Monday, 17 October 2016

Guest post by Marion Fairweather - Cost of the school day Project Manager, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland.

Many families across Scotland are living on low-incomes and struggling to meet the basic costs of everyday life. Over the past years the cost of living has increased (between 2007- 2015 the price of food increased by 29%) and now over half the children living in poverty are from families where at least one adult in their household is in work- work is no guarantee against poverty.

In Glasgow the Poverty Leadership Panel established a project, delivered by Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, to look at the cost of the school day and to find out how school costs impacted on low-income families. We worked with eight schools (four primary and four secondary schools), speaking to children, teachers and parents listening to their experiences of the ways that costs affect their experience of school. One of the main findings was that school costs, from uniforms, to school lunches to the summer trip, put pressure on families with already stretched budgets and can result in children missing out on valuable opportunities.

It is around issues like cost that Parent Councils (PCs) and Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) can play an invaluable role in raising parents’ concerns with the school and developing solutions to overcome the barriers that cost can create. From speaking to Parent Councils in Glasgow we know that they are doing great work, for example:

  • ·         Using money in their budget to provide a Halloween disco for free (which allowed lots of children who might otherwise have not attended to come)
  • ·         Running uniform banks providing low-cost new or nearly new uniforms for families
  • ·         Giving all children coming into Primary One a school tie (donated by former P7s)
The Cost of the school day report has also made PCs and PTAs stop and reflect on their own practice- thinking of when and how many fundraising events they have and if these risked putting pressure on low-income families. However, while PCs and PTAs really want to take action to reduce the cost of the school day, consulting with parents can be difficult. There is still a lot of stigma around poverty and it can be difficult for parents to admit that they are struggling to cover costs.

Cost of the school day, together with a working group of PCs and PTAs members from across Glasgow schools, are working to develop tools to help PCs and PTAs consult with parents and a bank of good practice ideas to reduce costs and ensure all children can take advantage of the opportunities open to them in school.

For more information about the Cost of the school day and the work we are doing please contact me at or visit our website at

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

You may have read worrying article in the Herald this week about the poor state of mental health among Scotland’s teenagers -

Following the release of The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), a study by St Andrew’s University, the Scottish Youth Parliament has published a report which described the issue of mental-ill-health in Scottish young people as “our generation’s epidemic.”

The report is sobering, bringing to light the extent to which Scotland’s teenagers are suffering with various mental health issues, with a laundry list of possible causes. Exam stress, pressure from school work and managing expectations, unable to switch of from the pressure created by social media, anxiety about the future, distress caused by the scenes of violence and terror we see in the news every day. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders; all of these issues can have unthinkable consequences if ignored, so having access to the right support services is essential.

What’s more concerning than the extent of mental-ill-health in teens is how little support there is for young people, who are starting their adult lives with serious mental health issues. The Scottish Youth Parliament are calling for a review of the existing governmental service – The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

Getting the right help and support can make an enormous difference to the longevity, seriousness and outcome of a period of mental-ill-health. There are a number of charities who offer support services for young people will mental health issues, and a huge wealth of information for parents on how best to support their children through a period of poor mental health.

SAMH – The Scottish Association for Mental Health -

Loads of great resources on their website for understanding mental health and ways to help someone who is struggling with poor mental health. We especially like their article which explains various mental health problems in simple terms. 
Understanding the problem is the first step to solving it! -

YoungMinds has a great section dedicated to parents who are concerned about the mental wellbeing of their child or teenager. There is a free helpline, an email support service and guides to help parents cope with looking after the mental wellbeing of a child or young person.

Penumbra provide a lot of free or affordable practical mental health support services, such as one-to-one support, issue based group sessions and sessions in schools and communities. They run sessions that are specifically tailored to young people as well. Again, their website provides a wealth of information to help parents understand, and provide the best possible support.

The Mental Health Foundation provides some advice on how to help your child stay mentally well, and what organisations can help if required.

Finally, if your child or teenager is facing a crisis and in distress, please contact NHS 24 on 111 or your GP directly for immediate help.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Partnership Schools at Webster's High School in Angus

As some of you will know, SPTC is running Partnership Schools Scotland, a pilot project which aims to create and develop partnerships between schools, communities and families to improve outcomes for young people.

Partnership schools have an Action Team for Partnership (ATP) made up of parents and teachers who work together to plan a strategy, events and activities that will build their relationships with families and the local community.

The ATP at Webster’s High School in Kirriemuir, Angus, set a goal for their school to run a charity shop in partnership with pupils, families, school office staff and the local community, to raise funds for the school. Wendy Scott, chair of the ATP at Webster’s, tells us a little bit about how the event worked:

“As one of our Partnership goals we ran a pop up charity shop in one of the towns local to Webster’s. It was a tremendous success not only in the amount of money that we raised - £2360.00! - but it also brought the pupils family, school and community together.

The charity shop was a great way to get parents who would not usually be involved to come along and join in, as we were not asking for money, only items that they no longer needed or used and their time. Because of all the donations, the shop had a great choice of clothing, toys, games, kitchen utensils and books.

