Monday, 16 July 2007

Lynda Gration, Assistant Headteacher and Inclusion Manager at New Bewerley Community School has written about taking STEPS to bring the community to school...

"It has long since been acknowledged that one of the ways to raise children’s levels of academic achievement is by involving the primary carer, the children’s parents themselves in the education process. Over the years schools have endeavoured, indeed worked relentlessly to achieve this aim, but in inner city areas like Beeston, South Leeds, an area of significant socio-economic decline and depression, there has been limited success.

Many parents here have their children at a very young age, they themselves have had limited education and have become trapped in their lives with few skills to enable them to change their lot. Many had become disaffected by the whole idea of training and education. Furthermore, as a result of this disaffection, many had become completely disengaged and almost ‘disabled’. Then came ‘Investment in Excellence’, a self- assertiveness, self-awareness, self-improvement and self-esteem building programme from the Pacific Institute in America.

Initially school staff were themselves trained using this programme and many found it extremely useful in their own careers. Following this first round of training, school staff were trained to facilitate the course so that it could be taken to the wider community and so STEPS was born. In a community school such as ours this once again gave us a light at the end of the arduous tunnel that was parental involvement.

School staff became committed to the programme. Our Behaviour Support Worker, our Learning Mentor and much more recently our Parental Support Worker with support from Extended Services – Family and Schools Together Team have already completed three extremely successful courses in school with parents of our children.

All schools, I am sure, have some very difficult parents to deal with every day - parents who will not engage with education, who are critical of the school system and everyone who works in it, who come into school incessantly with complaints of one sort or another, who in some instances are extremely aggressive towards staff and other parents and children. We too have had our share, but the STEPS programme has helped us enormously with some of our most difficult clients. Indeed, one of our biggest successes in involving parents in the education of their child, in giving that parent the self-esteem and courage to improve their life has been achieved through STEPS. From being probably the school’s biggest critic that parent is now employed by the school, extremely successful in her role in supporting the behaviour policy which she once despised and misunderstood and has become one of our biggest advocates.

STEPS enabled her to take a different look at her life, gave her a different perspective from which to view her difficulties and gave her the courage not only to apologise for her past attitudes and behaviour towards school, but to actively seek to change her life and to make a difference.

Over the past two years we have had a constant stream of parents, many of whom have also undertaken the STEPS course, coming into school as Parent Volunteers. This has given our school a real opportunity to reach the community and begin to change attitudes. Many of these parents have now the courage to take up college courses, achieve qualifications, go out there and look for rewarding work to make a difference to their lives and the way they feel about themselves and the wider community.

Our STEPS parents now show a commitment to the school that was never there before. Some have formed a parents group which helps to raise funds, many work voluntarily in classes helping to support children experiencing difficulties and many are now undertaking Cache courses in the hope that they can become employed in the system that once they could not access at all.

The training and understanding that our parents have developed since STEPS has also had a profound effect on their own skills as parents. Many will admit that they had significant difficulties in the past, but that they now feel much more able to manage their feelings and handle problems in a much more positive way.

Perhaps STEPS has really begun to give some meaning to the idea of ‘Lifelong Learning’ for the members of our community. We intend to continue our commitment to the STEPS course and hope in the future to reach many more of our parents and community members, so that, little by little, the message spreads and many other people whom society has disengaged and ‘disabled’ become ‘enabled’ once again."

It is wonderful to hear about the impact the STEPS programme is having on the front line.

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