Boost family learning to close skills gap argues report

By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

image captionFamily learning can help boost the skills of both parents and children argues a report

Millions of children in England and Wales are held back by their parents' poor basic skills, suggests a report.

Involving the whole family in learning can boost educational attainment across generations and should be integral to schools says the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

Governments should give family learning more support, the report says.

England is "a nation in crisis" as far as skills are concerned said inquiry chairwoman Baroness Howarth.

"Adults whose parents have low levels of education are eight times more likely to have poor proficiency in literacy than adults whose parents had higher levels of education," writes Valerie Howarth in her foreword.

"Moral outrage"

"Surely it is a moral outrage that a nation such as ours should be in this position."

The report draws on a recent OECD study which found that adults in England score among the lowest results in international literacy and numeracy tests when compared with the same age group in other industrialised countries.

The OECD study, published earlier in October, found England was 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries.

The NIACE team also looked at research from national and local government, Ofsted and from educational, family and children's charities.

They found "particularly compelling evidence that family language and maths programmes benefit children's skills as well as those of their parents and carers".

They also found evidence of wider benefits from improving adults' confidence and self-esteem to reducing ill health, unemployment and re-offending.

NIACE urges head teachers to fund family learning through the Pupil Premium which is paid to schools to support the attainment of pupils on free school meals or in care.

It also calls for government departments to work together to support family learning and to ensure that there is enough funding to meet demand.

David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE said: "Imagine growing up in a home where there are no books, no stories and where your parents don't have the confidence to help you with your homework.

"Unfortunately that is a reality for too many children - but this situation can be overcome.

Good practice

"Across the country there are examples of family learning programmes which have transformed the prospects of adults and children.

"But these programmes should not be the exception, they need to be the norm in every school and community."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said the government already supported adults to improve English and maths skills, whether or not they were in work, fully funding GCSE and other qualifications.

"We support a wide range of provision so that adults can participate in learning in the way that suits them, including community learning, traditional college courses and online learning."

The government also supports family learning through the £210m community learning budget to fund a range of flexible courses, including English and maths tailored to individuals' needs and learning styles, said the spokeswoman.

Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders said he broadly welcomed the report.

"Parents play a hugely important role in their children's success at school, and schools already do a great deal to engage parents and help them to support their children.

"There are a lot of examples of good practice already in schools around the country to draw on.

"It is a two-way street however, and while schools can offer opportunities parents have to be willing to engage in them.

"Sadly some parents can't or won't support their children's learning and in those cases it is incredibly challenging for schools to create family learning links."

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