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.
On International Migrants day (18 December) we thought we would look back at some of the parents we’ve met over the past year who have come to Scotland. These parents are now an integral part of their school communities and through their involvement have helped to make their children’s schools, and Scotland, a richer place.
Jessie is originally from China, she got involved in her children’s nursery through the well-chosen words project and has helped other parents by translating materials into Chinese.
Ewelina (from Poland) and Haleema (from the UK) are parents at Pikeman nursery, with the help of EAL teacher Labinder Sekhon, they have been able to support their children with their learning- understanding the importance of their involvement and to see the crucial role that they have in supporting their children’s learning.
Christian is originally from France, he became involved in his daughters’ secondary school and joined the Parent Council. This gave him the opportunity to get involved in the early days of developing the Curriculum for Excellence as well as getting to know the local community and understanding the Scottish education system
Maria is from Bulgaria, she is an active member of Golfhill Primary Parent Council and also joined our workshop of Parental Involvement in November- sharing her experiences of being involved and the difference it has made for her and her family.
Christian Allard is originally from France, he became involved in his daughters’ secondary school Parent Council simply because he wanted to offer the school his support. Involvement in the Parent Council led to involvement in the Community Council, getting involved in the development of the Curriculum for Excellence and eventually to Christian becoming a member of the Scottish Parliament. Hear Christian talking about the impact getting involved in the Parent Council made on him
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