Family Skills focuses on parental engagement to help improve the literacy and language skills of reception class pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL). The intervention consists of 11 weekly sessions delivered at the child's school by external family learning tutors. The sessions are 2.5 hours each and focus on topics including 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.
Parents are expected to attend without their children for the majority of the session, with 30-45 minutes dedicated to parents and children learning together. Parents are encouraged to do follow-up activities at home and discuss their experience of these activities during sessions.
The aim is that parents who attend Family Skills sessions will acquire strategies, confidence and knowledge that will enhance the home literacy environment, thereby supporting their children at home in meaningful ways and ultimately improving their children's literacy.
The intervention 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. Family Skills is based on a family literacy model originally funded by the Skills Funding Agency.
Consultancy, training and support is available through Learning Unlimited.
The Education Endowment Foundation ran a project in 2017 investigating the effectiveness of Family Skills. EAL children in Family Skills schools did not make significant additional progress in literacy compared to EAL children in control schools when assessed at the end of Reception. However, the evaluation also suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not.
Around two thirds of eligible parents did not attend Family Skills sessions. 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.
Following the intervention parents described feeling more confident in speaking English and in their ability to support their child's learning. There was also an increase in parental engagement with schools and understanding of teaching approaches. Schools involved also reported an increased awareness of the role of a supportive home learning environment.
The majority of schools involved in the evaluation said 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.
The Education Endowment Foundation evaluation suggests that children whose parents actually attended Family Skills sessions made greater progress in literacy than children whose parents did not. While the evaluators are cautious about this, it may indicate some potential if ways can be found to ensure more parents attend. The key challenge the evaluation highlighted is that some schools struggle to get parents to show up.