The Learning Environment at Home

Since 2011, Achievement for All has worked with almost 300,000 families, based on the assumption that the activities children and young people participate in with their parents/caregivers significantly influence their learning. Obviously, if you have someone encouraging and supporting you in anything, you will have the edge over people with limited or no support. Your upbringing has a deep and long-lasting impact on you. As a result, the more involved parents are in the educational system, the more likely their children are to achieve. Evidence from Charles Deforges' longitudinal study reveals the importance of parents and caregivers on their child's ability to learn, with up to ten times the effect of teachers.

Parents learning together with child during homeschooling
Photo by sofatutor on Unsplash

So, is it just a socioeconomic or engagement lottery? You will perform well if you have supportive parents or guardians who can offer you time and encouragement. If you don't, are you doomed to underachieve? This is obviously unacceptable, yet the truth is that many parents/caregivers are not participating in settings or schools, putting their children at danger of falling behind. Of course, not everyone can succeed at the same level, but we should think that with the correct influence and support, everyone can achieve to the best of their capacity.

Every teacher and practitioner understands the importance of children receiving help at home; nevertheless, I have yet to meet anybody who has received training in building learning partnerships with parents. Given how important it is and how it affects children's long-term educational outcomes, isn't it time we taught people involved in early childhood education how to do it? After all, it is a perfect chance for parents/caregivers to build the skills and confidence to support their kid throughout their schooling, allowing them to reach their best potential when their child is young.

For partnerships of this caliber to occur in all schools and settings, two elements are required: trained personnel who are both confident and competent in building parent/carer partnerships and parents/carers who understand their role and are confident and capable of supporting their kid.

The first requires an investment in training and professional growth, whereas the second is undeniably more difficult. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 30% of the UK's children are now poor, blighting on family life and creating immobility. It's not just that these parents and caregivers don't know or understand how to help their children or that they don't want to; they may just lack the energy or mental ability to do so. Many families live in chaos due to financial, social, or health stresses, and just getting through the day and feeding their children may be challenging.

It is all too simple to offer activities for parents/caregivers to do with their children or invest in resources like apps that encourage learning songs or rhymes or provide free books. These are excellent suggestions, but it's a little like giving someone a new handbag when they don't have any money; it just does not target the source of the problem and hence will not cure it. Many tools are already available to help parents and caregivers who are motivated to play with and encourage their child's learning and development. Hence, the issue is not so much those who don't do it as those who can't.

Experience and instinct should tell us that these parents require less direction and more assistance in navigating the problems they experience on a daily basis. This can only happen if they have the chance to create a personal connection based on mutual trust and respect with someone who can inspire them to get active while also directing them to what resources and assistance are available to fulfill their particular needs. Again, this is directly related to point one; if all teachers and practitioners were trained in building parent/carer partnerships, there would be a significant reduction in families perceived as "hard to reach" or "reluctant to engage," as well as an increase in parent/carer capacity to become more engaged and involved.

The Achievement for All pilot (2009-11) clearly demonstrated how structured conversation combined with a whole-school approach and genuine determination to overcome barriers and engage all parents/caregivers in an effective, inclusive relationship with the school could significantly increase parental involvement.

"Face-to-face contact with parents/caregivers, seeing them as equal partners with knowledge in their children's needs, is critical to creating and maintaining confidence." Brian Lamb (2009)

As a result, all Achievement for All programs heavily emphasize forming learning relationships with parents. Teachers and practitioners receive training to help them develop respectful and productive relationships focused on working together to fulfill their child's learning requirements. Using the evidence-based Structured Conversation technique results in a joined-up approach between home and school, as well as having a clear understanding of the challenges some parents face and the tools to confidently engage with families from all walks of life, which has led to the development of successful partnerships and improved children's outcomes.
Parents/caregivers, like their children, are unique, and everyone brings to the school or setting their own set of values, beliefs, attitudes, backgrounds, and circumstances. Awareness of and understanding these aspects gives hints about how to engage people. Taking the time to grasp their background and cultural norms also provides a wonderful beginning point for getting them interested. Having a clear understanding of the challenges that some parents face, as well as the tools to confidently engage with families from all walks of life, has resulted in the development of successful partnerships and improved outcomes in all of our Achieving Early settings, with 100% of practitioners reporting higher levels of confidence in working with parents and 100% of parents reporting that the early years structured conversations 'Taking Time for Talk' had been helpful in supporting their children. This partnership approach to working with parents has been shown to influence the home learning environment and enhance results for all children, particularly those vulnerable to disadvantage. Knowing the necessity of working in cooperation with parents and receiving training on how to do so effectively is the key to improved results for children. Investing in the necessary training and support to develop this is assisting Achieving Early settings in closing the gap and giving all children a better start.

The two solutions of trained staff and confident parents and caregivers are actually interdependent. When they work together successfully, great ideas and extra resources can be introduced into the family; only then will we be able to move towards a better home learning environment for all children.

"While many courses and training programs claim to help settings in engaging with parents of vulnerable children, this course genuinely does." Early Years Setting Manager - Coventry

"The Achieving Early program assisted me in supporting my child's learning. It's given me ideas for things to accomplish at home."