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Hold on to family values

Schools have a duty to support parents as well as pupils, writes Jane Martin.

HOW families support and care for their children is critical to their educational progress and achievement.There is a great deal that schools can and should do to work with families and help them in an holistic approach to meeting the needs of children.

The governing body should keep a watching brief on how their school continues to offer the best opportunities it can - and help parents access all the information available.

Many pre-school centres, nursery and primary schools offer a range of services which support families - often in collaboration with social services, children's charities and health services. Family learning, parenting groups, and toy libraries can all help parents who need support in the early years of their child's life. Some schools run sessions to inform parents about the curriculum and how they can help their child at home. Others have groups for teenage mothers. Help for working parents, such as after-school clubs and holiday play schemes, are now quite common.

The governing body is the right place to start a discussion about the school's strategy towards family support and can help investigate funding opportunities. But governors need to know their school community and the wider community well so a proper assessment of local needs can be made.

Discussion with social and health services will probably help here.

There is a great deal of information available for parents which schools can advertise and support.

The Department for Education and Skills' online parents' centre is a comprehensive site which offers advice on everything from what to do when moving house, finding a childminder, choosing your children's school, to supporting the curriculum and applying for university. It has links to Office for Standards in Education reports and organisations such as Bookstart, to give parents the help they need to make informed choices.

There is also a special section for children with special needs. Could your school help parents to access the web if they cannot do so at home?

The local education authority will also have information about local schools both on the website but also in guides for parents. They also have an important role to play in supporting children with special needs and children in care.

The reality is that most schools want to do much more for local families but need more resources. Don't let this stop you - the next opportunity might be just round the corner.

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