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Family Learning within the Early Years Framework

DescriptionFamily Learning within the Early Years Framework - HMIe
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJune 02, 2008


On 18 March the First Minister and COSLA launched a joint policy framework on early years and early intervention. The final section of the document, Launching the policy development phase set out proposals for taking the work forward. Four task groups were established, each taking forward one of the themes of the framework. These are:

1. Building parenting and family capacity pre and post birth.

2. Creating communities that provide a supportive environment for children and families.

3. Delivering integrated services that meet the holistic needs of children and families.

4. Developing a suitable workforce to support the framework.

Creating communities that provide a supportive environment for children and families

The Improving Scottish Education report by HMIE noted that the lowest performing 20% face serious and complex difficulties. Early identification and intervention were essential. Other HMIE tasks note the continued difficulties faced by young people and their carers as they grow older.

In 2007/08, HMIE has been gathering evidence on Family Learning and its impact. The primary focus of this work was to assess and evaluate the impact of participation in family learning programmes in raising attainment and wider achievement. This encompassed the outcomes for adults, children, schools and the wider community that result from participation in family learning programmes. An audit through recent reports on schools, early years establishments, Further Education (FE), Child Protection and Community Learning and Development (CLD) showed that there is no distinct focus on family learning within present HMIE inspections. There were a number of examples within Inspections of Education Authorities (INEA), CLD reports and Inspection Reviews of Voluntary Organisations in Scotland (IRVOLS) in terms of good practice. (Appendix 1 provides examples of good practice gathered from the above range of inspection activity.)

Programmes of family learning and their impacts have and can be reported upon within CLD, Child Protection, FE and schools reports but this is subsumed into wider evaluative sections and there is no distinct focus within the reports. As a result, HMIE have decided to develop a larger investigation into the impacts of family learning. This larger task will look at family learning from all parts of the inspectorate.

This work will continue into 2008/09.

Definition of Family Learning

The definition of family learning adopted by HMIE was the one used by the UK national Learning and Skills Council (LSC), i.e. 'family programmes' are those which "… aim to encourage family members to learn together. They are learning as or within a family. They should include opportunities for intergenerational learning and, wherever possible, lead both adults and children to pursue further learning."

The term 'family' is purposely not defined to enable adults and children with a range of relationships to participate.

Family learning programmes are further described as being "… specifically designed to enable adults and children to learn together or those programmes that enable parents/carers to learn how to support their children's learning. They aim to:

  • Develop the skills or knowledge of both the adult and child participants; and
  • Help parents/carers to be more active in the support of their children's learning and development and to understand the impact of that support."

The Family Learning Network defines family learning as:

" Family learning covers all forms of informal and formal learning that involve more than one generation. 'Family' members can include friends as well as family, reflecting the range of support relationships that individuals rely on in the twenty-first century. It includes

  • Learning about roles.
  • Relationships and responsibilities in relation to stages of family life.
  • Parenting education.
  • Learning how to understand, take responsibility and make decisions in relation to wider society, in which the family is a foundation for citizenship".

It should be noted that wider family learning contains programmes that focus on family literacy, language and numeracy (FLLN).

FLLN programmes aim to:

  • Improve the literacy, language and numeracy skills of parents;
  • Improve parents' ability to help their children; and
  • Improve children's acquisition of literacy, language and numeracy.

Wider family learning may contain elements of FLLN and so family learning can be central to community capacity building with regard to minority groups or new migrants as well as to the regeneration or renewal of neighbourhoods and communities where low skills levels and aspirations are prevalent.

Community Learning and Development and Family Learning

The key element in this definition is the focus on family learning programmes that lead both adults and children to pursue further learning." The approach adopted in Scotland aligns with the broader educational policy trajectory that includes A Curriculum for Excellence, the relevant community dimensions of Journey To Excellence and the Lifelong Skills Strategy.

In Scotland, family learning is not included as part of the outcomes of Community Learning and Development in Delivering Change: Understanding the outcomes of CLD produced by Communities Scotland in 2007. As a result, the role of family learning programmes in delivering outcomes for CLD is not well understood.

Impacts for adults

In terms of benefits for adults that arise from their participation in family learning, it is important to note that distinction must be made between impacts that are related to parenting and impacts that relate to adults' identity as individuals in their own right. The latter includes parents improving their own skills, for example in literacy and/or numeracy, and interest in and commitment to learning.

Enhanced understanding and involvement in children's learning

Specific benefits highlighted by the NIACE research have included:

  • Knowledge of the educational system and how schools operate. This leads many parents to become more interested and involved in their children's education and able to recognise their child's educational progress.
  • An understanding of specific curriculum issues such as how maths, English and other subjects are taught.
  • The ability to develop playtime activities that include educational components.

