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. 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.
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