Tracey Berry

15th March 2013 at 00:00
The family support teacher at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh, who was appointed MBE for services to education in the New Year Honours, talks about involving parents in school life, home visits and bacon rolls. Interview by Emma Seith Photography by James Glossop

Tell us about your role as family support teacher

Parents and carers are the primary educators of their children. They should be respected in that role, we should value that role and schools should join them in a partnership. So my main focus is to engage parents and carers in their children's education. They have to know they are valued, have a role to play and are not being judged. Once I've got that relationship, they feel comfortable in the school and that helps get the child in a place where they are ready to learn.

Are we good at involving parents in school life?

Here we strive to do that but I don't know if every school does; some do not value the parents as much as they should.

How do you get parents engaging with the school?

I stand at the gate every morning and I welcome everybody by name. That's where I start that relationship, that's where we get that mutual respect and trust, and that's where I promote the groups I run. But the Peep groups (Parents Early Education Partnership) can sometimes be my first contact - I call it my PR. I take the names on the waiting list for our nursery - so the two-year-olds, the three-year-olds - and I invite them in to a parent-and-child session. They come and we do activities and have talk time together on a variety of subjects like getting your child ready for nursery and early literacy and numeracy. From that I have the beginnings of my relationship with these parents. And I have a toddler group that's well-known in the community that anybody can come to - that runs every week. The other Peep group I run is pre-school. We have 60 children about to start school in August and I offer every carer Peep sessions to get the children ready. Then in June I take everyone - the parents, carers and class teachers - and we go to the Pilton Ratho Retreat and have a fun day of food and activities in a lovely informal setting, where the children can meet the other children in their class, and the parents and carers can meet each other.

What other events do you run?

We have open days three times a year where we maybe focus on an area of the curriculum, such as Big Writing or active learning. Parents and carers come in and have breakfast with me and the parent council - Friends of Forthview - then they go into the hall and the headteacher or a member of staff delivers the information session. Then they go and visit the classrooms and see their children at work. Again, it's another way of building that relationship. But I also have to consider working parents, so every term we do an evening activity.

How do you win over parents who are reluctant to engage?

For my harder-to-reach parents it's bit by bit. That's where meeting them at the gate in the morning comes in, because I'm just generally chatting and trying to build up the relationship. But I also do home visits - I have visited the homes of 97 per cent of the children in the school. The reason I've not visited everybody is because new children arrive all the time. The class teachers and I visit every P1 child at home. The teachers say it's one of the most important experiences they have, because they understand the child's background and it makes them more empathetic. So it helps the relationship between home and school and it's also an opportunity to go over the homework, because it's the first time they're being introduced to homework. I take interpreters if need be, so language is not a barrier.

How many families do you work with?

We have 360 children at this school.

Do you work with some more intensively than others?

Yes, but I try to reach every family. I now have a dads' group - bacon rolls get them in the door.

Does any parent ever slip through the net?

I haven't had anybody slip through my net yet, but out of 360 children there were maybe two parents who didn't want the visit in the house, but they came into school. There is not a parent who I have not spoken to.

What are the highs and lows?

The highs are when the parents talk about how we have changed their lives. The lows come when the families take their frustrations out on me because I'm on the frontline. Also, you can't help everybody.

In light of the recent budget cuts has your role ever been under threat?

The job used to be part-time. It's only in the past three years that it's been full-time, so I will wait until AprilMay before I know if I'm going to be full-time again next year.

Is it important you are a teacher?

It is. The staff at the school and I are very much a team. As much as I'm putting the parents' voice to the teachers, I'm promoting education because I want to change these children's lives.

When do you get presented with your MBE?

In July.


Born: Dunfermline, 1962

Education: Gylemuir Primary; Craigmount High; Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh

Career: Began career as a nursery teacher at Silverknowes Primary; taught at Muirhouse and Craigmuir Primary, where she became an educational home visitor in 1994. Title changed to family support teacher to reflect her background. In 2003, Craigmuir amalgamated with Inchview Primary to form Forthview Primary.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today