0131 651 6444/ 07399786445 step@ed.ac.uk

Professional Insights



A Framework for delivery

STEP’s research into mobile family literacy showed that many adults from mobile communities have poor literacy and their children are known to have some of the lowest levels of literacy and educational attainment in the country.  The main reasons are due to mobility causing interruptions to education – for example – some families are recently arrived in the country, while others have no tradition of schooling.  Where English is an additional language, adults can be left behind while children absorb the new languages more successfully. Families may be unable to communicate with schools and other services, resulting in social isolation. When parents are unable to provide support at home, children’s learning and engagement with formal education can be affected. Studies have shown that shared family literacy activity can impact positively on literacy levels for both parents and children.  However, given the private nature of many mobile communities’ lives, it can be difficult to gain understanding of how families might engage with programmes to support their literacy.  STEP collaborated with families to discover what prevents engagement and what can be done to improve learning partnerships.

Pilot learning programmes

STEP co-ordinated three pilot programmes in different locations across Scotland with families from mobile cultures. The aim was to identify ways to engage families in sustainable learning programmes with a particular emphasis on literacy. Participants included Slovakian mothers in a primary school in Glasgow, three Gypsy/Traveller families with non-attending children living on a Travellers’ site, and a group of  five Gypsy/Traveller mothers and their pre-school children living on a local authority site.  The programme sought to use approaches to programme delivery that would be relevant and meaningful to each specific community.  For this reason, the structure and content of each pilot programme was designed in collaboration with participating families.  Early consultation was achieved through a range of methods such as informal social gatherings and practical activity sessions.

Barriers to engagement

Families described a range of factors which  affected their participation in school life, their ability to support their children’s learning and engage in the wider community.  We found that different groups and individuals identified different obstacles.  These included negative expereinces of formal schooling, mobility, structural and practical access to services, language, literacy levels and awareness of support and services.  The research showed that the greatest barrier faced by the majority of families was language.  By addressing any barriers well in advance, measures can be taken to ensure equity of opportunity for all participants.

A framework for programme delivery

By working with a range of different participants, it became clear that there were four necessary stages to engaging mobile families in learning programmes. The stages were identified as: Engage, Consult, Co-produce and Sustain. This led to STEP’s ‘Framework for effective family learning programmes’, which is described in more detail below.

Considerations on content

Continuous evaluation revealed that programme content was effective when it met the following criteria:

  • Sessions were informal, flexible and family-led
  • Discussion and planning processes were culturally and contextually relevant
  • Activities were designed to include active participation and creative processes
  • Sessions resulted in tangible, useful resources such as a bilingual cookbook of cultural recipes
  • Families could see the value in what they learned i.e. transferable skills and children’s activities that could be extended and replicated in the home

As a result of this research, STEP developed the ‘six dimensions for learning’ for making learning relevant for mobile communities.  The model aims to support practitioners design relevant and engaging learning opportunities for mobile young people and their families.

Programme benefits for schools and families

The programme outcomes proved the benefits of the approaches for both families and educators. The programme demonstrated that:

  • Families were willing to engage with family education programmes, particularly when initial barriers were shared and accepted.
  • Parents took great pride in being able to get involved in their children’s education and express their interest and concerns.  Often they needed initial support to do this.
  • On the whole parents were willing to share the challenges of their own literacy development, if done in a secure and trusting environment.  This was particularly successful when the opportunity arose as part of another initiative, such as a craft workshop.
  • Adults were particularly keen to learn strategies to allow them to support their children’s learning at home. Digital media was embraced as useful for intergenerational learning.
  • New and positive relationships developed between school staff and parents as a consequence of the programme. Although families were initially reluctant to engage with other services (e.g. nursery, library, language courses), as the programmes developed, and they became more familiar with staff, they felt confident to pursue other routes.

I look forward to coming here and having coffee and a chat.  I look forward to every Friday!  It’s so fun and I feel committed to it. I’m honoured to be around english speaking ladies. I feel I’m always learning.

Magda, parent participant

 I see a change in the parents and the school. The mums are more involved and more confident. They’re getting involved in school trips and events. There’s a completely different ethos in school.  It’s very positive.

Head Teacher

The biggest barrier to doing things in the community is the language….reading, writing, speaking.  We only know basics…which doesn’t help with serious issues. For example, when we get mail, we don’t know what it is.

Ana, parent participant