Response from Jayne Thompson, Head of Northern Ireland Parentkind on the Fair Start report

02 June 2021
Parentkind warmly welcomes the Fair Start Report of the Educational Underachievement panel launched on Tuesday 1st June and are especially pleased to see that parent and community engagement with schools was recommended as one of the top actions.

As we included in our written response to the Expert Panel — Helen Keller stated, Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much, and that is the message we want to share. We need to change the education landscape, our schools cannot carry sole responsibility for turning out our leaders and workforce for tomorrow. We must form more collaborative, meaningful working relationships with parents, communities and businesses. We must each acknowledge our responsibility for our young people if we are to tackle educational underachievement and create a brighter future.”

To help schools promote a whole community approach to education, Parentkind has developed the Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools, which provides five key drivers and best practice for how any school can actively live and breathe great parental participation and community engagement. This is supported by practical resources and programmes that schools can put into practice with parents.

Shining a light on early years’ education and support for parents in the early years is also something that Parentkind advocated the need for in their feedback to the panel but equally stressed that this is not an area of responsibility that falls entirely to the Department of Education. During our meeting with the Expert Panel, we discussed the gap that has resulted due to the reduction in home visits by Health Visitors, the leaning posts’ for many in a parenting role.

Through home visits, Health Visitors are not only able to identify concerns, but also provide parents, especially first-time, single, newcomer and isolated mothers and fathers, with guidance and support on an array of child development areas that incidentally led to children being more pre-school/school ready. Parentkind acknowledged the huge cost attached to Health Visitors but discussed other more cost-effective community based alternatives.

Through our work with the Education Authority in 2021, engaging with parents of a child with SEN, one of the priority calls from parents in Fermanagh in particular was for the pre, pre-school specialist Home – School support for families and child with SEN year be reinstated. This educational support was removed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and parents have been repeatedly asking for the Education Authority to reverse their decision and reinstate this vital support.

Here is what parents who had received this support had to say about how it helped them and their child:

  • Provided training to enable parents to understand their child’s learning style
  • Activities and resources parents could use with the child to ensure they would be of a level that wouldn’t be so distant from their peers in pre-school which would ultimately impact on them being able to access a place in mainstream school
  • Enable parents to feel confident that they were doing their best by their child in supporting their social, emotional and physical needs
  • Ensuring that the pre-school had a clear picture of the child before they started in September which would enable them to have everything in place to help the child settle in quickly with minimal anxiety
  • Helped parents so that they knew what to expect with child going to pre-school. Parents need transitional support too in knowing that pre-school would look after their baby as well as they do and that they knew the child’s needs, traits etc

Parentkind urges that this call from parents for this pre pre-school specialist support for families and the child with SEN be immediately reinstated as part of work undertaken for Early Years as it is clear the invaluable support and reassurance this provides to provides not just to the whole family, but to the pre-school setting also.

Parentkind was delighted to play a part in supporting parents to communicate directly with the Expert Panel over the course of the last eight months and provide their views and opinions on education underachievement. We would also like to extend our sincere thanks to all the parents who joined the calls and so openly shared their views and experiences.

We would also like to highly commend the Expert Panel who reached into every corner of the province and genuinely engaged with everyone to provide feedback and/​or give evidence. By the content of this comprehensive report and recommended actions, it is evident that they listened to everyone.

Parentkind is calling for investment to be provided to enable the recommended actions to be implemented, because the sooner we tackle educational underachievement, the sooner we can close the gap and enable every child to thrive and reach their full potential. Today our children, tomorrow our leaders, what we invest in today we reap dividends from tomorrow.