Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief


Lessons on creating scale for an early language and literacy skills development programme

Category: Creative Learners | Early literacy and numeracy development | 11 May, 2013 - 01:05


In many homes suffering the effects of poverty, opportunities for children to acquire early language and literacy skills through child-parent interaction are limited by low levels of parental education, knowledge and confidence. Yet research shows that children’s learning experiences in the home in the early years are a crucial factor in later educational success.  Wordworks’ Home School Partnership (HSP) programme seeks to build networks of parents who feel empowered to play a role in their child’s education.  This is achieved by training and mentoring facilitators to run a seven-week series of workshops for parents and caregivers of children between the ages of 4 and 7 years. The programme equips parents with the ideas, methods and confidence to support informal learning in the home. It is primarily run in schools by teachers who are trained as facilitators of the programme, with the added benefit that teachers are helped to better understand and value the role of parents in their child’s education.

Wordworks have run the HSP programme since 2006, and have gathered a compelling evidence base of the positive impact that the programme has on parents, caregivers and teachers, and, through them, children. In recent years, we have therefore reflected on how we might spread the values, methods and benefits of the programme more widely.    

  • We have learned that our methodology can be used more widely if we focus on training, capacity building and developing and sharing quality resources rather than delivering the parent workshops ourselves. 
  • Importantly, this ‘seed’ approach enables education officials and teachers to take ownership of the programme and for it to become part of a whole-school development plan rather than an NPO add-on. In our experience, this results in the programme gaining a momentum of its own, where teachers see the benefits in the classroom, parents become more involved at school, and officials recognise strong relationships with parents as an important part of the school’s role. 
  • In 2012 we have piloted joint delivery of the HSP within two Circuits in our local Education District. The Circuit Teams organised introductory meetings for principals, as well as the logistics of the facilitator training for teachers of selected primary schools. The presence of district team leaders at some sessions helped teachers to understand that they were part of a collaborative initiative to raise literacy levels, and, importantly, to feel that their efforts were recognised.  The partnership has made possible a volume of new sites that it would have been difficult for Wordworks alone to deliver in such a short period of time. In District South, so far in 2012 the programme has been run in 21 schools, with 57 facilitators receiving training and 266 parents graduating. 
  • Through this partnership we have also learned that, a critical mass of schools in a particular area helps to create a sense of common endeavour and energy around a new initiative. It also makes the practical provision of training and support easier, and creates opportunities for schools to support each other and share learning.
  • Building capacity both in district teams and in individual schools enables the intervention to be self-sustaining. Key knowledge and skills are transferred to those educational professionals who can ensure continuing implementation, with a minimal and decreasing level of ongoing support required from Wordworks. 
  • Furthermore, this type of decentralised, enabling model where an NPO shows itself willing to be a co-producer rather than an instructor, helps to foster trust,  creating more fertile ground for educational professionals to receive learning in a way that will lead to shifts in attitudes and behaviour. In this way, Wordworks has managed to tackle a key challenge facing the HSP from the start – namely, getting schools and education districts to change their perceptions about the role of parents and to actively welcome their participation in the education process. 

Wider lessons

The responsibility upon NPOs to use our resources wisely and strategically requires us to continually identify productive opportunities for collaboration and sharing best practice. Unless an early literacy intervention is not only supported but also delivered by statutory service providers, the reach of that programme will remain limited. There are therefore huge gains – and savings – to be made by working in partnership with schools and education districts. Crucially, such an approach also upholds the core values of empowerment and respect in NPOs’ engagement with communities and professionals. This route may however require new ways of working for all parties, with NPOs being less preoccupied with the ‘branding’ of every use of their work, and schools and education officials becoming more open to embracing new expertise and approaches, both in order to put the interests of the child first.

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In Short

In this short article Wordworks shares with us the lessons they have learned while scaling-up their Home School Partnership (HSP) programme.  There is strong evidence of the positive impact that the programme has on parents, caregivers and teachers, and, through them, children - this learning brief might thus be well worth the read for other early literacy and ECD programmes.  

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