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National Parent Forum of Scotland

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19270, in the name of Jenny Gilruth, on the National Parent Forum of Scotland’s 10th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the National Parent Forum of Scotland, which is marking its 10th anniversary; acknowledges the valuable contribution that the forum provides to support parents in Glenrothes and across the country to get involved in their child’s education; commends the partnership between national and local government, along with other stakeholders involved in education and child wellbeing issues, which aims to ensure that parents play a full and equal role in education, with the aim to help all children maximise their full potential through school life, and wishes the forum continued success.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

Many people in the Parliament think that Jenny Gilruth and I are the same person anyway, so I do not think it would have mattered who opened the debate. However, it is only right that I explain that, although this is Jenny Gilruth’s debate, I am opening it on her behalf following her very deserved promotion to a junior minister role. I wish her all the best, and I hope that I can do the debate justice in her stead.

I thank everyone who signed Jenny Gilruth’s motion and those who have remained in the chamber to speak in this evening’s debate.

The National Parent Forum of Scotland—the NPFS—is a group that is fully comprised of volunteers who are

“the independent voice of parents in Scotland, represented and effective.”

The forum has a membership that is made up of volunteer parent representatives from each of the local education authority areas in Scotland, and it is led by parent volunteers who are elected from the network of representatives. It supports parental involvement in education by providing a parental perspective at the national and local levels, and it supports parents to play an active role in their children’s education.

The forum works in partnership with national and local government and other organisations that are involved in education and child wellbeing issues to ensure that parents play a full and equal role in education. The overall aim is to help every child to maximise their potential through their school life.

The purpose of this debate and the motion is to mark the 10th birthday of the NPFS. The 10th anniversary year has been very busy. The highlights include a parliamentary reception in June to celebrate the beginning of the anniversary year; a question-and-answer session with the Deputy First Minister in Perth in October, at which parents could directly ask him questions about education; and the launch of several titles in the NPFS’s “In a Nutshell” series, such as “Senior Phase in a Nutshell”, “Wider Achievement in a Nutshell” and “CfE in a Nutshell”. There were also six focus groups in January this year, at which parents across Scotland contributed to a report to feed into Angela Morgan’s independent additional support for learning review.

Those are just some of the NPFS’s achievements over the past year, but it is worth reflecting on some of the key features that have developed across the education landscape over the past 10 to 15 years. It is important to note, too, that much of the positive practice has been developed from the bottom up by headteachers, teachers and families.

First, the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 set up parent councils. It also created the concept of the parent forum and placed legal duties on the provision of information to all parents.

Secondly, there is the parental engagement driver in the national improvement framework. The NIF has included a specific driver on parental engagement since its inception, in 2016, which has helped to drive several national improvement activities and has reinforced the role of parental involvement and engagement in the practice and approach of schools.

Finally, the Scottish attainment challenge and pupil equity funding has helped to encourage and support a strong focus on relationship-based practice and family and community engagement.

There has been a lot of good work in the past decade, a lot of which the NPFS has been integral to.

Moving on to what it is achieving now, I must mention “‘Learning together’: Scotland’s national action plan on parental involvement, parental engagement, family learning and learning at home 2018-2021”. That plan, which was published in 2018, provides a national-level policy plan for parental involvement, parental engagement and family learning. It was a joint collaboration between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government, and it contains 52 actions across five key themes. The NPFS is tasked with monitoring the progress of the plan.

I will not list all 52 actions, but the plan says:

“The guiding vision is that every parent and family should be supported to be involved and engaged in their child’s education throughout their learning journey.”

The plan’s aims are to

“ensure that parents are supported to be fully involved in the life and work of their children’s early learning and childcare setting or school; ... encourage and support collaborative partnerships between practitioners, parents and families; ... get the right support in place so that parents can engage in their child’s learning; ... expand access to family learning opportunities which meet participants needs; ... improve the quality of all communication between practitioners, staff, parents and families, and; ... improve the skills of leaders, front-line practitioners and support staff.”

The plan has already seen results. It has helped to strengthen statutory guidance on the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006, and a parental involvement and engagement census was launched last year. It also includes a local authority implementation statement, which has been an important point of reference in the development of local authorities’ own parental involvement and engagement strategies.

In looking at what the NPFS hopes to achieve over the next decade, the empowerment system will be a key area of policy focus. That system seeks to ensure that parents, children, teachers and all those who are involved in children’s education are valued for the different parts that they play. As well as giving recognition to those groups, the system seeks to guarantee that parents and carers have the resources that they need to assist them in engaging with children’s learning and that they are recognised as the primary educators of their children.

