Back-to-school scheme to get reluctant parents on board

3rd June 2016 at 00:00
Scottish Learning Festival’s activities persuade mums and dads to play an active role in their child’s learning

Every teacher knows a pupil whose parents never turn up to parents evening. They are often the most vulnerable children.

Many are living in poverty, have learning difficulties, are looked after or have underdeveloped social skills. And experts say that they are more likely to have issues relating to bullying, truancy and behaviour.

But a new pilot scheme is looking to address this problem – by inviting their parents back to school to experience it for themselves.

Organisers hope it will help dispel any negative feelings parents have about school – which may not have been a happy time for them – and get them involved in children’s learning.

Renfrewshire Council contacted the parents who it knows are likely to need extra support as their offspring make the transition into secondary and invited them to meet their children’s teachers and attend taster sessions in different subjects.

Best practice

The programme ran for the first time last year and is highlighted as an example of best practice at the 2016 Scottish Learning Festival (SLF).

Linda O’Neill, who designed the programme and is based at the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (Celcis), will deliver one of more than 100 seminars at the event, which runs over two days in September (see box, below).

The Renfrewshire initiative – called Parents in Partnership – lasted for six weeks, with parents of P7 pupils invited to attend their children’s new high school, Castlehead High in Paisley, every Thursday for three periods.

The sessions, which began in April, allowed parents to participate in two subject taster lessons before attending a life-skills class where they learned about things from managing teenage behaviour to how to get involved in the parent council.

The parents who took part experienced 12 of the 16 subjects their children would be taught in S1 at first hand. In technical classes, they made a bird feeder and in home economics they cooked a stir-fry meal.

Ms O’Neill, who is now the education programme lead at Celcis, said: “Parent groups are notoriously difficult in terms of retention, but retention for this programme was good and I think that was because we designed it from scratch with our parents in mind.”

The programme cost £4,800 to deliver, paid for through the Scottish government’s Access to Education Fund, which was set up to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms O’Neill said: “We know that there is a huge drop-off in parental engagement between primary and secondary but we know that when a parent or carer is involved it is a huge factor in improving attainment.”

An evaluation of the programme said that parents felt their child was “more confident about the transition to high school”.

It added: “Meeting and getting to know class teachers was also noted by parents as a highlight of the programme.”

Parental engagement is one of the key themes at this year’s SLF. The new inspection regime for schools, expected to be introduced in August, will have a focus on family learning, with inspectors looking for parents to be “meaningfully engaged” in their children’s learning and life at school.

What to see and do at the Scottish Learning Festival 2016

The Scottish Learning Festival – the largest and most wide-ranging education event in the country – will take place on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 September. Here are some of the highlights:

Wednesday 21 September

Ease into day one at 9.30am with some tips on turning your school into a “STEMpire” from an inspirational secondary headteacher.

At 10.30am, there is the chance to hear from Scotland’s new education secretary, John Swinney.

At 12.30pm, Professor Yong Zhao, from the University of Oregon in the US, will argue that the education debate today is “akin to tinkering with the horse and cart in order to travel to Mars”.

As of August, a new school inspection regime will be introduced in Scotland. Hear from representatives from Education Scotland about what this means for schools, at 2pm.

Academic Linda O’Neill will be explaining how she persuaded some of the hardest-to-reach parents to come back to school, at 3.15pm (see main story, above) Thursday 22 September

The V&A Museum of Design in Dundee will be the first ever design museum in the UK to be built outside London. At 9.30am, the museum’s learning manager, Joanna Mawdsley, will explore whether creativity is something that can be taught.

Find out if the government really is planning hour-long literacy and numeracy tests in primary schools at a session on the National Improvement Framework, at 12pm.

How can you use smartphones in secondary school science? Paul Downie, from Hyndland Secondary School, in Glasgow, will reveal all at 1.15pm.

For full programme details for the festival, go to

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