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The Runnymede Trust designed Tell Me What I Need to Know to help parents, particularly those from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), Refugee, Asylum-seeking and Traveller communities to support their children’s education more confidently and effectively.

Although the information and guidance that we provide will be relevant for parents from all backgrounds, we concentrated on these groups because statistics repeatedly show that, while some children from these groups do extremely well, many others fail to achieve their potential. There are a number of reasons for this, but it is clear that if parents do get involved in their children’s learning, both in school and at home, that can make a difference. As our research shows, there is, too, no question that parents in our target group care and want to achieve the best for their children.

In the summer of 2006 we carried out an online survey. Over 200 parents and teachers responded. 88% of the parents felt that it is very important to support and be involved in their children’s education. But both parents and teachers told us about their concerns and the barriers to involvement that they experienced. We have also looked at existing research on parental involvement and, although BME parents reflect many of the same concerns as other parents, there are particular factors that affect them more.

One concern consistently repeated by parents is that they don’t have enough information: they don’t understand how the education system works and don’t know their rights. It is clear, too, that there are areas of misunderstanding, mistrust, sensitivity and lack of communication on the part of both parents and schools. Also evident, though, are signs that government, local authorities, schools, teachers, independent agencies as well as parents are searching for – and finding – creative solutions to the perceived problems.

Tell Me What I Need to Know attempts to address the concerns of parents and teachers and to bring together strategies to overcome the hurdles. Examples of ‘good practice’ are drawn from across the country. Since parents are often in the best position to identify and understand their children’s needs, we hope that this information will give them increased confidence to engage more effectively with their children’s schools.

We have restricted Tell Me What I Need to Know to the education system in England and to the period when a child’s formal education begins at the age of 3 until compulsory education comes to an end. The education system is constantly changing and complex. There is a lot that parents need to understand, particularly those parents who have not been through the system themselves. We have therefore divided the information part of Tell Me What I Need to Know into 4 sections, covering the Key Stages of a child’s education. Each section gives you the information you need to understand what happens in your child’s school as well as guidance and suggestions to help you prepare for the next Key Stage.

There is a great deal of information in the sections, but you do not need to read them in one session. For each section you can scan through the headings and decide which parts you need to know about now. You could then come back to other subjects at another time.

Throughout the sections, we’ve used the term ‘parent’ to include anyone who has responsibility for the care of a child.

The section called ‘Good Practice’ brings together the creative ways in which parents’ concerns are being addressed and we have also offered suggestions about how parents can, themselves, try to overcome barriers. We hope that this booklet, in particular, will help parents and teachers to work in partnership as co-educators of our children.