On one hand this is sad and quite difficult to write as it is the last blog from the Gathered Together Team, on the other I just want to celebrate and tell the world how proud I am with all we have achieved over the last 3 years.
The impact of the project has reached much further than any of us imagined at the beginning and the team rose to the challenge of collating information, researching need, and collecting case studies and good practice from across Scotland to support all our findings. At the same time we were developing training programmes and workshops to upskill and share with our partners, be they educators, local authority staff, community groups and of course, EM parents themselves.
We have been able to input real evidence to Scottish Parliament committees and working groups on poverty and employment issues, the development of new strategies in several areas of parental engagement and a whole host of initiatives including education, heritage languages, developing the young workforce, bullying and racial prejudice.
Our legacy will live on in the form of briefing papers, good practice guides and training toolkits (see our publications page) and video snapshots which are all available to anyone who wants to look on our website. We have also made our database of questionnaires and findings available through various websites. This means any students who want to do research of their own can trawl through and use it to inform their own work knowing it will be recent and relevant to the Scottish experience.
The whole BEMIS team and management board have been supportive and inclusive and SPTC were kind enough to nominate us for a European ALCIUN award in 2015 which we were delighted to win.
We also had an amazing steering group who have been a great support helping us identify and target our time to great effect.
Other partners have also been extremely helpful and just too numerous to mention here but you can find reference to them scattered through all our work. We wanted to make sure everything we learned was shared across every sector and we couldn’t have done it without you. You know who you are so a big thank you to everyone we have worked with in any way at all.
My thanks go to Marion, Richard, Judy and Richa for bringing so much of themselves to the project and working together to create something which did make a difference.
And finally… well there is no finally. The GT staff team may well be off to work elsewhere, pursue other academic interests or travel the world in Richa’s case, but BEMIS are already planning further work to build on the legacy the team are leaving behind.
As the Gathered Together project comes to an end we have been trying to capture all the good practice we’ve heard about. Yesterday we managed to meet with Karen Hartnup from Leith Walk Primary Parent Council in Edinburgh over a coffee to hear more about the book project they had run.
Leith Walk Primary is a very diverse school- there were 41 different languages at the time that the Parent Council ran the book project in 2015 including Polish, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Mandarin. Many of the parents in the school wanted their children to keep using the home language but found it difficult to find books in their own language, particularly for older children. Leith Walk Primary Parent Council felt that this was an opportunity for them to engage with the diverse parents and support them to be able to help their children’s learning.
The area of Leith has an event called £eith decides, where people who live and work in the local community have the opportunity to decide how a pot of money should be spent. All the organisations who are applying for funding let the local people know what their plan is and anyone aged 8 or older can vote for their favourite project. To get as many votes for the book project as possible, the Parent Council created multilingual posters with the word “book” written in all the languages of the school; they also went out into the playground and spoke to parents- letting parents who spoke English as an additional language know that their home language was respected at the school. The campaign was successful and the Parent Council got £1,000 from £eith decides.
After securing the funding, the Parent Council started consulting with parents about what books to buy- parents shared favourite stories from their childhood, suggested things that their children were interested in and were able to let the Parent Council know if a translation was actually any good. It was an empowering experience where the EM parents were the experts and they could see the PC responding to their suggestions. Accessing books in other languages is often difficult- postage and packing cost twice as much as the books themselves and some of the books parents suggested from their own childhood were simply out of print. To help in accessing the books, the Parent Council teamed up with the local library and Bilingualism Matters. The books were put on display at the MacDonald road library near the school for parents to come along and see the books (and let the Parent Council know if they were good versions) and the community learning and development team promoted the event to the families they were working with.
Leith Walk Primary has a regular Friday bake-sale. At one of these the Parent Council showed the new books to give parents the opportunity to see the resources that were available and how their suggestions had been acted on. One of the most common questions from seeing the books was “where can we buy these?”, so the Parent Council approached a local bookshop and suggested they stock children’s books in the languages spoken in the community. The bookshop will have a stall at the school’s multi-cultural fair later in the year, giving parents the chance to buy books for themselves.
Leith Walk Primary now has a growing multi-lingual library, it’s in regular use and one Spanish parent spoke about her joy the first day her daughter brought back a book in Spanish so they could read it together. It’s made the local library realise they need to make it easier for families to find books in their own language and they are creating online lists of all the books they have in particular languages. For Karen, the book project has given her a lot of new friends- the parents who gave her advice and ideas for books to source. The parents who are new to Scotland were really excited by the project and it showed them that their culture and language is valued and a part of the school. In the feedback one parent said
Thank you for … your BIG work on finding bilingual books for kids in our school- it is really important for them to have the storybook on their mother language.
As the Gathered Together Project comes to the end of its funding, I thought it would be a good time to ask the staff team to reflect on some of the aspects of their work over the last 2-3 years. Judy shares her favourite memories from the project.
