Bridgemary School is a 11-16 secondary school with academy status in Gosport and they participated in Family Learning Festival in 2016. Tracey James explains how they used the Festival to support and build on their family engagement activities and plans.
What were you hoping to achieve by running activities for the Family Learning Festival? We wanted to offer parents non-committal activities and one off ‘taster’ sessions with their children as the first steps to wider positive engagement with our families. The Festival was the perfect way to launch this. Some of our Year 7 parents hadn’t yet been into the school, so the informal and friendly nature of our Festival activities were a draw to get parents through the gate. The Festival also offered an opportunity to see and test what types of activities and approaches would work.
You ran a year 7 reading lunch for the Festival - can you tell us more about it and why you think it was successful and important to do? We ran a year 7 and 8 family reading lunch and we were over whelmed by the numbers of year 7 parents who attended and now run one each month. Our year 7 reading lunches do take some planning time, organising letters and promoting but is low maintenance. Parents bring a packed lunch to share with their children and the school provides coffee and biscuits. The families are able to browse the book collection in the school library or bring a book. We also have Quick Reads and donated books which parents can take free and swap in the library, including adult reads.
The reading lunches were successful during the Family Learning Festival and have been successful since. We see a diverse mix of family members and parents including dads and grandparents, plus carers of looked after children. This is probably down to a range of factors. It appeals to parents as they’ve already experienced something similar at Primary School and it’s non-commital.
It helps parents with the transition of their children between Primary and Secondary school, so they feel that they are not out on a limb and removed from the process as their children enters secondary education.
Your teaching colleagues ran activities for families as part of the Festival. How did you approach this? We recognise that in order to push the school forward, it’s important that we engage parents. We wanted to make it a whole school approach, so the head teacher launched our involvement with the Family Learning Festival at a staff meeting. I spoke about my previous experiences and how I had seen family learning help change behaviour, and discussed my recent work with the Campaign for Learning which was giving Bridgemary national recognition for working with families. We invited teachers to volunteer to run activities within their subject areas that would engage parents and we had six teachers who straight away offered to organise a family learning session. This made it possible to offer a range of sessions in Science, Spanish, Art, Music and Maths. It was wonderful to see staff being so creative and was a joy to see the families enjoy the experience. It was great to see younger siblings engaged and learning too. The Spanish session was very successful with the younger children, they loved the challenge.
One of our Science teachers, Nicole Roberts, designed a lesson to engage a range of family members and delivered the science activity which was how to build rockets. She enjoyed the process and is very enthusiastic about family learning and plans to organise a number of sessions on a regular basis. Nicole is a learning mentor, so she was able to involve a member of the Science team who is working toward his teacher qualification.
Another popular session was the arts and crafts and wonderful to see a dad involved in the follow up session which was making Christmas tree decorations. The Art Department have worked hard to deliver high quality sessions with an end product that families can then take home.
Every teacher involved in the Family Learning Week has offered to run follow up courses – we aim to run a family learning week on a termly basis. We hope more teachers will volunteer as time goes on so we can expand the workshops to include topics such as cookery, local history and sports.
You ran activities for younger children below secondary school age - why was this important? Many of our students have younger siblings, so we feel it is important to provide activities that recognise and reflect the needs of parents with children of different ages. We initially ran a Teddy Bears’ Picnic for younger siblings and have been running further under 5 reading activities on a monthly basis. It helps with engagement - it gets the parents in and the younger generation, so they get to know the school, can see how lovely the school environment is and hopefully encourage them to want to join us when they reach year 7.
You said you used the Festival to test ideas? What did you learn? We learned a lot about publicising the activities. We used letters to communicate to parents and our initial plan was to do this via tutors, but some letters did not get given out or students didn’t give letters to parents. We then decided to give the letters to the staff involved in activities and they give them out during their lessons. We also send the letter via email and parents are also informed in a text.
As part of the Family Learning Week we organised a Literacy Hub in the School’s library. It was open to all years and ran from 3-4pm with a free book offer. It wasn’t as well attended so we are looking at whether the word ‘literacy’ put parents off.
What were the benefits of running your Festival activities and how are you developing your family work at Bridgemary? Our Festival has helped us start a process of positive relationships with all our students and their parents and get to know them all better. Family learning supports more interactions at home so children are happier and build their skills.
We want parents to be more confident at coming into school and encourage them to become more involved with their own child’s learning (I am running workshops for parents so they can support their child with reading).
Bridgemary School is located in an area of quite high deprivation where much of the traditional industry (which had links with the Navy and Portsmouth Dockyard) has largely gone. We believe the school can play an important role in providing activities and we have a vision of developing as a community hub. Our school library is a great resource. Our librarian, Tracey Sweetenham, is passionate about books and wants to see the library being used by parents. She has recently joined a community voluntary group working with local families. She has taken ownership of our under-5s work and has make links with the local primary feeder schools. Activities are running once a fortnight in the resource centre and the librarian will read to the younger ones and support parents as well with coffee mornings. Her skills and knowledge of the area and local schools is a great asset for developing our vision.