Monday, 18 September 2017

Why it’s Important to Know an Octopus Can Walk on Land

This is a guest blog post from Dr Janet Goodall, an academic at Bath University whose research focuses on parental engagement. Janet delivered SPTC's 2017 annual lecture back in March.







We have an achievement gap in the UK, which is based not on ability but on background: children from wealthier backgrounds do better in our system.  It’s a simple thing to say – and a very difficult thing to solve.

We do know some things about solving the problem, and one of them is that the solution doesn’t lie in the classroom.  Schools and staff have done a very good job in narrowing the gap – but the gains that can be made in school have, for the most part, been made.  We need to stop looking in the wrong place for the solution, and look where we can make a difference.

That means we need to be working with parents, and we need to be thinking about the home learning environment.  I don’t mean getting parents into school (remember, the answer isn’t there) and I don’t really mean getting parents to help with homework.  Both of those are good things but we’re already doing that, and we’re supporting a lot of parents – but not, perhaps, the parents who most need support.

If we want to help narrow the achievement gap, we need to help all parents know how to support learning outside of school – in the home, in the car, wherever they are with their children.

With younger children, that can mean letting parents know how important it is to read stories over, and over and over again, to support early literacy; how important stirring a cake and sprinkling decorations can be for developing the muscles that will help the child write, how important noticing print and numbers in daily life, and talking about them, are for being school ready.  Even with teenagers, we know that fifteen minutes of conversation a week with parents, about social media, TV shows or movies, is correlated to how engaged those young people are with reading. 

It’s about letting parents know how important they are to their children’s learning, and working with them to support that learning.

Of course, that means a sea change: schools, and their staff, have to realise how important learning outside the home is, and work to support it.  That’s a new idea for a lot of people in schools, and we need to think carefully about how we do it.


And that brings me to the octopus in the title.
 In David Attenborough’s series, The Hunt, he showed us that an octopus could drag itself out of the water and across land to the next rock pool.  How many thousands – perhaps millions – of parents were answering questions about how far an octopus could go on land, the next morning on the way to school?  That’s a prime example of the home learning environment, and it’s the sort of thing we can all support – and that we need to support, if we want to give all of our young people the best chance at life.

Friday, 15 September 2017

SQA Fieldwork - what's it all about?

No, we’re not talking about tattie hoakin’ or anything similar – it’s an interesting piece of work by SQA about what parents, pupils and teachers in schools think about the SQA qualifications our youngsters take in schools, and especially the changes that have been (and are being) made.

Although not written for parents, it is worthwhile taking a look, particularly if you have a youngster coming up to or in Senior Phase at secondary school, or if you are on a parent council at a secondary school.

From our perspective, the key issues for parents (and parent councils) in the report are:
-       The move from Broad General Education (at the end of S3) into Senior Phase (S4 onwards) is still an issue. Many schools are looking for subject choices before the end of S3 – in some cases in S1. This may be for a number of reasons, but many parents fear this, and varying numbers of subject options are narrowing choice for their young people.
-       Slow pace of learning and ‘treading water’ in S1-3 was also raised often
-       Many young people and teachers feel the pace of learning and the complexity of the subjects goes up too steeply as they start working for qualifications – the aim of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was that the pace would be even from S1 – 6
-       Parents and young people say they are not clear about the CfE levels are, and what they mean for youngsters’ learning
-       Parents overall do not have a clear idea of their youngster’s progress
-       Over-assessment continues to be an issue, with young people feeling under a lot of pressure

-       N4 is discussed a lot: while teachers generally would like to see and exam at the end, pupils are more in favour of different levels of pass (at the moment it is just pass or fail.)
-       There is also a lot about whether N4 is a worthwhile qualification, whether it is valued by young people, parents and employers.
-       ‘Over presenting’ at N5 is also highlighted: teachers say they are under pressure to put pupils forward for an N5 even when they don’t believe it is the right thing. They say the pressure comes from parents as well as head teachers and the local council.
It is interesting that ¼ of schools said that good communication with parents and carers where decisions were being made about N4 or N5 led to little or no parental pressure to put a pupil forward for a qualification the teacher felt was unsuitable.
The report throws up a lot for schools, parents and young people to think about.

