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”.
Our bespoke support for schools and Parent Councils is starting to take effect. One of the first things we do when meeting with the school and Parent Councils is ask them about what they are doing. Using SPTC’s model of the areas of work for Parent Councils (school matters, communication, campaigning and social and fundraising) we get a full picture of what’s happening in the school, what opportunities parents have to get involved and the areas where the school and Parent Council want to develop. Simply having the chance to reflect on what they are doing can be really valuable to Parent Councils- an opportunity to see the wider picture beyond planning the Christmas Fair and recruiting volunteers to help with school trips. Having these discussions often prompts some great ideas for what they could do to over-come barriers like language- including advertising for help translating facebook posts into other languages or building links with local community groups.
As well as providing the space to think about how to engage with ethnic minority parents, Gathered Together is able to share the barriers that ethnic minority parents have shared with us. One of the issues is simply that parents who are not from Scotland don’t know that they can get involved
No one asked me (Mother, Iran)
It can really help to approach parents directly and ask them to help with something specific that uses their skills and experience- such as helping with “language of the month”. When we were discussing this with a teacher she said
Of course, we don’t just ask the children with their hands up to answer questions (teacher, Corpus Christi Primary)
Thinking of how to directly engage with those parents who aren’t involved and may not even be aware that they can be is the first step to promoting parental involvement in the school. We are really excited about the bespoke support and looking forward to sharing more of the ideas that are coming out of our work- keep an eye on this blog
With the recent arrival of families from Syria we have been thinking about the experiences of parents from asylum seeker backgrounds and their relationship with school. Asylum seekers, like other migrant families, are new to the Scottish education system and often new to English. They will need support to be able to help their children with their learning and to understand how their children are being taught. Asylum seeker children also may be traumatised by their experiences in their home country and in the journey to the UK. Schools are the first communities that they will come into contact with and even small acts can make a big difference to helping families feel welcomed
The teachers try to speak Arabic to us, some words, at the school there is a lot of culture awareness, teachers and pupils are kind. My kids have never been bullied. It also provides Halal food. Flags of a lot of countries are put up on the walls of the school (Both parents, Syria)
Gathered Together conducted a questionnaire of over 164 parents from ethnic minorities about their experiences of school, their involvement and knowledge of the Scottish education system, from this questionnaire we identified 16 respondents who were from asylum seeker or refugee backgrounds including countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. From analysing their responses it was clear that, while the majority of parents were really happy with their child’s school they did not feel that they understood the education system and the exam system. We believe that parents are partners in their children’s learning and they need the right support to be able to work with the school to enable their children to thrive.
I would like to know more- how to help my son in his homework, but I don’t know how (Mother, Iraq)
You can read the briefing paper on the experiences of asylum seeker families and our recommendations here
This is a guest blog from Robert McGill (Teacher of English as an Additional Language South Ayrshire Council) sharing the work South Ayrshire has done to engage with parents who are new to Scotland.
On Friday 28th November, 2014 we had one of the best experiences of our teaching careers when we held the first English as an Additional Language (EAL) Parent Forum in South Ayrshire. Approximately 55 parents made the extra effort to come to the John Pollock Centre in Ayr to tell us about their and their children’s experiences in our schools. It was an excellent forum to get to know each other a little bit better.
Everyone was excited about this event particularly when we saw the invitation letter acceptances coming back in such big numbers. 12 languages were represented on the day: Spanish, Tagalog, Punjabi, Visayan, Swahili, Yoruba, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Nepali, Polish and English. We had sent the invitations out to parents in the home languages as well as in English and the parents made special mention of this telling us that they really appreciated our efforts to use their home languages. Of the 12 languages represented there was a request for four interpreters: Punjabi, Spanish, Nepali and Polish which we were able to provide. These interpreters played such an important role in helping everyone to communicate and share with each other.