Impacts on parenting skills

Parents gained:

  • Greater knowledge and more confidence to tackle family situations through increasing their understanding of children's development.
  • Improved capacity to communicate with their children. Participating in family learning has also enabled some parents to go on to access information and further knowledge to help them in their parenting role.
Adult impacts related to own identity:

Increased confidence and self-esteem

  • Participants in family learning reported an increase in confidence and self-esteem.

Parents' Learning Achievements and Progression

Despite the main motivation for many adults' participation in family learning being the support of their children's learning and development, participants often go on to:

  • Address their own learning needs when attending family learning.
  • Improve their own skills in the areas of parenting and communication.

Impacts for families

The NIACE research identifies a number of outcomes for families as a result of participation in family learning.

New role models

Children also benefit from 'positive role model effects' if their parent undertakes further learning. They are also likely to benefit if their parent moves into employment as a result of their participation in family learning, for example through an increase in household income.

An increase in shared family activities

The family as a whole often appears to benefit from one or more members taking part in family learning activities. Through participating in family learning some families increase the number of activities they share and enjoy together. This can lead to families spending more time together experiencing a wider range of activities, such as reading together, visiting the library and visiting new places of interest.

Access to services

As a result of participating in family learning, some families have been better able to access services through an increase in knowledge and awareness of what services are available and/or as a result of an increase in confidence to approach organisations.

Impacts for communities

Family learning has benefits that extend beyond adults, children and families and is most clearly seen within the local community.

Benefits to communities and social capital

Robert Putnam, the US writer in the 2001 book 'Bowling Alone' identified that it is the features of social life, i.e. networks, norms, trust and reciprocity, that build social capital within a community. Enhanced levels of interest, trust and involvement with institutions and organisations that operate within the local community are also thought to have positive impacts on social capital.

It is important not to underestimate the role of social capital in building strong and sustainable communities and providing other benefits. As the New Economics Foundation (2000) noted that:

"There is plenty of evidence linking social capital with a variety of benefits. These include: finding a job; social integration; better health; decline in crime; better performance at school; better government; and higher economic growth."

The review of family and intergenerational learning projects from the Adult and Community Learning fund (ACLF) showed that adult participation in family learning led to the building of relationships, friendships and communities. More social contact was made with people from different backgrounds, ethnic minority groups and of different ages.

Similarly, focus groups in eight Sure Start areas in 2001 found that parents who took part in Sure Start activities experienced an increased level of 'community spirit' with parents working together to try and address community issues.

Appendix 1

The following case studies are drawn from a range of HMIE inspections.

Relevant Key Strengths From INEA 2




The strategic approach to improvement and the success of initiatives such as New Directions and the Home Link service and the positive impact on children, pupils and their families.

Dundee City

Pre-school provision, the effectiveness of partnership working in the pre-school context and preparations for the introduction of The Education (Additional Support for learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

The positive impact on learners and their families achieved in a number of integrated community school context, such as health initiatives and some aspects of neighbourhood partnership.


Pre-school provision generally and the impact of ICT in learning and teaching, particularly in the pre-school and primary sectors.

Aberdeen City

The contribution of CLD to support family learning initiatives

West Lothian

Effectiveness of integrated working, particularly in relation to the early years, and vulnerable groups of learners including pupils with additional support needs.


The authority's success in promoting effective partnerships with through consultation.

The impact of partnership working arrangements on the quality of pupils' learning, particularly in the early years sector and for pupils with a range of additional support needs.

The Moray

The impact of the Parental Involvement Strategy in preparing staff and parents for working in partnership.


The high quality provision for pre-school and adult learners, and improvements in key outcomes for primary-aged learners.

CLD2 Inspections where Q I 4.1 - impact on the community- was evaluated at 5 or above:

  • Glasgow City
  • Argyll and Bute
  • West Lothian
  • South Ayrshire




North Lanarkshire

Sure Start home link and parent support staff helped parents engage in their own and their children's learning. Parents valued the opportunity to develop new skills and social networks. They believed their involvement in learning had raised their expectations for themselves and their aspirations for their children. Improved and continuous links between nursery, school and home meant that schools could respond more effectively to individual circumstances. They tailored provision accordingly, for example, setting up a paired reading scheme when aware of a parent with poor literacy skills. Community learning and development service (CLDS) staff supported parents to engage in school activity. Parents felt more involved in the life of the school and knew more about their children's learning.

