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What is family learning?

John Beattie John Beattie Deputy Director for Families at Campaign for Learning

The following article was recently featured on FE News.

With already more than 400 members signed up, working with over 60,000 families across the UK, the National Centre for Family Learning has already shown its importance to this too often overlooked sector. We sat down with John Beattie, Deputy Director for Families at Campaign for Learning, to better understand why it's needed and what the ambitions are for the future.  

What is family learning? 

When we talk about family learning, we’re referring to any learning that includes a child or young person and another generation of their family. Sometimes called ‘intergenerational learning’, it can be formal or informal - from certified long-term courses to short family fun activities and everything in between 

It’s important to recognise that families can learn together anywhere. Family learning opportunities are delivered by many different types of organisations, providers, and professionals in the community and online, such as libraries, museums, and charities, and can be extremely diverse.  

Family learning has benefits for both adults and children. Activities can focus on supporting adults with parenting skills, developing understanding of their children’s learning needs, and improving their own skills to support their child’s development. They could also simply focus on children and adults learning a new skill together. 

Is family learning funded and who does it impact?  

Some family learning provision is funded through the Adult Education Budget (AEB). It supports parents to engage in their children’s education and development from early years through to Further Education and, crucially, it often provides a vital first step back into learning for adults, especially for those who are economically inactive and who may be far from the labour market. 

Family learning has significant impacts for children, adults, and the wider community. It can help families to tackle disadvantage and improve their life chances. Taking part in active learning as a family develops confident, lifelong learners who are likely to be happier, healthier, longer-living, and wealthier. 

What are the main benefits or outcomes?  

Family learning plays an important part in helping children to develop essential and life skills and achieve more at school. It’s been proven that families learning together can lead to improvements in children's behaviour, attainment, and wellbeing.  

Children whose parents support their learning through the home learning environment do better at school and in later life. Parental engagement can increase school readiness, improve education outcomes for children, support with education catch-up, and, crucially, help to address attainment gaps and boost social mobility. 

For many parents, helping their children is a powerful motivator to get involved in learning. Family learning is therefore not only a driver of positive outcomes for children, but also for adults. And like adult education, there are multiple and wide-ranging outcomes too.  

From building parents’ own confidence in learning and widening aspirations for them and their children, to supporting better health and wellbeing and better finances, to developing new skills and progressing into Further Education. For example, our family finance programme for parents with English as an Additional Language resulted in 98% of parents changing how they dealt with money, and 91% of their children said it helped them too. 

For adults who lack confidence and motivation to sign up directly for college courses, family learning programmes act as a positive bridge into mainstream Further Education. The experience of running family learning outreach programmes for a college demonstrates this: 24 parents in one school alone completed teaching assistant qualifications as a direct result of taking family learning courses. 

What are the biggest barriers to family learning for families and practitioners? 

Through our 2022 consultation, family learning practitioners told us the biggest barrier they face to delivering high quality programmes is engaging families. This is because families face a range of barriers themselves, such as confidence, negative experiences of education, financial barriers, and time.  

Parents often don’t realise how important they are in supporting children’s learning and development and can sometimes have a negative perception of learning and education – particularly if they’ve had adverse experiences themselves, aren’t able to support their children with schoolwork, or have a poor relationship with their children’s school.  

There are some clear financial barriers as well at the moment – such as the cost of living crisis – but families were struggling long before this and facing challenges that have only been exacerbated by the current situation, such as a lack of affordable transport and childcare availability.  

The second biggest barrier practitioners face is access to resource, particularly in relation to capacity, budgets, and funding to develop and delivery family learning activities. 

What is the new National Centre for Family Learning? 

The National Centre for Family Learning is a free association for professionals working with families in any learning context supporting the development of children, young people and families.  

This centre has been created by the social inclusion and lifelong learning initiative Campaign for Learning after listening to what family practitioners need – high-quality free resources, free events, and networking opportunities. 

All professionals working with parents and children, including teachers, tutors, health professionals, librarians and arts professionals, can join the Centre. They can access news, resources, training opportunities and networking events to grow their practice and impact. 

Why is it needed and what do you hope to achieve? 

There’s a growing recognition that family learning has an important role to play in achieving a wide range of positive outcomes, from educational improvements and better health outcomes and wellbeing, to supporting skills development and people back into work.   

In Campaign for Learning’s latest discussion paper, ‘Bringing it All Back Home’, Sam Freedman, senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former senior policy adviser at the Department for Education (DfE), recommended that the DfE should develop a single Children and Families Strategy that brings together policy on children’s social care, SEND, mental health, parental engagement, and family learning.  

That National Centre for Family Learning provides the infrastructure support so these outcomes can be achieved through action on the ground. 

In what ways can people get involved?  

It’s free to become a member so I would encourage practitioners to sign up today. There are free resources to inspire their family learning activities and programmes, as well as best practice examples, case studies, and the latest thinking about family learning.  

There are also training and professional development opportunities to enhance skills and network with fellow professionals, and later this year we’ll be launching a community aspect so like-minded practitioners can connect with each other and share ideas.  

I’d also encourage practitioners to follow our social accounts as well so they don’t miss out on opportunities - @FamilyLearning_ on Twitter and National Centre for Family Learning on LinkedIn – and of course to visit our website for more information.

Family learning plays an important part in helping children to develop essential and life skills and achieve more at school. It’s been proven that families learning together can lead to improvements in children's behaviour, attainment, and wellbeing. 

John Beattie, Deputy Director for Families at Campaign for Learning
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