Family Learning - A model of success

Barnardo’s Family Connections project in Belfast has developed a Family Learning model which supports parents to be involved in their children’s learning and education. The aim of the project is to improve educational outcomes for children and young people and to help families view themselves as lifelong learners. The model has 4 strands - children, parents, parents and children together and community.

The silhouettes of 2 parents and a child each holding a giant puzzle piece against the backdrop o...


Family Connections have developed a ‘Family Learning Model’ which underpins work to improve achievement at both pre-school and primary school stages.  This model draws on extensive evidence that parental involvement in children’s learning is a key factor in children’s educational success, based on the understanding that children will do better at school if their parents are involved in their education.  Our focus is on building the capacity of parents to embed learning in the home environment so activities must be able to be repeated easily at home.

The ‘model’ involves 4 strands.  

Quotations from the family learning group


Family Learning makes everything more fun while learning.


I found it interesting learning different way to teach my child.


I found Family Learning really useful as these are areas I am not very confident with myself. I was very impressed at how capable my children are.


I like the topics because they are skills that are used every day.


It was very good for all the family to join in with the learning.


It is a great way to learn and build up your confidence as a parent so you can support your child more at home and highlight their strengths and weaknesses.


Strand 1 – work with children

With pre-school children, this involves children attending child development sessions twice a week.  During these sessions the children take part in individual tasks with their key worker.  Using assessment tools such as WellComm and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, an action plan is developed and activities planned to improve key areas for development.

With primary school aged children, this involves work with small groups of pupils in Key stage 2 with children who have been identified as underachieving using standardised measures such as PTE, PTM, CAT. The small groups take part in focussed literacy and numeracy activities. 


Strand 2 – work with parents

The parents of the pre-school children participate in an Incredible Years Toddler programme.  This 14 week programme is part of the Incredible Years evidence based programme suite and supports parents to encourage their child’s language, social and emotional development.  The impact of this is measured through the use of TOPSE.

Parents of the primary school aged children attend parent sessions which focus on different aspects of the literacy and numeracy curriculum.  These parents can attend an Incredible Years ‘Supporting Your Child’s Education’ 6 week programme. 


Strand 3 – parents and children together

Pre-school parents and children take part in ‘stay and play’ and ‘home play’ sessions.  These activities give parents an opportunity to practice what they have learnt in the Incredible Years programme and the areas the children are focussing on with a trained member of staff. When parents feel confident in using the parenting approaches, they are more likely to repeat them after the intervention has finished.

Primary school aged pupils and their parents attend weekly afterschool family learning sessions.  During these sessions, families take part in literacy and numeracy activities together.   Parents are equipped with information and learning strategies to be able to continue this learning at home.


Strand 4 – community

Large whole school and community family learning events are organised in school. This is an opportunity for everyone in the school community to be involved in Family Learning and for parents to engage with school.  Other community organisations attend to demonstrate a community value of education.  Parents can find out about other local support available to them.


Connecting the 4 strands together will improve outcomes for the children.  At the end of the intervention, an impact report is produced to demonstrate the difference that has been made.



The logo for Family Connections which is a Barnardo’s project in Belfast. .


Family Connections is a Barnardo’s project in Belfast that is aimed at improving educational outcomes for children and young people and to help families view themselves as lifelong learners.  The project works with children aged 0 -11 and their families.


Believe in children: Barnardo's Northern Ireland.

Judith Searle is team leader and has worked in Barnardo’s for 9 years.  She began her career in Barnardo’s as Family Learning Project Worker and really wants to help parents feel confident and equipped to be able to support their child’s learning at home.

Before working in Barnardo’s she was a primary school teacher.



You may also want to read:

The Value of Family Learning (blog)

Family Learning Framework: Advice for practitioners (resource)

Belfast Met's Community-based ESOL for Refugees and Migrants (blog)

Age-friendly Belfast Intergenerational Guide and Toolkit (resource)

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