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
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”.
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’