CEO’s Blog: Family Hubs are a step in the right direction

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As I sat in the early hours of last night by my baby’s cot side, I got to thinking – why do we make the job of a parent so difficult? Why do we find ourselves so isolated, bringing up our children as individual households and competing with one another for who’s done the best job? Fast forward a few years to school, I can already see the scenario playing out – each of us dropping our children off, eagerly awaiting our first crumbs of feedback, and hoping against hope we got the fundamentals right.

So much of parenting is done in the dark, both literally and metaphorically. As I scrolled through my phone at 3am, hoping Google would hold some answers, I wondered how many other parents were doing just the same. Meanwhile, the body of knowledge about how to raise happy, healthy children goes largely untouched, inaccessible, somewhere else. For parents in the most disadvantaged circumstances, support can feel more remote still.

Reflecting on the Government’s recent Schools White Paper, the clue is in the title. “Opportunity for all: Strong Schools with Great Teachers for Your Child” On the face of it, who could object? Of course, every child needs a strong school staffed by great teachers. So far so good. Until, that is, you begin to ask whether this is truly enough for every child.

A child’s education is shaped by home and community at least as much as school, and the truth is, we need to be strengthening a child’s whole experience and not just focusing on school hours. The very best schools already understand this. They work tirelessly not just to deliver the best possible learning during the school day, but also to support their families and wider community in providing the best possible experiences beyond the school gates.

Under the government’s plans, a network of Family Hubs will be established to help parents “take care of their children, ensuring they are safe and healthy.” This is laudable and vitally important, but the impact could be far greater if local schools are to be part of the plans. By creating a one-stop shop for all the advice and support a family might need, Family Hubs could provide early support with literacy, numeracy and communication skills, long before the first day of school.

SHINE funds pilot programmes across the North that support parents with their child’s development during the all-important early years. We are supporting schools to work in partnership with parents, boosting their confidence and showing them techniques that can make a big difference to their children’s futures.

For instance, in Bradford, we are supporting five primary schools in the Beckfoot Trust to bring families and schools together. Through a series of workshops, parents are learning how to support their children’s communication and language development.

Meanwhile, in Bury, we are working with the Vision Multi-Academy Trust to help the parents of more than 400 early years children develop an understanding of how young children learn through play.

Examples such as these demonstrate why schools should be at the heart of any initiative that supports parents. Their expertise and local knowledge will help ensure children receive the best possible start when they join school, and establish supportive relationships between families and schools from the earliest stage. Schools can also gain early insights to pinpoint any possible barriers to learning, so they can best support children when they begin their formal education

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says: “If we are to level up outcomes for children facing the biggest challenges, this needs to start at home”.

He is quite right, but if Family Hubs are to be successful, schools need to be involved from the very beginning.