School project puts family bonding firmly on the table

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Scheme offering weekly after-school sessions with parents is found to improve pupils' behaviour

The first Scottish trial of an internationally-renowned scheme to help schools and struggling families work in tandem has had a "remarkable" impact.

Families and Schools Together (Fast) increased teachers' involvement with parents after eight weekly after-school sessions of two-and-a-half hours. It also improved children's behaviour "significantly".

The trial took place at Clydebank's Linnvale Primary, where 42 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals, from April to June this year. It was part of an arrangement for Save the Children to work closely with West Dunbartonshire Council over several years.

What marked out the project from previous schemes was that pupils, parents and teachers worked together on a level footing, explained the headteacher, Doreen Phillips.

The scheme was overseen by a team of professionals and trained parents and evaluated by Middlesex University, whose professor of social work education, Lynn McDonald, started Fast in 1998.

Save the Children said Fast had resulted in "remarkable changes". The children involved, mostly in P1-2, were behaving better: there were significant reductions in emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, and problems with peers.

Family relationships were "significantly strengthened", the charity said, with conversation and play becoming easier as parents gained belief in their abilities.

All the families were also helping each other out more than previously, perhaps assisting with daily chores or supporting another parent who was ill.

Mrs Phillips identified two elements in particular as having worked well with the 31 children and 29 family members involved: having a meal as a family, an unfamiliar experience for most; and playing together as a family.

The next stage sees responsibility being handed over to the parents, who will meet monthly over the next two years to build on the relationships they have formed with each other.

Save the Children hopes to bring Fast to other parts of Scotland, with Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and Dundee councils already expressing interest.

Fast has been implemented in more than 2,000 schools in 11 countries.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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