as well as professional groups, and many toddlers (including my own!) were entranced by the storytelling sessions. The culinary traditions of the area were reflected in the enthusiasm with which pizza, samosas, Christmas tree biscuits and Irn Bru were being consumed in the dining hall…
Crowds were waiting for the doors to open at 4.30pm and the Winter Wonderland was still in demand nearly 4 hours later. And the verdict from those who attended? From our parents’ Facebook group:
‘my girls didn’t want to come home’
‘Great team and community spirit and total fun for all ages’
‘Winter Arts Festival was great!’
‘The school looked lovely’