A few weeks ago we were invited to join Stirling Council’s English as an Additional Language teachers Tricia Davenport and David Fletcher for an information session for new parents about Scottish Education. The session was a whistle stop tour of the schools system in Scotland that answered a lot of questions and helped me to finally understand how the new exam system works. Among the questions answered were:
We know from our work with parents who are new to Scotland that they have a lot of questions about the education system. From the fact that children in the UK start school age 5 (unlike many European countries where children don’t start formal education until they are 6 or 7) to the lack of formal testing in primary school there are big differences between parents’ own experience of school and the way their children are being taught. Information events like the one I attended in Stirling are vital as they give parents the opportunity to ask questions and understand how things work in Scotland. To make sure that the parents fully understood the session translators were provided including two sixth year pupils (from China and Poland). Tricia and David helped them to prepare before the session and both the young interpreters sat with a parent and explained what was being said by the presenter. As well as making sure that the parents were given the information in their own language the student interpreters will get certificates recognising their work. By giving them the chance to use their linguistic skills the EAL service was showing them the value of speaking two languages and to recognise what a gift bilingualism is.
Reaching out and engaging with these families can make a huge difference and give them reassurance and a sense of belonging. As David said, “We realise how traumatic it can be for families who move to a new education system, and there can be significant differences between education in Scotland and in other countries. These sessions are a good opportunity to meet parents in an informal setting, to discuss concerns and questions.”
From our work in rural areas, including Falkirk and Stirling and Clackmannanshire we’ve heard the experiences of parents who were the only Ethnic Minority family in the school. Feeling the odd one out always makes involvement more difficult, particularly in schools where other parents have known each other since they were children. Parents spoke about the difficulty to speak to other parents when it seemed that everyone knew each other really well and they were not confident with their English.
Feeling different is also difficult for children, some mothers spoke about their children being embarrassed by their mother coming into school wearing a salwar kameez. They can also feel uncomfortable about the fact their parents have poor English and being asked to translate for them. In an interview we did recently with two mothers who are part of the Rainbow Muslim Women’s group, Samina spoke about the difficulties to getting involved. Feeling different and not understanding the school system- who to ask for, what her children were being taught etc, made her reluctant to have contact with the school. Other parents have found the very vocabulary of modern education confusing- their children talk about “learn-its” (short sums) and they have no idea what this means or how to support their children with homework. To hear more about Samina and Tasneem’s experience go to http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=878
Samina said that she has never been specifically asked by the school to get involved- just through general letters asking for help. We think that specifically approaching parents, recognising their skills and interests, can help parents feel a part of the school and help the school to celebrate its diversity. We know parents who have gone into school to teach the class how to count in their mother tongue- this makes their children feel proud of their parents and that their mother tongue is something to be valued not ashamed of. You can also find out about the bilingual story telling group at St Albert’s primary in Glasgow that has parents telling stories to children in English and Urdu- http://gatheredtogether.bemis.org.uk/?p=854
We ran our second Community Champion training session in Falkirk at the end of August. This session was marked by having participants from a couple of different local authority areas (Stirling and Falkirk) who brought their interesting experiences with them, as well as their different perspectives on being an ethnic and cultural minority parent in Scotland.
In addition to this, we were lucky enough to have Megan Farr from Falkirk education department attending too to hear the experiences of delegates. Gathered Together promotes that the results of its sessions are passed on to Local Authorities, but in this case, it was self-evident. The experience appeared to be useful for both the delegates and for the council, so this was great for all of those attending.
We are really excited to continue to work with our Community Champions – hopefully you’ll be hearing from them on our blog as they share their experiences as parents.
Had a lively training session in Stirling yesterday alongside a new community organisation called KASH – Knowledge & Support of Human Abilities. Thanks to all the families who came along and looking forward to doing more work in the Stirling and Clackmannanshire area.