In essence, the system tells parents and carers that, when it comes to their children’s education, they matter to their children and to schools and that they should be included in any decision making that will affect their children.

I congratulate the NPFS on 10 years of hard work, and I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on bringing the debate to Parliament today. Looking forward to the next 10 years, I am sure that the NPFS will be vital in the decade ahead.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Jenny Gilruth on securing the debate and on her promotion to her ministerial portfolio. I also congratulate my colleague from the Education and Skills Committee, Gail Ross, for stepping in so brilliantly to lay out the chamber’s approach to the debate this evening.

This is my seventh year as an elected politician, so I have not been in this Parliament for as long as the National Parent Forum of Scotland has existed. However, I previously served on the Education and Culture Committee, and, in this parliamentary session, I convene the Education and Skills Committee, so I know how much the National Parent Forum of Scotland has contributed to the policy making, decisions and inquiries that take place in this Parliament as well as about the fantastic work that it has done to make sure that families, parents and carers are represented whenever we consider the education system in Scotland.

I thank Joanna Murphy, the chair, and all the volunteers, who do an amazing amount of work to support parents and carers across Scotland and to help people to understand our curriculum. Because of the way that Scotland works, it is almost a unique relationship. The forum has been able to engage with education authorities across Scotland and work in partnership with national Government. The forum communicates across all levels of the child’s experience and focuses on ensuring that we achieve the best outcomes for our young people and students in Scotland.

I often turn to the impressive “In a Nutshell” snippet publications, which are available on the forum’s website free of charge to parents and carers. In a way that is—in a nutshell—accessible and free from jargon, they cover myriad areas of information about our curriculum, the experience in Scottish schools and everything that people can expect from the education system. They are such a good resource for Scotland. On just one page from the website, I see “Learner Journey in a Nutshell”, “Empowering Parents and Carers”, “Senior Phase in a Nutshell”, “Wider Achievement in a Nutshell” and “CfE in a Nutshell”. That is all vital information to help people’s relationship with and understanding of the new curriculum.

One “In a Nutshell” publication, “Transitions for Armed Forces Families”, highlights why it is so important that the relationship exists. I would not naturally have considered or realised that such transitions were a problem. However, because our curriculum is focused on each school, for families that have to move around, through work or involvement in the armed forces, that approach can make it difficult to slot into a new experience in a new school. The document lays out all the questions that parents and carers should and can ask when they make the decision about what is best for the children that they look after. Although that is a niche problem, the parent forum—as it does with everything—has turned it into an opportunity to provide information, advice and support for people. Because it knows the parents and it has that engagement, the forum raises such issues, which we might not have considered but which families across Scotland face.

I thank the NPFS for its 10 years of hard work and engagement in that area, and I look forward to working with the forum in the future.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank Jenny Gilruth for securing the debate. I am very sad that she is not able to participate in it—I can see her sitting there wanting to get stuck in—but Gail Ross has done a marvellous job of stepping in. For the record, I never get mistaken for Jenny Gilruth, much to her benefit.

This is the first time that I have spoken in the chamber since I was given my new role as education spokesman, and what better way to start my journey. We are talking about a very important issue. I did not have a huge amount of time to prepare for the debate, but I used the little time that I had to look into the work of the National Parent Forum.

For most children, their parents are their first teachers. Even when children begin schooling, parents still have a hugely important role to play in a child’s learning. Research suggests that parental engagement is directly related to a child’s educational outcomes in their respective institutions. When parents are engaged in their child’s school life, students will get the home support and knowledge that they need not only to finish work and assignments in the class but to develop a home-based and lifelong love of learning.

The timing of the debate is interesting. Any of us who are engaged on social media will know that this week has been active, with parents feeding back on various goings-on in our schools in Scotland. That reminds us as politicians that parents’ views are important in such debates, whatever side of the arguments we are on. Now is not the time or place to get involved in those specific arguments, but I stress the importance of listening to parents, which is paramount.

Since its inception in 2010, the NPFS has made huge strides to help parents to engage with and understand educational processes by hosting information days and conferences and by keeping parents up to date through online channels. It supports and encourages parents to play an active part in their child’s education. I have looked at the NPFS’s “In a Nutshell” series, which is on its website. The series is available for any parent to access and offers excellent advice.