One parent commented that she hadn’t been involved with the school or parent council before because she thought they were quite exclusive, but being involved with the charity shop gave her the chance to get to know other parents and she really enjoyed herself.

The pupils enjoyed working with the community, collecting items, stocking the shop and clearing it out again once the week was up. This is something that we would repeat again as it was a great start to our Partnership Schools work.”

The pop-up charity shop is a fantastic example of how a school can make use of its social resources – pupils, families and community partners – to raise funds for the school whilst also building positive relationships.

If you have any examples from your school of great work with families and the community, please share your experience with us in the comments.

Partnership Schools is currently taking place in six local authority areas: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Falkirk and West Lothian. To find out more, please click here.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Some of you may be familiar with Upstart, to others it may sound like something you do to your car to get it going again. Thankfully this blog isn’t about to do a U-turn and become about motoring.

So – to be clear - Upstart is the title of the campaign to introduce a kindergarten stage for children aged three to seven in Scotland.

What do we mean by kindergarten stage? Basically instead of the formal schooling that we are all familiar with from age five, children aged three to seven will have more opportunities to learn through play (especially outdoors); to develop their spoken language and social skills; and to build sound foundations for academic achievement.

Evidence from around the world shows that children under the age of seven benefit from an approach to education that is about experiences, that supports their all-round physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, rather than pushing them towards early academic achievement. 

You may remember an article we shared on Twitter and Facebook a few weeks ago about schools in Finland:

In fact, in the most recent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the three most successful nations in terms of academic results were Finland, Estonia and Switzerland. One thing all three have in common? They all have a play-based kindergarten stage for three to seven year-old children.

Such a radical change in how children are educated may seem intimidating, especially if at first glance it seems to postpone academic development. In actuality, the evidence seems to indicate that there is no educational advantage to an early start. Many studies have shown that children who are taught literacy skills from the age of five don’t do any better in the long run than those who start at seven – performance evens out by the time they reach age ten.
Additionally, some research studies have actually linked an early start in formal education and early pressure for academic achievement to social, emotional and mental health problems as children develop into their teens and adulthood.

People often think of play and work or school as being completely different things, but they are really one and the same. Play combines physical and active learning and if it is properly guided, it can help children develop all the skills they will need to be lifelong learners. Music, art, drama, stories, songs and rhymes develop young children’s listening, language, memory and thinking skills, all needed for good literacy.  

Active, creative play develops the problem-solving skills and understanding of concepts and 
ideas needed for maths and science.

Our next Parent’s Voice survey is going to be about Upstart – we want to know what our members know about Upstart and how they feel about its ideas. In the meantime while the survey is being developed, here is some more in depth information about Upstart and the arguments around it:

Friday, 5 August 2016

Last week the Supreme Court ruled on the matter of the Named Person provision that is part of the Children and Young People’s Act, passed by Scottish Parliament last year.

The ruling from the Supreme Court shows that the concerns we have held since the legislation was announced were justified. We are not lawyers or civil servants or politicians, we are an organisation committed to effective parental involvement in children’s education, but we could always see that there is a major problem with the Act.

The key thing that has to be in place –or at least building - for good parental involvement, is trust. From our perspective, the Act was an enemy of trust, between parents and their child’s school, health services, social work, police and so on. If information about a family, parent or child can be shared without consent, the inevitable consequence is a breakdown of trust.

We have always recognised that the Named Person idea came from a good place – it is intended to make sure that concerns about a child are addressed early and that there is co-ordination between services. However, if we are asking parents to be partners in their children’s education, they have to trust the other partners to be honest and fair. Sharing potentially sensitive information without permission is not only against the law - as found by the Supreme Court - it is also against what we, and the government with the National Improvement Framework, are trying to achieve.

While we are pleased that the ruling has instructed that the information sharing element of the Act must be changed, we are disappointed that it has taken so long to get here and that the genuine concerns of SPTC – which we have expressed over and over again – have consistently been dismissed and ignored. We have been characterised as the Awkward Squad, fundamentalists, right wing. We’ve even been accused of supporting child abuse. None of this is true.

We care about families and we want children to thrive. We know that sometimes families do not do the best for their children, and we want social workers and other services to be there to support and help children in these situations. We also recognise that sometimes information has to be shared where a child is at risk of harm – this is already in law.

At a time when we know many families are finding it harder to get support for their child, we are worried about the money being spent on a service which, to us, is dysfunctional. We don’t believe that a parent or young person sharing their concerns, health details or any other issue should have to worry that this confidential information could be shared without their permission. It’s that simple.

Sadly, SPTC have not been invited to be involved in clarifying and tightening the legislation. We will await the amendments in hope that what comes out of this is a workable piece of legislation that supports children and families without breaching their rights.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Unbelievable really, but we’re over half way through the summer holidays already in Scotland! We don’t know about you guys, but we’re starting to run out of ideas to keep the little ones constantly entertained. Why can’t we have as much energy as them? So unfair.

