Make further education a family affair, parents say

Better links with home needed as younger students join colleges

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Parent councils have been a feature in schools for years, but families have so far had little say in further education.

However, parent groups are now calling for mothers, fathers and guardians to be offered a greater voice in FE as the population of Scottish colleges is set to become ever younger.

The Wood Commission has recommended closer cooperation between schools and colleges, and the government has promised a place in education, training or work to every young person aged 16-19. Meanwhile, students as young as 14 or 15 can now enrol on college courses.

Joanna Murphy, vice-chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said that parents had "a vital part to play" in children's college experiences, especially at the younger end of the scale.

"Parents want and need to be involved so that everyone can benefit, college and child. This does not mean that they are interfering or are taking away choices from the child - but because it makes sense," she said.

"Young people can often feel overwhelmed at college and are sometimes not given the chance to have their opinions discussed and their issues resolved. Parents can be advocates and give support in an often unfamiliar situation."

Ms Murphy said it was "worth developing" college and parent partnerships, particularly since some young people were now completing part of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence in colleges. "The support and partnerships available in school should be available for them in college," she said.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Forum, said that allowing parents to influence the college environment would have benefits for learners.

"While many young people involved in school or college partnerships were still on the school roll and so still came under the school reporting system, we know some parents feel they know little or nothing about what happens at college or, worse, things fall through the cracks and are missed," she said.

The comments have been welcomed by Colleges Scotland. Board member Ken Milroy told TESS that it "made sense" for parent organisations to become more involved with the college sector. "The Wood Commission's report made it clear that we all need to work more closely together to ensure young people are aware and taking advantage of improved opportunities in vocational and technical study," he said.

Mr Milroy added that he was sure the Scottish government would welcome input from parents as it considered how best to implement the commission's recommendations.

"This seems to me to be an ideal opportunity for Colleges Scotland and our regional college boards to explore with parents' organisations how we will work more closely together in each of the regions," he said.

Ms Prior said that her organisation had already been working for several years with City of Glasgow College. She stressed that in the wake of the Wood Commission the links between schools and colleges were only going to grow, so parents needed "to be part of the planning".

Dianne Gallacher, head of student development at City of Glasgow College, said that although the institution encouraged students to become independent, parents sometimes had to get involved. "Some students can experience difficulty communicating, and therefore parents engage with the college to ensure we can bring the best out of the student," she said.

A Scottish government spokesperson said that parents would be invited to many of the partnership events between schools and colleges taking place across Scotland.

These would allow pupils and their families to find out what courses entailed, outline the various study and accommodation options available and show what business links were in place to improve graduates' employability prospects, they added.

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