There are challenges for parents, such as the on-going changes to childcare funding, navigation of the educational process, those relating to applications and skills, and changes to the curriculum. Given that the education system has changed so much since I was at school, it is important that we have organisations such as the NPFS that help parents to understand the structures and to navigate their journey, so that they feel that they can play a full and active part in their child’s education. Clare Adamson gave a good example, and I will give a similar one. At a recent visit to RAF Lossiemouth, I met a group of parents who had specific needs and requirements, given the nature of how their children are taught and how they learn. That dialogue between the local authorities, the Scottish Government and those parents is key, and I believe that the NPFS plays a vital role in facilitating it, much to the benefit of parents in specific circumstances.

However, parents should not only help their children to progress on their educational journeys, but play a key role in informing them, which is why the NPFS should be the independent voice of parents in Scotland. It is clear that its stakeholder outreach allows it to do that. That work involves holding focus groups the length and breadth of the country, supporting local parent councils and having local representatives in almost every council area in Scotland. It is important that the NPFS is a mouthpiece for parents and helps to bring families into the conversation about their children’s future.

I appreciate that time is of the essence this evening. I apologise to the number of members of the public who got in touch with me quite late in the day to raise specific issues. I say to them, if they are watching, that I will be in touch, but I want to paint an overall picture.

In the past decade, we have made significant strides in ensuring that parents have a say in their child’s education. We need to work together to maximise the opportunities. To that end, in my new role, I look forward to working with the education secretary, his ministers and his civil servants, and with any member who will work collaboratively to ensure that parents play a key role in the education that their children receive.

Presiding Officer, thank you for allowing me to participate in the debate. I wish Jenny Gilruth the very best in her new role. I look forward to joining the Education and Skills Committee and to working with my colleagues in the chamber.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I do not want to find myself on the list that I believe exists of those who mix up Gail Ross and Jenny Gilruth, so I congratulate them both: Gail Ross on stepping up to the plate in this debate and Jenny Gilruth on stepping up to the ministerial plate and on having lodged the motion.

The National Parent Forum of Scotland regularly engages with the Education and Skills Committee and, as the convener indicated, committee members who are in the chamber will be familiar with the excellent work that it does. I am pleased to participate in the debate and to take the opportunity to celebrate the real progress that has been made in parental involvement and engagement since the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 and the establishment of the NPFS in 2009.

The need to engage and involve parents to a greater extent in our education system has long been acknowledged by successive Governments and education secretaries and the NPFS has certainly been instrumental in driving that engagement forward over the past decade.

If we look back to 2005, the then Scottish Executive conducted a survey that found that 70 per cent of parents said that they had never volunteered to help at their children’s school despite around half indicating that they would be willing to become more involved. The survey also highlighted the particular challenges in engaging parents from a disadvantaged or minority ethnic background, which were the most underrepresented groups when it came to involvement.

Since the establishment of the NPFS, the situation has substantially improved. Results from the more recent parental involvement and engagement national census that was conducted in the summer last year found that 67 per cent of primary school parents and 48 per cent of secondary school parents were satisfied with how their school engages with them. Over half of parents at both levels said that they would like to be more involved in school life than they currently are. We can see that improvements have been made, but there is undoubtedly some distance still to go.

While I was looking up the details of my local NPFS representation, I noticed that there is a vacancy in my constituency of East Lothian, so I intend to use the debate to encourage a local representative to come forward and to get involved with the forum’s essential work. That work, in partnership with national and local government and other organisations involved in education and child wellbeing, has helped to increase the role that parents play in education and the forum has used its platform to identify key issues in education and to provide parental representation and engagement whenever necessary.

The aim of the forum is, of course, to help every child to maximise their potential throughout their school life and, as other members have said, the NPFS has produced some excellent resources for parents, including its “Empowering Parents and Carers in a Nutshell” guide. As the guide puts it, empowered parents are an

“equal piece in the jigsaw” alongside teachers, support staff, learners, local and national Government and associated education partners, all of which, by working together on a level footing, can improve children and young people’s outcomes.

As Gail Ross indicated, parental engagement is recognised in the national improvement framework as one of seven key drivers in achieving excellence and equity. The Scottish Government has certainly recognised, to its credit, that the engagement of parents and families can help to raise attainment for all and help to ensure that every child has an equal chance of success.

In particular, we know that parental engagement is a key component of narrowing the attainment gap so, if we are serious about that, we should ensure that parents, teachers and others work together, as that can and will help to improve outcomes for children and young people.

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, and I wish the NPFS continued success in its next decade.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank Gail Ross for introducing this members’ business debate on behalf of my colleague Jenny Gilruth, who, as the Minister for Europe and International Development, was unable to do so. I take this opportunity to congratulate Jenny Gilruth on her appointment. Having lodged the motion and then secured promotion, she has done the decent thing and sat beside me throughout the debate. I also congratulate Gail Ross, who stepped into the breach and, as always, magnificently introduced the debate.