As this was our first ever parent forum we were to have we looked at what the issues and concerns of parents are from carrying out a search of the internet. We found the ‘Bilingual Matters’ website to be a wealth of information as they have worked extensively with bilingual parents and have kindly shared their findings and experiences. We also found the British Council EAL Nexus website very useful and we adapted information gained from these websites to provide information to help parents understand the Scottish education system and supporting bilingualism.
As we delivered our talk, which highlighted the importance of developing the home language at home and that parents didn’t need to speak English at home, you could see relief appearing on the parents’ faces. More important than focusing on English is the quality of communication within the family. We talked about the challenges of families with bilingual siblings with sometimes the older sibling wanting to speak English and how this affected the younger brothers’ and sisters’ use and development of the home language. Our core message was that bilingualism was positive and advantageous for all young people.
The core message from the parents was that having specialist language teachers helped their children to learn English and to settle into school life. The parents also told us that they liked and valued the bilingual books which we send home to help parents and children develop the home language and which we have in schools as a way to value and an opportunity to use home languages. The parents told us that interpretation in the schools is fundamental to help them communicate with class teachers and schools. Bilingual parents would like more EAL support available in schools, they would like more support for developing English at home and they wanted easier access to the EAL teacher.
We now have EAL information leaflets translated into some of our home languages which have the contact details for each EAL teacher. We were able to receive funding from South Ayrshire to have key school documents translated into Polish. We have created management advice for translated documents. We have increased our bilingual books library. We are going to continue to have an annual EAL Parents Forum. It was a great day which the parents and EAL staff enjoyed and in which we both learned so much.
Here are some of the information leaflets created for EAL parents
Gathered Together has been running for seventeen months now and we thought the end of the year would be a good time to look back at what we’ve done over the year. Here are a few figures-
35 workshops for ethnic minority parents, reaching 358 parents
22 training sessions for Parent Councils reaching 257 parent council members and head teachers
10 videos on our website with parents, head teachers and key stake holders sharing good practice (and more videos to follow in the New Year)
Our workshops with Ethnic Minority parents have been a wonderful opportunity to find out about the experiences of parents in relation to their children’s schools. It’s helped highlight good practice with some great stories of how schools engage with parents and help them feel a part of the school community as well as helping us to understand the barriers that parents can face. The biggest barrier for the majority of Ethnic Minority parents face is language and we’ve been able to do simple things like make parents aware of their right to get an interpreter for meetings with school as well as share ideas for how they can get involved despite the language barrier. We’ve also raised awareness about parents’ rights to get involved and have their voice heard within the school. So many of the parents at our sessions hadn’t heard of the Parent Council or had only the vaguest idea of what they do and we’ve been able to raise awareness of the work Parent Councils can do and the impact they can have on the ethos of the school.
We’ve been able to take the barriers and experiences we’ve heard from our EM sessions to pass on to local authorities and feed into our training for parent councils. The training is meant to give parent councils the chance to think about the experience of parents who experience barriers and challenge them to come with practical solutions to help overcome these barriers. This is often a rare opportunity for parent councils to come together, share ideas and talk about their experiences. The time and space to think about participation and what they can do to help parents become more involve is incredibly valuable and some brilliant ideas have come out of these discussions. The training is also an opportunity for us to share the good practice we’ve come across including community assemblies, newsletters as podcasts, meeting new parents when their children is transitioning and international days. The parents who came along to the training have feedback that it’s made them aware of the diversity within the school. One mother said that she just found out one of her daughter’s best friends was Polish and that the school has a sizeable Eastern European population she hadn’t been aware of.
One of the best parts of our work has been gathering the stories of the people who are supporting parental involvement. We have met some inspirational people including ethnic minority parents who are taking an active role in their children’s schools, teachers who passionately believe in working in partnership and parents sharing the challenges they’ve experienced in getting involved in their children’s education. Being able to record the interviews has been fantastic so that people can hear about these experiences in their own words. If you haven’t already go have a look- http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=538 and let us know what your favourite videos are.