From our perspective, the big things are about how schools are communicating with individual parents, and how parent councils can help. There is also a big question mark about how parent councils are making sure the school management are listening to the views of parents (and pupils) about qualifications. If schools that communicate well with parents report that good parental communication removes or reduces parent pressure to put pupils forward at the wrong level, what does that tell us about the other ¾?

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy

Are the poor results as an indicative of a failing system as they seem? How worried should parents really be?


Earlier this week, you may have seen the news that the literacy results of school pupils have fallen over the last four years. This was the result of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, an annual survey which monitors national performance of school children at P4, P7 and S2 in literacy and numeracy in alternate years.


The survey found that found that less than half of Scotland's 13 and 14-year-olds (S2) are now performing well in writing. P4 and P7 pupils also saw a drop in writing performance. The reading ability of P4, P7 and S2 pupils remains broadly similar to 2014 - but lower than 2012 and there has been no reduction in the big gap between the performance of the country's wealthiest and most deprived pupils.

There was little that is good in these numbers, though probably most concerning is the information around S2 literacy.

However, as with everything in education, things are not simple. It’s important to understand that the way the material for this survey is gathered and marked is different to other surveys and assessments. For example, the writing results aren’t calculated per pupil but per individual piece of writing from different subject areas, written with different purposes.

The S2 results are problematic because they are measured against the expectations for S3 pupils.
These results also focus purely on a decline in academic results and do not take into account other problems which are part of the big picture. Dropping numbers of support staff and reduced access to professionally staffed libraries are only part of the story. The education system is also hundreds of teachers short. Additionally, we know that poverty has a massive impact on how kids do at school – and families all over Scotland are struggling. All of this brought together will certainly have an impact on literacy standards.

It’s also important to remember that assessment in itself does not improve learning - and there is a strong argument against standardised assessments. Last week, one of the Government’s senior international advisers attacked standardised testing , saying it causes “ill-being” in students and devalues teacher judgement.

Too much focus on assessment causes stress for both pupils and teachers, tends to cause teaching to the test, and takes time away from learning.

Overall, there was little that is good in these numbers. Perhaps the only positive is the data which shows that pupil engagement with parents and teachers is good. Generally, at least half of pupils have reported that someone at home engages with them about school ‘very often’.

We are entering an era of over assessment. At SPTC, our preference is for a focus on teaching and learning, supported by strong family engagement.

If you’d like to read more about the findings of the 2016 SSLN, you can find the full report here: http://bit.ly/2pCEVgw

The figures about parental engagement can be found in section 8.3, from page 42.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Importance of Fathers

Strengthening Father Child Relationships – what the evidence says
Nick Thorpe of Fathers Network Scotland


WHILE fathers are increasingly in evidence at most school gates nowadays, outdated attitudes about gender roles can sometimes linger both inside and outside the building.

So it’s encouraging to see recent research by the Growing Up In Scotland longitudinal study supporting many fathers’ expectation of increased involvement in their children’s lives – with the finding that father-child and mother-child relationships matter equally for children’s wellbeing.

The report, Growing Up in Scotland: Father-child relationships and child socio-emotional wellbeing, commissioned as part of the Year of the Dad, is based on 2593 couple families from the GUS study, each with a ten-year old child who was asked to grade statements such as “I share my thoughts and feelings with my dad” or “my dad is proud of the things I do”.

Among the results, the researchers found that:
  • ·         84% of father-child relationships are classified as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in terms of the level of supportiveness.
  • ·         Good couple relationships predict supportive father-child and mother-child relationships

Multiple previous studies have shown that children’s educational attainment and wellbeing is raised when dads are positively involved.

And while this survey did not set out specifically to look at school experience, it did point out educational impacts, as the authors of the report explained at its recent launch at a Fathers Network Scotland seminar in Edinburgh last month.

Dr Alison Parkes, of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, told the audience at the Royal College of Physicians: “We found that fathers’ supportiveness had independent associations with many other aspects of children’s well-being, extending beyond the home to the child’s experiences at school and with friends.”

Parents whose own level of education and income were lower were more likely to be those where the child has a poor relationship with their father. But a calm, supportive family/home climate reduced the chance of a poor father-child relationship, even after accounting for other factors such as socio-economic status and adverse events.

