Engaging Families and Communities with Education | Tuesday 16th June 2015

17.06.2015

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education in Skills, got a warm reception when he launched the Welsh Government’s Family and Community Engagement (FaCE) guidance on Tuesday 16th June 2015.

The conference was summoned to attention, not by a school bell but by a drumming performance by Upbeat, a group that works extensively in schools across Wales.

The joint conference, organised by WCEE (the Wales Centre for Equity in Education) and IIF (Investors in Families), was held at the SWALEC stadium. It was opened by Hugh Morris, Chief Executive of Glamorgan Cricket Club. Hugh welcomed over 150 delegates from education settings across Wales by setting out Glamorgan’s commitment to working with communities. The enormous outreach programme included sessions on literacy and numeracy, in addition to ‘taster’ cricket sessions for primary and secondary students, including those with additional educational needs.

The conference was billed as ‘Engaging Families and Communities with Education’ and offered the perfect opportunity for the Minister to launch the Family and Community Engagement toolkit.

Huw Lewis, spoke with passion about the need to engage families in improving outcomes for children and thus families too. His spontaneous plea to schools to utilise the support that parents and families can give to delivering better outcomes struck a chord with the large audience of education professionals.

Christine Grimshaw, from the Department for Education and Skills took the delegates through the five themes of the toolkit, which are:

  1. Leadership for a self improving system
  2. Embedding a whole school approach to family and community engagement
  3. Welcoming families to engage with school life
  4. Helping families to actively support their child’s learning
  5. Developing community partnerships and multi-agency working

Before and after lunch there were break-out sessions with front-line practitioners and providers of family engagement projects setting out how they were contributing to delivering the families and community agenda.

Investors in Families, Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership Achievement for All and NSM Training and Consultancy demonstrated the impact that they were having on actively engaging families and the wider community in improving education outcomes for children and young people. There were also sessions on working with the gypsy traveller community, developing school partnerships using time creditsand giving young people a voice.

Professor Alan Dyson, from the Centre for Equity in Education at the University of Manchester, in a presentation on ‘children’s communities,’ began by reminding the audience that: “Social class remains the strongest predictor of educational achievement in the UK, where the social class gap for educational achievement is one of the most significant in the developed world.”

In explaining that improving schools was not enough on its own, he drew on the experience of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which had developed a strategy for Harlem based on the following principles:

  • -  Doubly holistic approach:
  • -  cradle to career support
  • -  across all of the contexts in which children learn and develop
  • -  Focus on a coherent community
  • -  Based on a thorough analysis of the area’s distinctive dynamics
  • -  Involving a range of partners & resources – including but not restricted to schools
  • -  Autonomous area-based governance and funding

The conference ended with Professor David Egan, of the WCEE, issuing a passionate rallying call. Drawing on his own experience, he called on schools to seize the opportunity to drive improvement for all children by capitalising on the opportunities for working with families and local communities.

The first annual conference organised by WCEE and IIF set a challenging agenda for schools, providers and community organisations. In a year’s time it will be possible to look at what impact the government toolkit has had.