This blog was written by Jane Lewis, Head of UK Programme Development and Quality.
I was recently lucky enough to work with a lovely school in North London to deliver one of our parental engagement programmes. Families and Schools Together (FAST) is all about helping children to succeed: at home, in school and in their community. It’s a structured programme, developed in the US, and based on very sound theory. We’ve been delivering it since 2010, in partnership with Middlesex University, along with our own home-grown parent engagement programme, Families Connect. And they work!
Evaluations show that both programmes are very successful, increasing parents’ involvement in their child’s education and learning; enriching family relationships; improving children’s behaviour at school and at home, and boosting children’s academic skills. And over the past few weeks it’s been an absolute pleasure to see this for myself.
“The FAST programme has empowered our parents and breaks the barriers they have, creating a partnership between families and schools.” Juliet, teacher
At the end of the eight sessions, there’s a graduation ceremony where the families celebrate what they’ve learnt. Ours was incredibly moving. Parents testified that they were continuing the activities at home and making a point of having one-to-one time with their children. They talked about tuning into their child, following their lead, giving them praise and getting them to talk about their feelings. They saw the value of structure, routine and repetition and were creating more of this at home. They talked about feeling less isolated and now having friends at school. We haven’t had the results of the formal evaluation yet but this is the kind of change we hope to see.
All parents want the best
One of the values underpinning FAST and Families Connect is the idea that all parents want the best for their children. We chewed this one over when we had our initial training, looking at all the reasons why parents might not come across as having this aspiration. It’s very common to hear schools, and other parents, saying that some parents can’t be bothered, don’t care, never do anything to support their child’s learning, and have very low aspirations.
Actually, in all the years I’ve worked in child and family services, I can honestly say I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t want the best for their child. I’ve met parents who are so depressed that they struggle to find the energy and motivation to give their children the stimulation they need. I’ve met parents who were never read to, played with, sung to or even really talked to by their own parents, and who don’t do enough of these things with their children. I’ve met parents who are completely intimidated by schools, not because of anything the school is doing, but because they’re isolated, unconfident and afraid of anyone in authority. And I’ve met parents who had a terrible time at school themselves and want to protect their children from the same experience, and who might do this by saying that tests and exams don’t matter, or that the teacher doesn’t know best.
But none of that is the same as not wanting the best for your child.
‘The best thing about this experience is I’ve got to talk to people from so many different cultures and despite all of our differences, every one of us parents, from every country, we just want to make our children happy.” Kate, mum of two
Breaking down barriers
This is why programmes such as FAST and Families Connect are so valuable – little by little, they help break down those barriers whilst providing parents with confidence and a support network. At the end of the programme, the school partners said that parents who previously had stood back at the school gate were coming into the school, asking questions, getting involved, and some were asking for more help from the school.
“If you could continue this programme every month or every week, that would be good for every parent. This programme has relaxed our minds.” Mum of two
Hearing feedback like this and seeing the changes for myself made me incredibly proud of the work we’re doing and of our conviction that it matters. And it made me eager to continue our work with Families Connect and to build on it to embed parental engagement in schools. If we can succeed in that, we can help parents and schools to have a transformative impact on their children’s futures, and ensure that no child is left behind.
Save the Children is co-funding a randomised controlled trial of FAST with the Educational Endowment Foundation, which is being carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research and Loughborough University. We are also planning a randomised controlled trial of Families Connect.
For more information about FAST and Families Connect, please contact Claire Read.