Family Skills aims to improve the literacy and language skills of children learning English as an additional language (EAL). It focuses on supporting parents of Reception-aged children (aged 4-5) and consists of 11 weekly sessions for parents delivered at the child’s school by external family learning tutors. Sessions focus on topics including reading to children, phonics, and making the most of bilingualism.
Testing an established family learning programme targeted at EAL children in Reception
Language and literacy
The EEF, The Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy funded Family Skills to build knowledge about two important types of education intervention, family learning programmes and programmes specifically designed to support children with EAL. Family learning programmes are widely delivered, but there have been few high quality evaluations to date that assess whether this type of approach can improve pupil outcomes. Similarly, there is limited evidence on the best ways of supporting children with EAL.
This trial found that overall children of parents who were offered the Family Skills intervention did not make any more progress in literacy than children of parents who were not offered it. This finding has high security.
Around two thirds of eligible parents did not attend Family Skills sessions. Exploratory analysis suggests that the children of parents who did attend at least one session made around one additional month’s progress in literacy compared with children in control schools. The evaluators stress that this exploratory result should be treated with caution.
Schools need to allow plenty of time to recruit parents before the programme starts, which was a challenge in this project due to the constrained timeframe of the trial. The vast majority of schools receiving Family Skills said that they would recommend it to other schools, highlighting that it provided a good opportunity to build home-school links and engage parents in their children’s learning.
EAL children in Family Skills schools did not make additional progress in literacy compared to EAL children in control schools when assessed at the end of Reception. This result assesses the opportunity for parents to attend Family Skills, rather than the impact for those who attended. This finding has high security.
Exploratory analysis suggests that EAL children whose parents did attend at least one Family Skills session made around one month’s additional progress in literacy compared to EAL children in control schools at the end of Reception. However, the evaluator believes that this exploratory finding should be treated with caution.
The vast majority of schools receiving Family Skills said that they would recommend it to other schools, highlighting that it provided a good opportunity to build home–school links and engage parents in their children’s learning.
On average, eight families attended per school, which represents around one third of those who had the opportunity. The level of take-up was lower than expected and may have been due to the limited time available for parent recruitment in this trial.
To ensure higher levels of attendance, schools would benefit from more time to engage parents before the programme begins; tutors recommended five weeks for engagement. Face-to-face activities, with ongoing reminders, were reported to be most effective for recruiting and retaining parents to the programme.
Full project description
Family Skills aims to improve the literacy and language of children learning English as an additional language (EAL). It focuses on supporting parents (or caregivers) of Reception-aged children (aged 4–5) and consists of 11 core weekly sessions for parents, each 2.5 hours in length, delivered at the child’s school by external family learning tutors. Core sessions focus on topics such as reading to children, phonics, making the most of bilingualism, learning through play, and understanding primary education in England. Additional sessions include a visit to a local library and a tour of the school. Children attend for part of the sessions, and parents are encouraged to do follow-up activities at home. In this trial, the programme was open on a voluntary basis to all parents of Reception children with EAL in the Family Skills schools.
One hundred and fifteen primary schools participated in this efficacy trial from September 2016 until July 2017. The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial, comparing the opportunity to attend Family Skills sessions to ‘business as usual’ in control schools. The headline finding, therefore, estimates the average impact of the intervention across all eligible children rather than the average for the children whose parents actually attended. Attainment was measured using a literacy test at the end of the Reception year. 1,985 pupils in 102 schools were included in the final analysis. Surveys and interviews were conducted to explore other aspects of the intervention, such as challenges to implementation and control group activity, as well as to get feedback from participants. The programme was developed and delivered by Learning Unlimited working in partnership with Campaign for Learning and UCL Institute for Education. The project was funded by the EEF, The Bell Foundation, and Unbound Philanthropy.