What is a Family Values Scheme and how can it help to reduce persistent absence?
Why would you introduce an FVS?
Issues surrounding school are the main rea- son for truancy, but home backgrounds can also play a major role. Truancy can thrive on poor parenting skills, poor housing and low expectations from parents. The FVS works on the basis that teaching parents to value education can be as important as teaching the children to do so. It is important to look beyond the school gates to the factors in the home that can be causing problems and to try and turn parents into role models. The FVS could be used throughout the whole school, not just with hard-to-reach families.
How did the FVS come about?
The FVS was devised by myself and Gill Ellis five years ago to create partnerships be- tween schools, the pupils and home in a fun, active way, resulting in long-term improve- ments in behaviour, communication and relationships. It is based on the philosophy of Values-based Education and linked effective- ly to social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) to complement existing personal and social education programmes.
It was piloted at a primary school in south Wales, in which we targeted the families of children with behaviour and attendance issues. The success of the FVS was such that it was rolled out to the whole school. One particular good news story that stood out related to a boy with an attendance rate of about 70%: after taking part in FVS, that rate improved dramatically and his mother en- joyed it so much that she retrained and now works as a teaching support assistant.
Who is the FVS for?
The scheme is for the school, the family and the pupils, and offers a good toolkit for all parties to be able to work together for the good of the child’s education. It is de- signed to enhance the effectiveness of key relationships between and among family members. Good, caring relationships are a key ingredient within the family unit, as they encompass such skills as the ability to listen, communicate, recognise and respond to the needs and feelings of others, as well as helping to understand children’s behaviour, which in turn has benefits for the school.
This two-way communication is described by the Solihull Approach (Douglas, 2004) as reciprocity – ‘the process whereby the parent is sensitive to the needs and feelings of the child, and the child responds to the parent, in a two-way flow of communication.’ It is the foundation for all present and future rela- tionships, the development of language and communication, sleep, eating and drinking, as well as the ability to understand and man- age one’s own feelings and behaviour.
Who usually runs it?
It can be run by a school, children’s centres, truancy officers and any organisation that would benefit from being able to work with families as a whole. Recently, the Neath and Port Talbot Local Authority took on the scheme in all of its schools as a way of trying to engage parents in their child’s education. FVS is a good way of getting the whole family involved and it is being used in more and more schools. It has been taken up in different parts of the UK, including most schools in Glasgow and Peterborough, in schools in Northern Ireland, and as far afield as Kenya and Tanzania, with a lot of success. It is suit- able for Early Years, KS1, KS2 and KS3, and in Scotland 1st, 2nd and 3rd Level CSE.
FVS is broken down into 22 different values, which are made up into monthly packs that encourage carers, parents or families to participate in a series of fun tasks and challenges, which they plan and carry out together with- in the flexibility of their own home. Values focused upon include tolerance, responsibility, friendship, patience, happiness and trust. The values are designed to help children to understand and deal with their feelings and emotions, problem-solve situations, under- stand the importance of active listening, positively reinforce good behaviour, negotiate differences and promote responsibility, as well as to stimulate interaction between parents and children.
The value for April 2014 was quality, which focuses on the quality of our relation- ships with each other. If we help and support each other, relationships with each other will meet each other’s needs and reach the quality that you are striving for.
One term the focus of the project could be friendship, with recommended activities including planning family meals together, visiting the library to research homework together and even doing the housework together. Mother of four, Donna McGuin- ness, who tried out this particular task said: ‘The children have actually really enjoyed the cleaning up task. They loved doing the washing up and it has been fun and funny to think that it is also quite educational for them. It is nice to be able to feel part of the school and get involved. It sets a good ex- ample for the children.’
This approach offers a certain flexibility because if something comes up within the home, it is easy to catch up on and means that families don’t feel as if they are being dictated to. Comparable programmes in the past were designed to last around 10 weeks only; however, we felt that that was not enough to get to grips with the problem and be able to see any success. It is about a culture change and that can take between three to five years to fully materialise. You have to start somewhere – and FVS makes a very good starting place.
Involving hard-to-reach families
Getting the hard-to-reach families to trust in the school system is hard. Some schools hold events such as a family walk as a way of introducing the FVS, and try to make the school more open to parents and less like visiting a doctor’s surgery. At Llwynypia Primary in Wales, they launched the scheme with a bin- go night at the school. The children designed the invitations, took them home and were delighted when around 60 families came along. The emphasis was on the fact that the children were inviting their parents to the school, making it more difficult to refuse the invitation or not turn up. Deputy Head Rhian Hurley said: ‘It was great to see so many getting involved. It wasn’t a fundraiser or anything, it was purely about getting everyone together, to have a chat and to learn how to improve the links between home and school. From it we saw a new launch for the Parent Teacher Association and it is great for the children because they are being given a really positive message.’
Does it work?
Research shows that excellent home-school links have a significant and positive impact on a child’s performance at school, and leads to greater problem-solving skills, greater enjoyment of school, better attendance, fewer behavioural problems, and greater social and emotional development. But the parents of truants tend to make fewer school visits than other parents and are more likely to have been truants themselves.
When children see their parents or other family members getting involved in the school, it sends out the clear message that they are interested in what the school is doing; it lets them see that the parents value what the children themselves are doing; and gives the child a sense of security. For parents, the benefits are that they have the tools to help their children, they have more information about their child’s education and it also helps them to build up their confidence and skills.
FVS is starting to show results. In Herefordshire, where an FVS has been introduced in every primary school, attendance has in- creased by 4%, and primary schools in some of the most deprived areas of the UK have been transformed by FVS.