Ten months ago, I was excited about the prospects of participating in a project that I strongly believed in and am still convinced should continue. Over the years the Gathered Together team has developed a variety of resources to support parents, schools, Parent Councils and community organisations to improve parental involvement- just when the team has acquired the relevant expertise to make a difference, the project is coming to an end!
When I started, I thought making a contribution to the project would be difficult as it had been going on for over two years and most possibilities would have been explored. But there are many aspects and approaches to improving parental involvement, some of which the GT team had only just begun to get to grips with.
Looking back, I think that engaging with community organisations was an important aspect of our work. The lack of understanding about how the Scottish education system works and how parents can support their children is a major challenge for community organisations. Through an Action Learning Set, we were able to share the knowledge and experience gained over the life of our project with participating community organisations. Community practitioners implementing action research at work meant that new strategies were introduced to enable them to provide a better-informed service for families.
Identifying that EM parents and the community organisations that support them are not always up to date with the policy environment is another area we had started developing. There are aspects of child protection that many EM parents do not understand and community organisations could help raise awareness of the legal framework around children. Working with service providers to raise awareness about the diverse cultures could also improve the integration process for families.
I hope the toolkit and the resources developed will reach a wide-range of stakeholders and help support the growing number of children and families coming to Scotland to understand how the school system works and the research we have done about EM parents’ experiences will highlight the need for schools and other education services to put processes in place to support the education of children from different cultural backgrounds and diverse circumstances.
As the Gathered Together Project comes to the end of its funding I thought it would be a good time to ask the staff team to reflect on some of the aspects of their work over the last 2-3 years. Marion shares her favourite memories from the project.
For me, one of the most important parts of our work was in capturing and sharing the stories of teachers, parents and Parent Councils- letting people know about what it’s like for a parent new to Scotland to have to cope with an entirely new system and celebrating all the good practice that is happening across Scotland. Many of my favourite moments involved going out to schools and hearing the difference that supporting parents to get involved makes.
Parents spoke about feeling “like I am not a stranger in the school”, one mother from Bulgaria said that the school had become her extended family since she joined the parent council. Getting involved gave parents a real sense of confidence and belonging which was really lovely to see. We heard stories of new friendships for parents who had previously been quite isolated and even one mother who was offered a job following helping with school, giving her the change to use her qualifications from her home country as a teacher. The teachers we spoke to were all passionate about supporting parents to get involved in the school and their children’s learning, but they also said that getting EM parents involved helped the school just as much as it helped the parents and their families. Parents were able to help with translating materials, reading stories in their home language and pass on information to other parents in the community.
But my favourite part is still probably the interviews we did with children in St Albert’s Primary and Golfhill Primary- talking about how it makes them feel when their parents come into school or help with their learning. You can see the children from St Albert’s here. It still makes my heart melt every time I watch it.
As the Gathered Together Project comes to the end of its funding I thought it would be a good time to ask the staff team to reflect on some of the aspects of their work over the last 2-3 years. We start with Richard and his thoughts on the development of the training toolkit.
What a long way this project has come! I started 2 years ago with solid foundations having been laid. In the initial months, we carried on, but then used the summer break to start to move the project forward and to re purpose some elements of this. The abiding thing that came out of this was the modular training course. I’ve always liked modular training design: that you have a toolbox, rather than a prescriptive approach suits me far better. In addition, the modularity of this course has enabled it to be adapted to a wide range of audiences and it has made it easy to refine, improve and to incorporate feedback.
As a central element of the course, we have a number of scenarios. These are based on real experiences, but have been adapted to illustrate particular areas. As this course has been repeated, the characters in the scenarios have moved from their original, real-life origins and have been given a different life entirely by delegates. Each of the sessions has bought a new set of perspectives to both the characters and the issues that they present. As the sessions came to an end, I realised that I am going to miss some of these characters and, in particular, miss their ongoing development. Even those characters who are troublesome and who were included because they caused problems have had their redeeming qualities explored by delegates and some of these characters, written to unpleasant and difficult, have been reflected back in a far kinder light.
The journey of these characters has, in many ways, mirrored the journey that the project has taken. As time has gone on, the project has grown, developed many new elements and aspects; as well as these new situations enabling us, as a staff team, to look at issues differently and to move things forward because of this.
2 years ago, I had started to think of some of the characters who might be needed in the scenarios after my first training session in Kirkcaldy, as well as started to think about how the project could develop and grow. At the end of this period, I reflect on both in the same way: it has been a fascinating journey, made possible by some brilliant parents and schools from which I have learnt a lot and enjoyed more. With this, however, there is a sadness at leaving something not yet finished: that the project still had work left to do and the characters were still growing and still had plenty more to teach us.