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. 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.
The Gathered Together team met Etta Leslie, an “English as an Additional Language” teacher at Oakgrove Primary school in Glasgow at a networking meeting. Etta has long been an advocate of supporting parents to get involved in their children’s learning and regularly runs workshops for parents- showing them how their children are taught and activities they can do at home to support their children’s learning. Oakgrove Primary has seen increasing numbers of children from Chinese families in recent years and Etta was concerned that she was struggling to engage with the Chinese parents. We had recently met Jessie, a teacher at the Chinese language school in Glasgow, and were able to put Etta and Jessie in touch with each other.
Chinese and English are very different languages, the sounds and speech patterns are completely different as is the written form. One Chinese parent spoke to us about the experience of coming to Scotland and suddenly becoming illiterate, unable to read even the most basic signs. To be able to access the curriculum children need to learn English, Etta had observed that many of the Chinese children she supported with were struggling and not achieving their potential in class and felt this was related to difficulties in learning English and because their parents felt unable to support them with their learning at home. Etta explains,
“I had a good resource of Arabic parents who I could rely on for translation support as I have some parents who are actively involved in school life. When I looked around it became clear that I did not have the same resource available in Oakgrove’s Mandarin/ Cantonese speakers. I then began to wonder if this was a contributing factor in the slower progress of some of the Chinese children. It noticeable that lack of access and confidence in English is a significant barrier to learning for this group. It also inhibits parents from being able to engage, support and understand the Scottish Education System and thereby support their children’s learning. As educators we value and promote opportunities to work alongside parents to ensure their child’s educational success.”
The Chinese parents also did not often attend the school assemblies and events and this meant they were missing out on important information about what was happening in the school and the chance to see their children perform their work. Children, at primary school if not when they are older, love to have their parents in the audience and we often see children standing on tip toe during concerts scanning the audience for their parents’ faces. Attending school events gives children confidence, helps them feel proud of what they are doing and shows them that their parent values school. Jessie said that she agreed to help Oakgrove because,
“I feel that is my responsibility to become a bridge between hard working teachers and hopeful parents and to give them a chance to express them selves, would give their children better chances in their future.”
Etta and Jessie met to discuss the best way of engaging with the Chinese parents, as Jessie is a teacher at the Chinese school, she has had a lot of contact with parents from the Chinese community and was able to develop a personalised letter for each of the parents. Translated letters often translate exactly what was said in English, but Jessie was able to put the letter into appropriate language. In English we often use “soft” words like “we would like to invite you”, Jessie explained that in Chinese it was better to be more direct to show parents that they needed to attend this event. The letters were all addressed to individual parents and Etta was able to give the letters personally to each parent, avoiding the risk of them lying in a school bag for weeks and emphasising that each individual was welcomed.
At the workshop every single parent invited attended, something Etta puts down to the personalised approach. Having Jessie as an interpreter was invaluable, helping the parents feel relaxed and ask questions. Jessie was also able to help with workshops on play run by the primary one teachers- showing the parents the value of playing with their child and giving them ideas of activities they could do with their child, like jigsaws and counting games. Jessie found the experience really positive as well
“I enjoyed very much work with Etta and other teachers, I can feel the love and hope they have been given to their students, much appreciated. I only did a wee thing, but made me happy and I enjoyed it.”
Etta is currently off work, awaiting a knee operation, but has been thinking about other ways of engaging with the Chinese parents
“I am very aware that Jessie is a volunteer and do not wish to abuse her generosity. It has though , highlighted the great need here in Oakgrove and in many establishments of the benefits of home language support for both parents and children. I have since discussed with Marion (from Gathered Together) the idea of making contact with Glasgow University who have a significant Chinese student population, with the idea that some students may like to take the opportunity support learning in schools through working with parents and children.”
Having bilingual volunteers can make a huge difference to teachers wanting to engage with newly arrived families, at Gathered Together we are encouraging schools to look for opportunities to support partnership working, linking schools up with the supplementary language schools, foreign students looking for work experience and local community groups.
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