Mothers in Bellshill who had suffered from post-natal depression had benefited from a range of services and continued support. Initially supported by out-patient health services they engaged with the Sure Start programme and developed significant skills and confidence as parents. As their children grew out of the Sure Start age range they were supported to form their own group for mutual support and further development. The group had now engaged a writing tutor to help them to write materials to support other local mothers who experience post-natal depression. They were very articulate about the benefits of the support they received in building their confidence and self-esteem. They were also very positive about the potential impact of their work on other mothers in their communities.

West Lothian

Many parents had been unaware of the services available to them in the Craigshill area. A shop unit in the local mall was rented and parents were invited to 'dream something better' and to prioritise findings by writing their thoughts on a large duvet cover. A need for a centralised information point was identified and premises were found in the local shopping mall. The Daisy Drop In is a partnership between parents and services in the Craigshill area. It was staffed by a coordinator and provided a central location where parents and children attended activities and accessed information on all services relating to early years work in Craigshill. Parents engaged in this service have a stronger sense of community as a result of their engagement.


Challenge Dads was an innovative strand of Family Learning, which had received Pathfinder literacies funding. This project was successful in involving fathers in actively supporting their children's learning. Activities included parenting classes, literacy development and a range of self development activities. Challenge Dads and Family Learning were successful in developing the self confidence of parents involved, in enriching their relationships with their children, and in supporting their progression to further education, training and employment.


Parental involvement was being effectively promoted in Stirling Council. A Parental Involvement Consultant had been appointed and a comprehensive workplan to implement the Act had been developed. The authority had established a Parent Network to provide information on the new Act and to promote debate and discussion and hear parents' views. They had also developed an Information Service for parents including the publication of key leaflets on the Act and the development of a parental involvement website. Parents and staff participated in training and development activities to raise awareness and prepare them for implementation of the Act.

In addition, the authority had promoted activities at local individual school level including projects such as e-mail communication with parents, Learning Groups in nurseries, nursery to primary transition, the establishment of a multi-cultural parent forum, initiatives to get more fathers into schools and projects addressing bullying.


The establishment of Esslemont School is an example of good practice in partnership working across agencies and disciplines involving the Early Years Forum, the Autism Network and the community-based adult learning group among others. The area has an above average number of children on the autistic spectrum and the school was developed in response to the need identified by parents for local services.

Partnership working was essential to collating and analysing information to identify need and support the joint resourcing of provision at Esslemont School. This included pinpointing a suitable venue, putting in place continuous professional development to skill up staff for this highly specialised area of work, working with parents on fund raising for equipment and commissioning and supervising refurbishment and adaptation of the building. The partnership processes used for this exemplified an approach which crossed professional boundaries and was client rather than agency led.


This training had provided a first step opportunity for many adults to re-engage in learning. CLD staff organised the training and provided very effective support and guidance for learners. Participants gained a qualification which led to employment as crèche workers. Many had moved on to other learning as a result, including further and higher education. They reported gains in confidence and self-esteem and improved family relationships. They were able to use their experience to enhance their own parenting skills through a greater understanding of child development.

South Lanarkshire Council - Home School Partnership (HSP)

CLD staff in HSP programmes had significantly improved learners' confidence and their ability to engage in learning. Parents taking part in the Adventure Ted family learning programme in primary schools had developed better relationships with the staff and could engage with their child's teacher where previously they did not.

Argyll and Bute Council - Story of the Month

This is a family reading scheme that promotes reading activities in families with children under five; stimulates creative learning activities in the home through improving parents' confidence with their children; and encouraging increased family use of the library. 50 families were issued monthly with activity sheets corresponding to books available in the library. A series of workshops, craft events and readings by some of the authors were arranged to complement the initiative. This cost effective scheme has resulted in increased reading within families with young children, improved access to resources for reading, and increased use of libraries.

IRVOL Inspection evidence

Workers Education Association

Parents Early Education Programme (PEEP) Child

Development and Learning course

Making the most of your Children is an SQA accredited programme, closely aligned to the Scottish Executive's Birth to Three guidance, and PEEP was developed by the WEA to support community parent groups. The programme provides formal recognition of the vital role parents and carers play as the most influential educators in the early years. The units explore parenting and child development in the context of the family and encourage personal development through the natural interest parents have in their children's learning, and through exploring the home as a learning environment. Essential to the success of the programme has been the development of a comprehensive training unit, which has been developed to inform CLD Managers interested in incorporating the units into community programmes and practitioners from a variety of family learning backgrounds who would be involved in delivering community based courses. The training looks more closely at course content, the process of delivery, SQA accreditation and how best to capture learning through the diary folio.