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Research School Network: Working with parents to support children’s learning: planning, refining and evaluation To put research and evidence into action, we need to make hard choice

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Working with parents to support children’s learning: planning, refining and evaluation

To put research and evidence into action, we need to make hard choice

This is part two of our five-part series about working with parents to support children’s learning in the early years.

[Read part one.]

When around 170 of our children were at home during the first lockdown, we were concerned about all of the early learning and play they’d be missing. Parents would be making their best efforts, but it was never going to be easy in the overcrowded, multi-generational houses in our neighbourhood where there can be six or more people sharing a rented two bedroom flat. 

The evidence tells us that it’s the home learning environment, or HLE, that makes the biggest difference to a child’s early development. The EEF Guidance Report on Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning notes that schools should be optimistic about the potential of working with parents’ whilst cautioning that evidence on effective strategies that schools can use to engage parents in their children’s learning is mixed’. 

As well as noting that caution, it’s also important to consider that the most important thing parents can do for their young children is to be warm, responsive and loving. There might be a danger, especially during the very heightened anxiety and distress caused by the pandemic, that us banging on about home learning could simply make a stressful home situation even worse. Well-intentioned actions might actually undermine the main thing it was important for parents to do. 

The recent guidelines from the World Health Organisation are clear in their ranking of what matters most:

WHO recommendations

We were on the tightrope that is familiar to school leaders. There was lots of information to think about. There were also many gaps in knowledge. Some steps which might be positive in one area, like focusing on learning, could be negative in another if they led to a rise in parental stress. We had to think through the best information we had, and also apply use our discretion as professionals.

After summer half term, we reopened more widely for children, but in line with the DFE guidance our usual groups of 30 had to be reduced to bubbles of 15 children. Quite soon, we were full, but that meant half the children were still at home. We were concerned that every child should have as much support as we could offer, so that they kept playing and learning in the run-up to their move to Reception in the autumn.

We knew what we wanted to achieve, but we were constrained by limitations. It was hard to follow the new protocols for cleaning and running the nursery school, whilst also offering support to children at home.

We felt under pressure and I became aware that our own anxiety about wanting to do the best for the children might overwhelm us. We needed to pause and think, reflect on what we knew, and take the actions with the best chances of success. I’ve written about this previously in my blog post, Implementation Under Pressure.

The first thing we did, was to set out what we wanted to achieve for the children at home. We did this by creating a simple logic model. We imposed the discipline on ourselves of restricting each model to a single page.

Logic 1

We needed to be clear what we were going to do, why, and what impact we wanted to see. The why’ was about best bets’ – our scope for action was limited by many factors. So we needed to be as sure as possible that we were putting our efforts where they would most likely have impact. The focus on impact was intended to help us with three objectives. Some of the team working on this were in the nursery school, and working in difficult conditions. Others were at home. So we needed to be really clear about what we were trying to do, to achieve the momentum of a team effort. We also wanted to tell parents clearly what we were trying to do, so that they could tell us if we were getting this right.

In the next blog in this series, we discuss what we learnt during the lockdown, and what positive ideas and actions we might take to inform our future plans.

Home learning

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