Anyway we’ve pulled together some fantastically useful online resources to keep the good times rolling until it’s time to go back to school.


One of our favourite words. If the purse strings are starting to feel a little tight, worry not and let this list inspire some adventures without financial strain. 

- VisitScotland -
It’s easy to forget to look to VisitScotland for inspiration because surely it’s mostly a resource for tourists? Wrong! VisitScotland has a massive list of free attractions and days out in all regions of our beautiful country.  

- Edinburgh – Free Festival - 
If you live in or near the city of Edinburgh then you know that August only means one thing – The Edinburgh Festivals! This is fantastic news for parents and families because the Free Festival brings an enormous variety of free children’s shows right to the heart of Scotland’s capital. 

Finding a Day Out

There are some great websites with days out for families organised by local area. Using these is a quick and easy way to see what’s around you.
- Kids Day’s Out -
This easy-to-use site makes it simple to find out what free and paid for activities are in your local area. 

- Day Out with the Kids -
This site is organised by region and then by activity category. This makes it easy to find specific types of activities.

One off Events

Annoyed that you missed that cake festival or play day? Never let it happen again with these handy feeds that are kept up-to-date with events taking place all over Scotland.

- What’s On Scotland -

- The List -

Vouchers and Offers

There are some attractions where you can make a little saving.
Days Out is a great website which has hundreds of vouchers for attractions all over the country. Definitely worth checking if your destination of choice has a voucher available before you go out, it all adds up!

Taking the train? Scotrail do Kids Go Free. Travel off-peak any day of the week and up to two children aged 5-15 can travel free with each adult. That’s already a great help but as a bonus, presenting a valid Kids Go Free ticket will earn one child free entry to some of Scotland’s top attractions. 

Finally, if the weathers a bit rotten, funds and energy are low and you literally cannot face watching Inside Out for the 654th time then Pinterest is a great place to go looking for inspiration. There are thousands of crafty, creative and fun ideas for different games and activities you can do without even leaving the house. Click here to get those creative juices flowing!

If there’s anything you think we missed, any sites or platforms you use to plan your children’s summer calendar or even any exciting events that you’re going to then please share them with us! You can do it in the comments or over on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Across Scotland, thousands of people such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends care for children because their birth parents are unable to do so for a whole range of possible reasons. If you are looking after a child or young person in this way – full time or most of the time – then you are a kinship carer.

Because kinship care is not what is traditionally understood to be care work, there are an unknown number of kinship carers who do not realise they are entitled to practical and financial support.
Did you know? Kinship carers who are known to the system look after half of all ‘looked after’ children in Scotland.

Terminology: Children in all types of care are sometimes referred to as “looked after” children or young people.

There are a variety of possible reasons for a child to be in kinship care. Some of these are: parental imprisonment, parental drug and alcohol problems, parental mental health issues, bereavement, parental illness or absence, neglect and abuse. Unless there is a clear reason that kinship care wouldn’t be in the child’s best interest, this will be the first option considered for the child. This rule was set out by the Scottish Government in 2007.

The main reason Scottish Government prefers a child to be cared for by family or close friends is the because children already have a relationship with their kin - called secure attachment – which is essential for children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Kinship carers can face a variety of different issues that have a financial or personal impact.

A disproportionate number of kinship families live in poverty due to the financial pressures of care and because sometimes carers have to reduce or stop work.
Often children in kinship care have faced early trauma or neglect; have attachment issues and and can be vulnerable. This can  sometimes lead to challenging and disruptive behavior. This can particularly have an effect at school.
Looked after children statistically don’t do as well in school. Their attendance is lower, they are more likely to be excluded and they do not achieve the same level of qualifications.

When it comes to behaviour and education; raising awareness and encouraging involvement and support is key to improving the experience of looked after children in schools. An understanding of the unique support needs of this group is key to closing the attainment and skills gap for them. Teachers need to be equipped with the skills and practices to improve the abilities of individual children to engage in classroom learning.

The Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland (CELCIS) are undertaking research to establish why there is a consistent link between parent and carer involvement and a child’s attainment at school. We know that it works, but once we understand why we can start using it to increase attainment in vulnerable children.

Many kinship carers don’t put themselves  forward in the same way as a parent might, and often don’t get involved with the child’s school except when there are issues. Kinship carers have the same rights to be involved as any birth or adoptive parent, so SPTC’s work with schools and parent groups often looks at how a wider range of parents can carers can be supported and encouraged to get involved.

All families can face challenging times and should be able to access support. On 1 April 2016 new regulations came into force directing local authorities to make safeguarding, supporting and financial assistance available to kinship carers who meet the criteria.

If you think you may be eligible for support there are great online resources that can tell you everything you need to know about kinship care and looked after children. For detailed information about all the help, support and advice that is available to kinship carers check out the following sites:

Children 1st Kinship Care Services – Includes local service information and an online webchat feature.

Citizens Advice Bureau -  Wealth of information online, or you can call or drop into your local CAB for a chat.

Scottish Government – All the information you need about your legal rights and referrals to other services.