Neil Dawson - The Family School London

The Family School London is an Alternative Provision school which helps children presenting with complex emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties at school.

Engaging parents and carers

Research shows that if parents and carers are actively involved in their children’s learning at school, pupils are more likely to thrive – both in terms of academic performance and general wellbeing. However, when a child presents with worrying or challenging behaviour, relationships between school staff and parents can sometimes become strained.

In some circumstances, an approach from the school to parents regarding their child’s difficulties may not be received well. Parents may be experiencing difficulties in their own lives and might feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the request for help with their child in a constructive way. In this scenario, relationships between home and school can break down. Staff can become disheartened as they witness the pupil continuing to struggle, and parents and carers might express frustration that their child is failing, but that no one from the school understands or is willing to help.

The Anna Freud Centre (AFC) has pioneered two ground-breaking ways of helping staff, children and young people and families to overcome their difficulties at school. The Family School London is an Alternative Provision school which helps children presenting with complex emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties at school. Its vision is to create a learning context for all, with integrated mental health delivery provided by frontline staff throughout the school day. Parents and other significant family members are involved in The Family School at all times in relation to their child’s attendance and difficulties. The weekly Parent Learning Programme is attended by approximately 60% of the school’s parent population, and the remainder meet regularly in school at other times, around work or family commitments.

A crucial component of The Family School’s practice is to work with groups of parents together. This helps to reduce the sense of isolation, stigma and blame that is common following an exclusion. Once parents know that they are not alone and that others are experiencing similar difficulties they report a huge sense of relief and can make progress, with the support of their peers.

Staff at AFC have also developed the highly successful Multi-Family Groups in schools model, designed as a way of intervening early with pupils who are struggling to manage. School staff are trained in how to run a weekly group where parents are invited to join in a programme of help for their children. Parents become closer to the school and collaborate in thinking about practical ways of supporting each other and their children with emerging problems and difficulties. The groups operate in close conjunction with teachers across the school so that changes originating in the family group are transferred into the classroom. Staff have reported a greater sense of professional fulfilment by leading a programme that works with families who are experiencing difficulties. Changes can be dramatic, which benefits the individual child and their family, and which also has a positive impact on the wider school community. The AFC has produced an online training programme and training manual for how to set up and run family groups in schools.

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