14 SES 09 B, Family Learning, Parental Knowledge, Competence and Expectations
Engaging parents is central to policy throughout the EU (e.g. Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DGEC), 2015) because children’s achievement is improved by their participation in family learning (FL). FL can enhance children’s literacy experiences outside school (Rasbash, et al. 2010); improve the relationship between the home and the school through creating more supportive partnerships (van Steensel et al., 2011); lead to greater sensitivity about a child’s socio-cultural conditions (Anderson & Morrison, 2007). FL also offers opportunities for parents to experience success in learning through changing their literacy practices and improving their self-confidence (Horne & Haggart, 2004). It helps them to create a positive learning environment for the family (Kağıtçıbaşı, et al., 2001) through better relationships with teaching staff and reducing their alienation from schools (Swain et al., 2014). However, the relationship between schools, parents and families may be challenging especially when teachers perceive parents as passive and lacking in knowledge about the school (DGEC, 2015).
Research shows that low-income parents have high aspirations for their children but lack the economic or cultural capital to achieve these goals (Kirk, et al., 2011). It also shows that the impact of programmes depends on the assumptions underpinning them and that effective programmes use a ‘funds of knowledge’ approach (González, et al, 2005) that assumes that parents have important expertise as their children’s first educators (Gorard, et al., 2012). Research (Feeley, 2014) has demonstrated that this approach increases parents’ skills and self-respect so it is more likely to result in positive changes.
In the light of this we examine FL programmes in one city in Scotland. We ask:
- What are the differences between how Head-teachers, FL workers and parents see the knowledge that parents offer to their children?
- In what ways do parents use their knowledge to support their children’s learning at home?
- What lasting impacts do the parents identify as a result of their participation in FL?
The socio-cultural perspective frames our research for the first question because learning involves building on participants’ previous experiences and emphasises ‘the inherently socially negotiated character of meaning … arising from the socially and culturally structured world’ (Lave and Wenger 1991, 51). We examine if the pedagogical practices used by the FL workers contributed to the formation of a positive environment, thus enabling parents to engage and persist in the achievement of their learning goals. We also consider if the school-centric approach taken by some head-teachers, where the underlying assumption was that transferring knowledge to the parents about what happened inside the school was key, had a different impact on parents.
We take a symbolic interactionist approach to analyse the two latter questions since a core idea is that individuals are influenced by their social interactions and these depend upon shared meanings (Meltzer & Petra, 1972). Heimer and Matsueda (1994) argue that the self consists of the perceived appraisals and evaluations of others and the more an individual is committed to a particular role in a social group, the greater likelihood that that group will act as a ‘generalized other’. In the light of this theory we examine the parents’ experiences of the groups in which they participated and the FL workers’ pedagogical approaches to see if the group impacted in this way.
We also examine the image of the parent that was reflected back by the FL workers. Gecas (1982) discusses how the appraisal of others can influence self-perception and the mediating factors that affect its internalisation such as the credibility of the person doing the evaluating. Finally we consider if the school staff’s views of parents had an impact.
Ten parents who had been involved in family learning in one Scottish city between seven and ten years ago, when they had a child transitioning into primary school, were recruited using snowballing methods. Six Family Learning (FL) staff were recruited, as were five head teachers from Primary schools involved in the earlier FL initiatives. We used qualitative approaches to explore the issues that were salient in the lives of parents and the FL practitioners and head-teachers, and to uncover their subjective experiences (Cresswell & Poth, 2017). All participants were interviewed but the FL workers first completed an interview schedule and were then interviewed by telephone in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their responses. The schedule asked them about their main aim, if it had changed, what had been their main constraints and successes and how they measured success. The head-teachers were interviewed about their views of parental engagement, the purpose of FL work, the ideas that underpinned their work with families and the main policies that shaped their practice. All parents were interviewed about their involvement with FL and its impact on their children, their family and on themselves. We also asked if there were any lasting changes to their lives that they attributed to family learning. The interviews with the head-teachers and parents were recorded, transcribed and anonymised to ensure that individuals could not be identified. We used the constant comparative method (Braun & Clarke, 2006), starting with themes from the literature and then identifying new themes that were important to each of the cohorts. This method gives a holistic picture rather than a fragmented view of individual variables and enables the provision of a ‘thick’ description. The initial approach to the data from the FL workers was somewhat different because they had completed a set of structured questions but the notes that had been added to their completed questionnaires were analysed in a similar way.
