12. Family Literacy - Amber Valley
The project provides family literacy support to primary schools in two communities, Ironville and Langley Mill, in Amber Valley. Both are former mining villages, with poor levels of local amenity and community support.
The family literacy activity is part of a multi-agency response to a range of issues, including unemployment, advice and guidance, and community organising. All of the activities are under the leadership of the Adult and Community Education Team in Amber Valley.
In Amber Valley, there is clear evidence of the following problems:
How the Project was Developed
At county-wide level, there is a literacy strategy directed by a partnership called Read on Write Away. Originating in Derby when the same LEA served Derby and Derbyshire, its overall aim is to increase literacy levels at all stages across the county. The aim is underpinned by a set of operating principles:
This county-wide partnership provided an overall development framework for the Amber Valley Community and Adult Education Team. Working with the local team and its partners, the Life Long Learning Division within the LEA developed the bid for the SRB project.
The focus on a family literacy based approach is well-evidenced from the experience of the Basic Skills Agency. This approach to project design claims the following benefits for family literacy. It:
Having started in 1997, it had completed its second year at the time of this case study. The core of the project is family literacy, where work with parents (or in some cases, related adults, like grandparents) and children is the focus. Support work is provided in the school setting, where children who are under-achieving are targeted together with their parents. Typical projects involve a group of ten adults and ten children, working for one half day each week. Courses last for a minimum of ten weeks, and the longest to date has been for twelve.
There have been four family literacy groups, two at each of the schools in each area. In the morning session (one day a week), they have the chance to work in a small group with a teacher. At the same time, the adults will either be working with a key skills tutor to improve their own basic skills, or supporting the activity with their child. In the afternoon session children, adults, teacher and tutor have the chance to work jointly on a literacy / core skills project. This activity could involve the production of a school magazine, the development of a story book, one-to-one help etc.
Parents commented that they: "wish it could have gone on for longer"…that they "really enjoyed it"…that "everything was brilliant". A number have gone onto further key skills training, are getting involved in PTA activity and community initiatives as a result of this activity.
Adults have the chance to gain accreditation through the Open College Network. Both adults and children are assessed at the beginning and end of the project activity.
The family literacy project is part of a suite of projects under the SRB programme that have an Adult and Community Education focus to them. The other strands of activity are:
All run for six years, and are under the same project management within the Adult Education Service. The precise linkages and progression routes from one project to another are not defined in hard and fast terms. Participants in the family literacy activity thus have a range of support available to them. The family literacy and these other activities are seen as being mutually reinforcing.
Family literacy is a six-year programme, with a project value of £124,000, with SRB contributing £55,000 of that. £52,000 comes from the Local Authority (County Council) and £17,000 from FEFC.
Outcomes and Achievements
The project is now at the beginning of its third year. Each of its four projects have been evaluated by other members of the Community and Adult Education Team, and these evaluations have identified perceived benefits, outcomes and achievements from the perspectives of parents, children, and educationalists.
The related guidance work is having problems with employment outcomes. There is a strong view that lasting impact from the suite of projects will only be achieved for both adults and children if employment prospects improve.
Glenda Cresswell Cast