Paul Carberry: Helping to close the poverty-related attainment gap

Paul Carberry is Action for Children's Director in Scotland
Paul Carberry is Action for Children's Director in Scotland
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Every council area in Scotland is benefitting from Scottish Government investment through the Pupil Equity Fund. Exactly how this funding is spent is at the discretion of head teachers, recognising they best understand the needs of their school community.

Action for Children is currently working with schools to help close the poverty-related attainment gap by improving pupil wellbeing and educational outcomes. We work collaboratively with schools to create bespoke solutions that meet their specific needs. Examples include family engagement, targeted family support, family learning sessions, parenting programmes and therapeutic support. We also help to build the capacity and skills of teachers and educational staff by contributing to their training and development.

We understand the crucial role of the family in promoting children and young people’s learning and attainment and much of our work focuses on involving and supporting the ‘whole family’ to address any barriers to attainment.

We have Family Support Workers in a number of schools in North West Glasgow who provide practical support in the family home to improve routines and boundaries. Our workers are able to spend time with the family to build a relationship and help them to improve family life, in ways that the school cannot.

Those schools have seen the benefits in terms of increased attendance and timekeeping, improved behaviour in class and better engagement with learning. These schools are now extending our Family Support work into the new school year.

Similarly, a Family Support pilot that we delivered in a school in West Dunbartonshire has also been extended. The school had been struggling with the disruptive behaviour of one 10-year-old in particular. Our workers engaged and supported, not only the child, but the whole family. By tailoring interventions, we saw real improvements in parenting skills, children’s behaviour and family interaction which had a positive impact on learning and attainment.

Our work with schools focuses on initiatives that are proven to be effective. One being Roots of Empathy, which we brought to the UK in 2010. This involves a baby and their parent visiting a primary class throughout the school year to help pupils understand their own feelings as well as those of others. Roots has played a big role in increasing empathy, reducing aggression, increasing pro-social behaviour as well as creating caring classrooms.

We also work with schools on new and innovative approaches, including ‘Heritage and Inclusion’ project in Edinburgh. To date this has supported some 50 young women from 19 different nationalities and has expanded to supporting young men. The project sees people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds undertake heritage research and develop learning using creative outputs, such as art, poetry and film, to express themselves. Many participants had little, if any, knowledge of their own culture but this project has allowed these young people to develop and explore their cultural while creating a positive sense of identity.

The Pupil Equity Fund can be a great resource for schools, allowing them to make decisions at a local level, and bring in the right products and services. We have found that it works best is when there is genuine partnership between schools and other agencies, including the third sector, to facilitate new ways of working. Organisations like Action for Children have a strong track record in supporting the most vulnerable families and are well placed to help schools to improve their reach and impact in addressing the attainment gap.

Paul Carberry is Action for Children’s Director in Scotland