During my tenure as education secretary, I have had a great deal to do with the National Parent Forum of Scotland, and I hope that the organisation knows the degree of significance that I attach to its contribution and its input to the debate that we have on all matters relating to education.

In June last year, I was delighted to accept an invitation to speak at a parliamentary reception to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the National Parent Forum. The impact that the forum has had on policy and practice, on our schools and on the wider landscape of education cannot be overstated. Representatives of the forum give up their time, often on top of work and other commitments, to ensure that the voice of parents is heard at a national level.

I have engaged with National Parent Forum representatives from around the country at various events on Saturdays, when people are free from their other obligations, to consider issues relating to the education of young people. I attended one event on a Saturday in the council chamber in Inverness, which I have just remembered is where Gail Ross was formerly a member. On that occasion, I travelled from my home in Perthshire, which took me about two hours, but the gathering was attended by representatives of schools from across the Highlands, most of whom had taken longer to get to Inverness for that discussion of education issues than I had taken to drive from Perthshire.

I use that to illustrate the fact that members of the National Parent Forum are active in their localities and are representative voices for a range of individuals who are involved in the work of our schools. The forum members can articulate those messages to the Government at national level. The passion and dedication with which those individuals serve is one of the best examples that I have seen of community and citizen empowerment. I thank each and every one of them for ensuring that the voice of parents is not just heard but acted on.

Before I mention some of the achievements of the National Parent Forum, I want to thank the forum members who have joined us in the public gallery and those whom they represent. In particular, I thank Joanna Murphy, who is the chair and who will be standing down at the forum’s annual general meeting in June. Joanna Murphy has been involved in parental representation in education for many years, since she first joined her children’s school board in 1999. Since 2015, she has given energy and drive to the National Parent Forum. I thank her warmly for the enormous contribution that she has made to the formulation of policy on education in general and on parental involvement in particular. I also record my thanks to Iain Ellis, who was the chair of the National Parent Forum when I became the education secretary in 2016.

The important work of the National Parent Forum is about ensuring that the voice of parents is heard in an influential way in the formulation of policy. Over the past few years, the forum has taken part in more than 50 national policy groups, including—to mention just a few—the Scottish education council; the education leaders forum; the school empowerment steering group; the initial curriculum for excellence management board and, more recently, the curriculum and assessment board; the developing the young workforce national advisory group; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive education implementation group; the Doran national strategic commissioning review group; and the Dyslexia Scotland council.

The forum has also shaped policy by undertaking a review on behalf of the Scottish Government of the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006, which led to a series of recommendations that are now being taken forward in the Government’s three-year national action plan, “Learning together”.

Those examples illustrate the influence on the Government of the work of the National Parent Forum over a number of years. I warmly welcome the involvement of the forum.

The forum’s involvement is used to shape policy, but it also reinforces a fundamental issue that I signal tonight, which is the warm welcome that our education system expresses for the involvement of parents in their children’s learning. It is a fundamental requirement of the education of children and young people that their parents are fully and actively engaged in their learning.

In that respect, we are in a much stronger place now than in the past. I recently talked to a long-standing teacher who told me that, when they arrived at their first teaching post about 40 years ago, there was a sign just beyond the school reception that said, in very bold letters, “Parents: no further”. We have moved a great deal from that position to a point at which

“there are high levels of trust and positive relationships between schools, parents and partners”,

as Education Scotland said in the thematic review that it published in June 2019.

I signal the Government’s enthusiasm for supporting the process of parental engagement to ensure that, for every step of the educational journey of children and young people, the voices of parents not only have an influence at an individual child level but, through the forum that collectively represents those voices, shape the direction of policy as we go forward. Members from across the political spectrum have welcomed the involvement of the National Parent Forum and remarked on the strong emphasis that we place in the national improvement framework on the role of parents in supporting the development of education. I reinforce those sentiments and commit the Government to working positively and constructively with the National Parent Forum to ensure that the role of parents is entrenched in the way in which we take forward the education system in Scotland.

I thank Gail Ross for opening the debate so powerfully with the material that she contributed, and I thank members of all shades of opinion for their contributions to the debate. I reaffirm the determination of the Government to work closely with the National Parent Forum of Scotland to ensure that the voices of parents are heard loud and clear, and to shape Scottish education accordingly.

Meeting closed at 18:07.