While the vast majority of children felt well-supported by their fathers, the study recommended that that some families could benefit from better access to parent support, including families with low resources, and families who have experienced multiple adverse events.
Health and welfare services – as well as schools - should strive to engage with fathers as well as with mothers, taking account of fathers’ needs and difficulties over accessing and maintaining engagement with services.

You can read a summary of the GUS report, or watch Dr Parkes’ presentation at: http://www.fathersnetwork.org.uk/gus_father_child.

Following the success of 2016’s Year of the Dad, Fathers Network Scotland is this year working to engage fathers in schools by rolling out best practice from the East Lothian Father Inclusive Toolkit  –please join our network to hear more about this and other initiatives later in the year.


For more information, check out www.fathersnetwork.org.uk.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

What exactly is happening with National 5 next year?

If your youngster is starting S4 soon, and taking National qualifications next session, you will probably have picked up on changes being made that might affect them.  It’s been very difficult to keep up with qualifications over the last few years, so here’s a short, plain English, outline of what’s been happening.

Since the new National qualifications were introduced to replace Standard Grades a few years ago, there has been a lot of worry about the massive number of assessments youngsters were expected to take as they worked towards the qualifications. What made it worse was that, while all of the assessments had to be done (they were mandatory), they were not actually taken into account for the qualification.

So, after a lot of pressure on Government and SQA, it was announced that these unit assessments would be removed for N5. On the face of it that sounds good because it should mean that youngsters can focus on their course assessments and the final exam. (In fact, in our view, many young people should be heading straight to Higher if they have the ability, but that is another issue!)

Sadly it is not that simple – one of the things that was lost as a result of this new approach was an option for young people who did not pass at N5. The only good thing about the unit assessments was that they could count towards an N4 if the N5 was failed.

To plug this gap, the Government has now announced that schools will be able to keep using unit assessments, but only in exceptional circumstances.

What these exceptional circumstances will be, we don’t know. It is likely to benefit only a small number of young people, who unfortunately will have to complete both unit and course assessments (including what is called the Added Value Unit – it is needed to get an N4 pass when you have taken N5 units).


It looks more than likely that there will be more changes over the next few years, and we will do our best to keep you posted.

Monday, 13 February 2017

What does it mean to be a Regional Adviser with the SPTC? One of our Regional Advisers for Glasgow and the west, Claire Slocombe, tells us about her journey and experience in this guest blog.


"When I was little I never dreamed of being a Regional Adviser with the SPTC but then wanting to be Hans Solo was a touch unrealistic so here I am.

I’ve been a bank manager, worked in recruitment and been a maths teacher but the role that has prepared me for this job was being a parent. 

Being a member of my school Parent Council meant I had to get involved in the ‘system’ as a parent.  The might of the ‘system’ meant I sometimes needed help in getting through it and I came across the SPTC. I liked it. I liked it so much that I joined.

Since joining I’ve been working with parents and professionals to increase family engagement in their child’s education. I share what the SPTC have learned in nearly 70 years of working for parents. 

I do this by chatting – lots of chatting, and listening – lots of listening, or delivering Information Sessions I believe is the technical term.  My role is to hear and share ideas with parent groups across Scotland (though thankfully I am not expected to travel across the whole of Scotland) and I learn as much from them as hopefully they learn from me – it is a partnership. 

And partnership between schools, parents and communities, long-lasting effective partnerships is what we are working towards. Thankfully now the ‘system’ has joined the journey towards partnership we are seeing a real drive towards family learning. 

NIF’s, HGIOS4, GIRFEC and lots of other edu-speak will become familiar terms to anyone in this role. As well as getting your head around these be prepared for long evenings and sometimes long journeys.


But at the end of it will be a group of parents who are better prepared to help their children to be the best they can be. Not a bad thought to head home with."


If this sounds right up your street and you live in Moray and Aberdeenshire then get in touch with us, we need a new Regional Adviser to support parental engagement in your area. - https://www.sptc.info/were-hiring-in-moray-and-aberdeenshire-7-january-2017/

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 Mfairweather@cpagscotland.org.uk or visit our website at http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland