Given the empirical and anecdotal evidence that family learning contributes positively to childhood and adult literacy, to better parental relationships with schools and to adults engagement in lifelong learning, it is time to devote greater attention to formulating cohesive European FL policy (Carpentieri et al 2011; Hanemann, 2015; Hegarty and Feeley 2010; 2019; UNESCO, 2017). The contextual nature of schooling and parental educational needs differ vastly across Europe which suggests that policy needs to be broadly stated and open to interpretation in specific learning environments. At the same time, it is important to remember that the greatest need for FL is clearly and intricately tied in with other factors related to social disadvantage and multiple inequalities (Baker et al, 2004; Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009). Through no lack of aspiration for their children’s educational flourishing, some parents are challenged by their own lack of capitals to do the necessary learning support work that literacy learning care work demands (Bourdieu, 1986; Reay, 2010; Feeley, 2014). Equity suggests that those in greatest need require the most urgent and well-resourced provision and this is congruent with UN and EU equality and inclusion ethos.
Good practice in FL has demonstrated that interagency, cross-departmental collaborative and partnership approaches to FL are most effective. The resources associated with establishing such partnerships may be demanding and the process may be time consuming but the subsequent multiplier effect in terms of impact can exceed the educational context alone (NALA, 2004; NIACE, 2013). The task of schools that have struggled with poor literacy levels has certainly been made easier by the inclusion of parents as co-facilitators of their child’s learning (Flanagan, 2016). At the same time, economic and social wellbeing, positive educational, health and employment outcomes are all associated with interrupting generational cycles of educational disadvantage (Hanemann et al, 2017; Hegarty and Feeley, 2019).
The research and examples of good practice cited in this OER suggest certain considerations for those involved in policy design, development and evaluation. These considerations allow for FL to be tailored to the needs of diverse social and cultural contexts in which FL is likely to take place.
Policy guideline considerations
- Consider the context of multiple disadvantage that underwrites FL: Unmet literacy needs in childhood and adulthood are correlated with economic and social disadvantage. This suggests that the impact of FL can be multiplied when other disadvantaging factors are also addressed. The goal of improving FL levels is closely linked to interrupting generational cycles of educational and wider social and economic disadvantage. An interagency collaborative approach has been shown to be most effective in this regard and should form a part of any FL policy.
- Consider the needs of the ’whole family’ in designing FL: Those developing FL policy should be clear about the ideological ethos that will underpin their provision. Whilst some FL is motivated primarily by the needs of the child, to be really effective, the complex needs of the diadvantaged adult/parent learner need also to be considered. There is a requirement for dialogue between schools and adult learning providers so that a balance is agreed on the approach to FL. This is referred to as a ’whole family’ approach to addressing literacy challenges (UIL Policy Brief 9: 3).
- Consider the goal of greater EU literacy confidence: Whether FL is aimed at migrant, ethnic minority, disadvantaged or more educated parents and families, the goal is to create greater literacy confidence across families and communities. Language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy can all be challenging for parents and children and the content of FL should be negotiated with parents, schools and others so that FL activities are as appropriate and helpful as possible.
- Consider the value of peer learning: Parents learn from each other as well as from professional educators. Making provision in FL for peer learning and peer mentoring is useful in terms of keeping parents engaged, ending isolation and creating more solidary learning communities.
- Consider the evolving training needs of FL providers and partners: In service and pre-service training in delivery of FL needs to be provided for school age and adult learning staff. Partner organisations will also benefit from FL training. Families with unmet literacy needs may be engaged with a whole range of community services and NGOs. These groups are key to reaching those most disaffected by prior educational experiences. Raising awareness of FL within these groups can be a vital link back into learning. Integrated literacy training for community support groups may help develop a literacy learning culture and increase the likelihood of later engagement with FL.
- Consider how to promote gender equality in FL policy: Gendered aspects of FL are important as children learn from and follow the example of all adults in their life. Family literacy policy should be conscious of gender imbalances in FL work where men may feel excluded and women may bear excess responsibilty for this work. Policy should aim to create gender equality in FL.
- Consider how to measure success and efficacy of all aspects of provision: So that we can measure success in FL, policy should address the issue of data collection that allows for accountability, review and adjustment of provision and celebration of successful outcomes. Data should be in relation to progress in both childhood and adult learning and consider all contributions to the learning process. For example where libraries and other agencies are involved their role should be part of any evaluation.
- Consider the role of reasearch in encouraging reflection and learning about FL: FL projects that include a research element are invaluable for developing knowledge about this approach to learning. Policy development should recognise the important contribution that research can make to understanding the benefits of FL.
Watch the following video presentation by Dr Ulrike Hanemann with the title The Power of Learning Families: What Can Policy Learn From Success Practice?
Read an interview with Dr. Ulrike Hanemann on the policy perspectives on family literacy interventions!
Getting FL provision right is a collaborative activity that involves the creation of good local partnerships motivated to respond to FL needs. The guidance offered by a policy framework that captures the potential of FL to positively transform basic educational inequalities is essential. Research and accounts of good practice have suggested many of the critical ingredients of FL provision and these should be interpreted and adapted to match diverse learning environments. As literacy evolves so too must the supports offered to parents and those with greatest unmet needs must be the primary beneficiaries.
FL offers potential in relation to a wide number of EU and regional policy areas and merits the development of a policy framework in its own right. School age literacy and the effectiveness of schooling are improved by FL. Parental literacy and increased involvement in children’s learning and in the life of the school all accrue from FL. Some parents progress from FL into other aspects of lifelong learning, vocational training and at times into employment. The work of schools is made easier with the cooperation of parents with benefits in the areas of attendance, participation and the completion of homework. Wider individual and community gains have been reported in the area of mental health, social solidarity and integration and a reduction in repeating cycles of generational disadvantage. All of these positive factors reinforce the case for developing better policy and implementation guidelines so that FL can be made available to families who would derive most benefit from local accessible provision.
Critical reflection prompt
Recommendations for further relevant resources are welcome in the comment section below!