Our findings both reflect and extend the literature. For both FLWs and head-teachers (HTs) the challenges and opportunities they detailed illuminate the importance of what happens outside the school (Rasbash et al., 2010). Where they differ is the priority given to what happens inside the school by some HTs. Yet it is clear from the literature (van Steensel et al. 2011) that if the relationship between the home and school is to be improved then more equal partnerships need to be created between parents and teachers. The most difficult challenge was that some HTs did not see parents as partners in their children’s education because their focus was on the school rather than the home and community and this school-centric view could lead to a deficit view of parents’ expertise. The part-time appointments of most of the FLWs made it difficult for them to directly address this issue and could lead them to prioritise schools that had positive views about their way of working. Our findings from the parents show that they did use the skills and knowledge gained through FL to support their children at home. The benefits of the child-centred approach had been modelled by the FLWs and this had become embedded in family routines so that parents were creating a stimulating learning environment for their children (Save the Children, 2013). The impacts on the parents from participation in FL were long-lasting. Their increase in self-confidence illustrated that learning and its benefits are dynamic because benefits gained in education impacted on their family and community lives (see Tett and Maclachlan, 2007). So this research shows that participation in FL has not only impacted on their self-confidence but also raised their horizons of possibility so that they considered that they could embark on new careers and ways of being.
Anderson, J. & Morison, F. (2007). "A Great Program... for Me as a Gramma": Caregivers Evaluate a Family Literacy Initiative. Canadian Journal of Education. 30(1), 68-89 Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), 77–101. Cresswell, J. & Poth, C. (2017). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (4th Edition), London: Sage. Directorate-General for Education and Culture Education & Training 2020 (2015) A whole school approach to tackling early school leaving, EUROPEAN COMMISSION http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/library/reports/initial-teacher-education_en.pdf Feeley, M. (2014). Learning Care Lessons: literacy, love care and solidarity. London: Tufnell Press Gecas, V. (1982). ‘The Self-Concept’. Annual Review of Sociology, 8, 1-33. González, N et al. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Gorard, S., et al. (2012). The impact of attitudes and aspirations on educational attainment and participation. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation Heimer, K. & Matsueda, R. L. (1994). Role-taking, Role Commitment, and Delinquency: A Theory of Differential Social Control’. American Sociological Review, 59, 365-390. Horne, J. & Haggart, J. (2004). The Impact of Adults’ Participation in Family Learning. Leicester: NIACE. Kirk, C.M., et al. (2011). The role of parent expectations on adolescent educational aspiration. Educational Studies, 37(1), 89–99 Kağıtçıbaşı, C., et al. (2001). Long-term effects of early intervention: Turkish low-income mothers and children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 22(4), 333-361. Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press Meltzer, B. & Petra, J. (1972).The Chicago and Iowa Schools of Symbolic Interactionism in Manis, J. & Meltzer, B. (Eds) (2nd ed.) Symbolic Interaction: a reader in social psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Rasbash, J., et al. (2010). Children’s educational progress: partitioning family, school and area effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society), 173(3), 657-682. Save the Children (2013). Too Young to Fail. London. Page Bros Ltd. http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/les/images/Too_Young_to_Fail_0.pdf Swain, J., et al. (2014). The benefits of family literacy provision for parents in England. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 12(1), 77-91 Tett, L. & Maclachlan, K. (2007). Adult literacy and numeracy, social capital, learner identities and self-confidence. Studies in the Education of Adults, 39(2), 150-67. Van Steensel, R., et al. (2011). How effective are family literacy programs? Results of a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 81, 69–96
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