Our organisation's surveys of parents and carers over the past year have elicited over 10,000 responses. We must build on what we have all learned during Covid-19, and there is one key message: if we all work together, we can make a real and lasting difference to every child and every family after the pandemic.
We have captured this in our new pledge: it calls on parents, carers, school and early years staff, health and social care partners, the wider community and local and national organisations to put a whole-school community approach at the heart of our education system, and can be signed here.
Over the past 12 months, parents, parent groups, schools, businesses, health and social care, the third sector and local authorities have delivered amazing projects to help those in their communities: providing meals to families who needed them, delivering learning packs and IT equipment for schoolwork, setting up IT support hubs to upskill parents, collecting and distributing winter coats, manufacturing PPE (plastic visors, scrubs and more), fundraising for foodbanks, organising online Q and As, communicating key information and so much more.
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This is a whole-school community approach – and it has worked miracles.
Sadly, where schools and nurseries were not set up for partnership working, or even communicating effectively with families, parents described feeling "abandoned". This was especially the case for families who were unsupported and who were struggling with financial hardship, ill-health or with additional support needs (ASN).
Collectively, we can’t allow these families to feel disconnected and alone. A whole-school community approach – inclusion, in essence – must be taken across Scotland. It will look different in every community, but there can no longer be any doubt among leadership teams in all schools – the school is not an island. For families, schools are firmly rooted within their local communities and this represents myriad opportunities for every school and nursery.
This is the core message in the online self-directed professional learning we deliver to educators through the new Connect Family Engagement Academy: supporting and caring about families is the way to build positive relationships. This approach, working with others in the community, can lead to constructive conversations about young people’s learning and family engagement in school. Research has shown time and again that this is the most important driver in improving young people’s outcomes. But family engagement in children’s learning and school lives has to be carefully nurtured and encouraged.
Very many of those working in schools are proud of their strong community connections, of their efforts to support families and maximise opportunities for children and young people by working with community partners. Many are fully committed to building positive and respectful relationships with families.
However, this is not always easy; it can take time. Sadly, families and young people in some school communities are not yet able to benefit from a whole-school community approach, and that must change. For all of us, there is always more we can do. Our pledge is a start, and it can be signed here.
Tina Woolnough is communications manager for Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council)
The Connect Family Engagement Academy offers self-directed online professional learning modules and free resources to support the building of positive, trust-based relationships between schools and families