“Thank you so much for inviting me. I had a great morning and it is always fantastic to hear more about SHS. I came away with a much deeper understanding of your approach. It was really insightful to learn more about the work done by your practitioners with children and families, and just what goes into making sure children’s education is prioritised.” – Katie Horn, Nomura
Another term means another ‘See the Impact’ event for us at School-Home Support. Having braved the cold February morning, guests arrived to a warm welcome at Charlotte Sharman, a larger than average primary school in South East London. This time they had the opportunity to hear about more than one school, learning how SHS practitioners across Southwark work to ensure disadvantaged children are in school, and ready to learn.
SHS’s Schools Coordinator in Educational Achievement, Seonaid, explained more about some of the barriers to educational attainment facing families in Southwark, the borough with the fourth highest rate of unemployment and sixth highest rate of child poverty in London:
“When parents are dealing with stressful social issues, including poor housing and poverty, or when parents have negative experiences of education, it’s much harder for them to engage with their children’s education. Parents’ encouragement and support is vital for children’s attainment, so SHS practitioners encourage and equip parents to engage, whatever their circumstances.” – Seonaid Weightman, Educational Achievement Coordinator
Hopieann, the practitioner from neighbouring English Martyrs RC Primary School, then gave us an in-depth look at her day-to-day work. She explained how a significant part of her work was providing educational resources for families to use at home and running interventions in school – one of her recent successes was a regular drop in encouraging fathers to read with their children:
“Seeing their parents come into school makes a massive difference to children’s engagement, and so many fathers got involved we now have lots of parents who come in every other week!” – Hopieann Platt, SHS Practitioner
Of course, not all parents find it easy to engage with interventions like these and Hopieann plays a vital role in supporting them. A higher than average number of children in these schools speak English as an additional language, and their parents do not always speak or read English. Many parents who feel they cannot share this information with teachers do feel able to tell Hopieann. Her role also involves reading letters to parents and ensuring they understand the content, helping parents understand the curriculum, and offering them information about nearby English courses. Thanks to Hopieann’s support, parents access training and education which builds their resilience and underpins positive change, strengthening children’s home environment.
Similarly, parents feel able to approach Hopieann for support with issues ranging from health to housing, to finances. As a result of the trusting relationship Hopieann builds with parents, they feel able to approach her, and actively seek support. Issues’ impact on children’s attendance and attainment is therefore minimised, allowing them to access education, achieve, and thrive.
“I worked with a family who were temporarily housed outside of Southwark, travelling around an hour to and from school each day. Shannon* was regularly upset and distressed at school, and was unmotivated and struggling to engage. On top of this, the upcoming year group residential was simply unaffordable for the family. Alongside other support, I applied to the SHS Welfare Fund, so Shannon could go on the trip. The change was phenomenal – she has returned happier, and there are noticeable improvements in her work and attainment. We’re hopeful that her housing situation will also improve soon.” – Hopieann
This was followed by a great time of discussion, with Seonaid and Hopieann responding to a range of questions. From how families are identified, to the importance of the relationship between families and practitioners (a ‘neutral’ bridge between home and school), we learned more about the journeys families go on.
Seonaid summed it up perfectly when she used the analogy of a GP surgery – Hopieann works directly with children and parents, as well as supporting them during referrals where necessary. Whatever situation they’re in, Hopieann is there to offer help, support, and advice.
Crucially, this means that teaching staff are able to focus on teaching and learning – as a former teacher, Hopieann understands the value of this -“It allows teachers to focus on children’s lives in school, as they know [she is] there to support them through whatever goes on outside the classroom”. In the classroom, the impact of Hopieann’s support is evident – teachers really notice the difference when Hopieann has been working with a family, and when parental involvement has increased.
Thank you so much to our wonderful hosts at Charlotte Sharman, and to Seonaid and Hopieann for sharing their experiences and expertise.
We will be hosting our next ‘See the Impact’ event at a school in North London in June. If you are interested in coming along, please contact Annabel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 02074265000.