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Isolation and Insecurity

a. Parents feel intimidated by schools.

Parents can see teachers as the authority and are reluctant to question them or approach them. Teacher, Surrey

In Norfolk, Traveller Education Early Years practitioners support local pre-schools and Reception teachers in local schools to make photo books showing familiar staff and activities and the school environment for parents to look at before visiting or registering their child.

Education Leeds, as part of their Parent Partnership Service, offers an Independent Parent Support service that recruits people in an advocacy role to offer information and guidance in an unbiased capacity to parents whose children have special or additional education needs.

In the London Borough of Haringey, one infant and one primary school organised ‘Welcome' photo books for newly-enrolled families, available in 30 different languages, which represent the ethos, expectations and daily routines of the school through pictures. The aim was to promote greater inclusion. The project was organised with the Photographers' Gallery and was initially funded by London Boroughs Grants' Outer London Arts Development Fund, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the City Parochial Foundation. After two rounds of production of these booklets, the borough now provides schools with a standard template that schools can modify by inserting their own photographs. 21 schools have now produced their own booklets.

Brookside School in Street, Somerset, runs ‘Inspire Mornings' aimed at general parental involvement within schools. Children bring a family member or carer into class so that the adult can experience how the children are taught and work with them to achieve specific learning goals. The adult can be a parent, carer, grandparent or other adult member of the family. They offer parents who don't have English as their first language one-to-one support to ensure that they understand the aims of Inspire Mornings. They also have workshops for parents such as ‘Communication Skills', ‘Becoming Assertive', ‘Positive Parenting' and ‘Managing Stress'.

At Argyle Primary School in Camden, all new parents attend a meeting with a senior member of staff and a translator (if one is required). Here, the child's individual learning needs are assessed, together with what the parents can offer and be offered. Actions following the meeting might include anything from putting the new family in touch with others from the same ethnic background to familiarising them with the school's much-used toy library. Laura Wynne says: ‘Refugee families are used to being questioned and often in a context that they feel is threatening. So they're always relieved that we're prepared to give them time and listen to what they need. It's all part of winning their hearts and minds and creating an atmosphere of co-operation from the start.'

In Hampshire, there is a Kosovan After School Club. The aim was to give children from different schools an opportunity to get together to do homework (transport was arranged) but there was good attendance from parents who learned informally about the education system and how to help their children.

b. Parents feel self-conscious about their own academic abilities.

Wentworth Nursery School in Hackney sponsors a ‘Parent in Action' gardening course. It aims to encourage parents to share in their children's schooling and support their learning; to give parents and children an opportunity to learn new skills and develop an active interest in gardening; to help parents to feel confident and enthusiastic in sharing knowledge and activity ideas with children. They also aim to help families to further develop their interest after the course has finished by growing and maintaining plants, in this case herbs. Parents commented: ‘I enjoyed learning as part of a group. I liked the way everything was informal and the fact that it was long enough to give us a taster but not too long for us to get bored'; ‘I would be interested in future courses and volunteering at nursery/school'; ‘She liked having me around at school helping'.

Wensley Fold C of E Primary School in Blackburn offers numeracy, EAL and ICT courses for parents.

To help other parents become more involved in their children's education, the Muslim Education Forum (MEF) in Luton have published an educational handbook for parents. Funded by advertising and written by members of the MEF, this handbook was created to promote the involvement of ethnic minority parents in their children's education, and to raise awareness more generally of resources available. Divided into key topics, the Muslim Parents' Handbook contains guidance and materials on educational matters, such as how parents can help their children learn at school and in the home, as well as extra-curricular activities and sports programmes available in the local area.

Piloted initially in 6 Luton schools, the Muslim Parents Handbook will be distributed to the schools with a higher proportion of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children, and may be extended to cover more schools in the area.

c. Parents feel isolated in all-white schools and PTAs.

The school feels exclusively white. White values, White parents in key decision-making positions in the school; White parents in cosy relationships with school management teams about who is worthy enough or loyal enough to be involved in the key business of the school. I hate this. Parent Teachers [Association] is a wholly exclusive membership. Parent

Hamstead Hall Community Learning Centre in Birmingham has a special parents' group for Black Caribbean boys.

In Swindon, the Traveller Education Service worked with Swindon College and then the Library Service to provide a mobile unit with laptops and tutors on the Traveller site to present a series of ICT courses to the Traveller community. The mothers asked for more so the tutors booked internet time at the local library for the parents. Eventually, they paid for courses with other non-Traveller parents. Now all the mothers from the course regularly go to the library with their children and engage with non-Traveller families.

In Dudley there is family learning open to newly arrived children (primary, secondary and 16+) and parents to help with English and maths. They are able to meet other families from similar backgrounds to ease feelings of isolation. There is not only a Saturday school but also social opportunities with others such as playing sports. Parents are provided with an informal atmosphere to ask for advice with problems at home, etc. Parents have set up a New Arrivals Association to plan their own activities and support in English, maths and home languages. This has prompted other meeting groups like Pakistani, Yemeni, and African-Caribbean supplementary schools and homework groups.

The Camden Black Parents and Teachers Association was set up over 25 years ago by a group of Black parents and teachers in Camden who were concerned about the education system. It provides advice, information, support, training and referrals on a range of issues affecting the educational needs within families and the achievement levels of the Black child. It provides unbiased advice, support and strategies for parents facing situations in schools that they find difficult to deal with. It now has its own supplementary school, homework club and holiday play scheme.

The Parents of Black Children Association was set up by a group of professionals in West Yorkshire. It aims to work in partnership with parents, families, educational establishments and other organisations to raise the aspirations, expectations and educational achievement of children and young people of African Caribbean descent. They offer a wide range of specialist advice, support and training designed to meet the needs of parents, families, teachers and other practitioners involved in the educational, social and cultural development of children and young people of African Caribbean heritage.

The Nottingham AMBER (Adult Minorities Breaking Educational Restrictions) project works with schools and parents. Parents are encouraged to become involved in the life of the school and are given the support and knowledge to work at home with their children. Schools are encouraged to think about the ways in which parents can be welcomed, encouraged and valued as partners and co-educators. The project, which began in 1995 to work mainly with Asian and African-Caribbean parents, has since been expanded to include other groups in the City and County of Nottingham.

What parents can do:

a. Ask a friend to go with you to school events such as parents' evenings.

b. Seek out other sympathetic parents who might have common interests or share your concerns.

c. Get advice from professionals in your community such as teachers or lawyers and form a support group.

I often go and talk to the teacher as I know children have difficulties being the only Asians in a very white-dominated school. Parent

Become involved with the school from curriculum decisions to social activities. Don't be intimidated by the system, we are all here to make it better. Parent

I am involved in my daughter's school as a parent governor and will not be intimidated by members of staff. Although I know of parents who find teachers intimidating and unapproachable, I am determined that my child will not be a statistic. I'm supporting her to the best of my ability and not leaving it down to the school to educate my child. Parent

 

Have the courage and confidence to keep on supporting your child and representing his/her interests in the school. Parent

 

My child is dyslexic. In the end I found a sympathetic solicitor who negotiated with the Education Department. Parent

 

Be strong, trust your instinct, ask for changes and improvements, be involved in school life and be on the child's side. Parent

 

Approach the school first. If the response makes you feel uncomfortable then contact your local BME organisation, who will then act as an advocate for you. If this does not work, then contact a national service who will advise further on support mechanisms. Parent, Essex

 

Don't be afraid to question things that do not seem right - teachers pay attention when they know parents are looking. Parent, London


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