6. Family Learning
6.1 A major contribution to, and signal of, cultural change in the field of lifelong learning can be made by widespread extension of schemes of family learning in the UK.(21) There is now growing recognition that successful family learning is a powerful tool for engendering positive attitudes to learning and stimulating educational commitment and achievement for children, parents and other family members. We believe that the widespread adoption of a range of family learning schemes will make a major contribution towards the development of learning cultures in this country.
6.2 Family learning can contribute to the reversal of an otherwise vicious downward spiral of underachievement, low grade employment, unemployment, poverty, low self-esteem, poor quality of life and social exclusion. It also provides a valuable context for inter-generational learning, including through shared access to, and pleasure in using, information and communications technology.
6.3 Family learning can take many different forms and can target a variety of primary beneficiaries. It can help both adult family members and children secure improvements in basic literacy and numeracy skills, support schools' own literacy and numeracy programmes, help parents and other adult family members to help children, boost the involvement of family members in the generality of their children's' schooling, and encourage children to be both stimulus and catalyst in the learning activities of their parents and other family members. In our working papers, we have identified the following sorts of family learning, and mixtures of them, each with its own focus and range of typically associated activities:
6.4 Government has already signalled its support for family learning in the context of its schools' improvement strategy, set out in its key white paper for initial education, Excellence in Schools. Many parents and other adults in families already see the point of encouraging and supporting their childrens' educational progress and will do so, given the right framework of engagement and opportunity. Far fewer have yet had the chance to advance their own learning alongside that of the children. Providing that opportunity will entail more than adult learning constituting a useful but largely fortunate by-product of one dimension of the determination to raise standards at school. It will mean making more explicit links between the schools' improvement agenda and the government's unfolding lifelong learning strategy, recognising the key contribution in this of voluntary organisations and community groups.
6.5 Amongst schoolchildren, fostering a love of learning, the skill of 'learning to learn' and a practical understanding of the ways in which educational achievement connects with their future lives will also help to instill a commitment to lifelong learning.(22) Amongst parents, other significant family members and adults, involvement with the child's pleasures and achievements in learning can rekindle (or spark for the first time) an interest in their own education, bolstering their self-confidence and ambition. Research also indicated that such contacts and networks are crucial to children's educational success. Schemes of family learning should make these connections explicit, as well as providing a basis for active citizenship, community development and local capacity building.
6.6 Family learning affords a practical opportunity to implement 'joined-up' policy and creating effective partnerships. These can with advantage span institutional and functional boundaries as well as playing their part in mobilising energy within the field of education itself. Through local partnerships, family learning should benefit from the creation of local learning centres, set up not only under the auspices of the University for Industry but also by companies, in libraries and museums and in schools themselves.
6.7 Local authorities now have a new opportunity to locate family learning at the heart of their local learning development plans and in their work through local strategic partnerships. Valuable contributions can also be made by voluntary organisations and community groups, local firms, trade unions, churches, sports and social clubs, youth services, TECs, colleges, pre-school groups and, of course, schools themselves. As we spell out further below, partnerships bring vital resources to collaborative initiatives in the form of people, premises, expertise and networks. However, to be effective, including in respect of family learning, they also need focus, clarity of purpose, transparency of process and coordination.
6.8 Making a success of family learning will first entail broadening understanding of its scope and extending the range of bodies which should work together and make it effective. This should include those concerned with pre-school activities, the Youth Services, Social Services, Health Authorities and many varieties of community group. It will also require that established teachers, those in teacher training and educational officials, as well as parents and representatives of other bodies, themselves learn new skills and develop additional competences. The various inspection frameworks operated by Ofsted, Social Services, the Further Education Funding Council, the Training Standards Inspectorate and higher education Quality Assurance Agency will all need to include explicit quality standards for family learning and appropriate inspection time will need to be devoted to this aspect of provision.
6.9 Research on family learning, including action research, case studies and independent reviews of provision should be commissioned from universities and other research centres. Its aim should be to contribute to the development of a body of practical knowledge, disseminate examples of good practice in family learning. Research and its effective dissemination should also underpin the growth of a cadre of 'reflective practitioners' in the field. Consideration could also be given to a special scheme of awards for family learning, given for outstanding provision and achievement.
6.10 There should be support for local innovation and experimentation in family learning, as a body of experience and good practice is progressively established. It would make sense to earmark funds to support such local endeavours, where proposals are based on rigorous preparation, are aimed at demonstrable added value and draw on the resources and commitment of well-constructed partnerships. Funding to support schemes of family learning should be identified from a range of sources: from the Standards Fund to help with the audit and mapping of existing provision, as well as with planning developments; from the Adult and Community Learning Fund and New Opportunities Fund to support the involvement of community groups and voluntary organisations; from TECs to support the local achievement of lifetime education and training targets, preparation for work and out-of-school clubs.
6.11 Encouraging new developments in family learning and the dissemination of good practice should also be encouraged through the circulation of checklists, guidelines and by publishing examples of excellence. They should be used to spell out the different (potential) contributions of the various partners, indicate how targets could be set and progress evaluated, suggest possible sources of funding and underpin the design of support and training arrangements to underpin initiatives. We have made a start on this in our working papers, with a suggested initial allocation of the different responsibilities and potential scope for action from government, local authorities, schools, further education institutions and the WEA, employers, trade unions, TECs, the Prison Service, voluntary organisations and broadcasters. It would be useful to share these ideas with people who are active, or planning to become active, in the field and to disseminate them following consultation and refinement.
21 This section draws on working paper Supporting Family Learning, NAGCELL working group convened by Jacqui Bufton.
22 This element of a coherent lifelong learning strategy is stressed and developed in Lifelong Learning for All, op. cit., Chapter 3, 'Establishing the foundations for lifelong learning'.
KR5 Government should provide a major boost to family learning by:
SR12 Local Authorities should:
SR13 Family Learning should be extended by: