Schools working in partnership

Written by Eileen Prior, executive director, Scottish Parent Teacher Council on 21 March 2016 in Comment

SPTC's Eileen Prior on how parental involvement can build school communities

Getting families involved in their children’s education is one of the holy grails of Scottish education, but as an organisation working with school staff up and down Scotland, we know that while the will is often there, people struggle to find a model that is effective and sustainable.

The evidence indicates ‘partnership schools’ is a model that meets this clear need. It has been developed by a team based at Johns Hopkins University in the US over almost 30 years.

Backed by significant and continuous evaluation and research, the model of partnership schools is now used around the world, with Dr Joyce Epstein and her team continuing to provide leadership, resources and evaluation for the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS). 


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As the Scottish charity dedicated to supporting partnership between families and schools to improve outcomes for young people, SPTC launched a pilot of partnership schools in Scotland during 2015, with financial support from Skills Development Scotland. The evidence from NNPS shows the effectiveness of partnership schools is significant.

It has been shown to drive:
- improvements to both academic attainment and wider achievement in young people
- stronger bonds between school, families and wider communities
- increased quality and quantity of engagement, with more diverse families

Not only do partnership schools fit with the work already being done at SPTC with parent groups, it addresses the key policy imperatives such as How good is our school 4 and Developing the Young Workforce. The model gives a consistent and successful way of focusing the efforts of school, families and local communities who share a common interest in helping young people do well at school. 

Over time, the partnership schools model should fundamentally change the way families, schools and communities relate to each other and work together, removing many barriers and recognising that everyone has something of value to contribute.

In each pilot school, SPTC works with staff, parents, pupils and the community to form an Action Team for Partnerships (ATP) to develop an annual action plan, closely aligned to the school improvement plan. Building on what is already working well, the team decides on four goals from the SIP – two learning, one wellbeing, and one partnership. They then plan various activities based on Epstein’s six types of involvement.

As the ATP organises and delivers the activities, SPTC helps the team evaluate their progress and the impact on pupils and partnerships, with the emphasis on small and achievable targets and building on prior successes. This evaluation helps the team plan for the following year and help build a body of great ideas and practices.

SPTC is currently working in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Angus, with plans to expand into four more local authorities during 2016. 

So much for the principle – what about the practice?

Friockheim is a village about seven miles inland from Arbroath, with a primary school set in grounds packed full of opportunities for outdoor learning and fun. The ATP felt the outdoor space was not being used to its full potential and so three of its goals aim to improve this.

The team is working with school staff and parents to develop activities to make the grounds ‘numeracy rich’. They have researched cheap and adaptable ideas and organised resources for outdoor displays and a resources trolley. They are currently organising a co-operative numeracy event to take place in May and planning activities that parents and children can do together at home.

As well as improving numeracy, the development of the school grounds will allow the younger children to settle in quickly to their new school environment. Maisondieu Primary is another school in Angus working around transitions. Its ATP is part of the transition advisory committee for the new Brechin High Campus.  

St Francis’ Primary in the Gorbals has set goals that include improving the understanding of food choices on health and wellbeing and improving child/parent relationships. They’re doing this by running ‘Big Cook, Little Cook’ sessions for families and children. The sessions have become so successful that they’re now being run as a permanent after-school club.

The ATP is also planning to run food hygiene courses for families, which not only improves cooking skills for the home but will also give participants a useful qualification.  

Castleview Primary, located in Craigmillar in Edinburgh, is also working towards a health and wellbeing goal. They’re making their playground and school grounds a smoke-free zone by having the ATP on hand in the playground to distribute flyers about the project, as well as working with the children on health and wellbeing.

Other teams are focusing on literacy, transitions, community partnerships and more: a wide range of projects and measures which are all about improving outcomes for young people.
SPTC is sharing the ATP’s stories and achievements on its website and through e-newsletters and is publishing a set of partnership schools resources for other schools to download.

As the momentum of the programme builds, successes will be celebrated and the progress of the project evaluated. The enthusiasm and commitment of school communities and local authorities which are building partnership schools into their improvement frameworks gives the programme a high level of credibility, even in these early days.

SPTC has also established a reference group, drawing from academia, professional associations, government and education agencies, local authorities, community and third sector organisations to review the progress of the project and share their perspectives and expertise. At the first meeting of the group, held in November 2015, there was great enthusiasm and willingness to support the initiative.   

Eileen Prior is executive director, Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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