Family Learning is the Answer

8 December 2016

At a recent meeting of the National Family Learning Forum a range of current issues and challenges were discussed. They ranged from:

  • The impact of the new Universal Credit system on unemployed adults
  • The experiences of families of prisoners
  • The digital divide and the pressure on schools to improve pupils’ attainment 

One of the forum members proposed that family learning is the answer to all of these challenges. Whilst this was said in a light-hearted manner and was readily accepted by the group of enthusiasts present I later reflected on whether this is true and more importantly if it could be evidenced.

Family learning practitioners, adult tutors and school teachers have numerous anecdotal accounts of parents with low levels of literacy and numeracy that join a family learning course. With the guidance of their tutor and support from other parents they gradually gain confidence, increase their self-esteem, start to read to their children, do voluntary work in school and address their own learning needs.

They also gain the required qualifications for regular and fulfilling employment but there is a need for more substantial evidence to demonstrate the impact on families.  There is a need to collect quantitative and qualitative data in a standardised manner and to make it easily accessible to government departments, local authorities, schools and other stakeholders. 

The Family Learning Works inquiry into family learning (2013) outlines a wider range of impacts and presents a convincing argument for the investment of public money. However, the demands on public funding are high. Whether as part of the stretched Adult Education Budget, a devolved skills budget, pupil premium or any other source, family learning is competing with many other educational priorities.

If Family Learning is the answer to improving attainment in schools, increasing the skills and employability of adults, enabling social mobility and improving the quality of life for children and their parents, we need to continue to evidence it. I hope that the National Family Learning Forum will respond to the Family Learning Inquiry recommendation that it should “support high quality, innovative practice, appropriate policy and advocacy, research and development”.  My experience at the first meeting of the newly formed forum that I chaired is that we have a gathering of highly enthusiastic, knowledgeable practitioners representing providers and other stakeholders who are very capable of rising to this challenge. 

We know the answer; we just need to ask the right questions. 

Cath Harcula, Head of Adult Learning Service, Derby Adult Learning Service and chair of National Family Learning Forum