This report presents findings from a pilot evaluation of Our Skills, a family literacy programme which aims to increase the educational attainment and life chances of children in Reception or Year 1 who have a social worker or who have had one in the last six years. Our Skills was adapted from Family Skills, a family literacy programme designed to support children in Reception for whom English is an additional language (EAL).
This project builds on a report WWCSC released in February 2020 which revisited 63 trials funded by the Education Endowment Foundation to determine what works in education for children who have had social workers. Family Skills was one of the ten interventions that the research identified as showing signs of potential for children’s social care (CSC) and which warranted further research.
The Evaluation of Family Skills found no effects on literacy progress for eligible children and modest impacts for children whose parents attended at least one session (Husain et al., 2018). An exploratory subgroup analysis indicated more positive impacts for CWSW (Sanders et al., 2020).
The delivery involved:
- Recruitment of schools with eligible CWSW, recruitment of tutors, and training of tutors (two 2.5 hour virtual workshops, ongoing support, and toolkit). Schools recruited eligible parents and carers, with the support of tutors.
- 10 weekly online sessions, each session involving parent/carer time and joint parent/carer and child time.
- The sessions included content on phonics, reading with children, home literacy practices, reading strategies, stories and storytelling, learning to read, learning through play, and how literacy is taught in primary schools.
- The our skills manual; a toolkit provided to parents and carers that is used throughout the sessions and for reference alongside extensive individual resources.
This pilot study aims to test the feasibility of Our Skills online to the intended population; including whether the content and approaches are acceptable and appropriate to parents/carers, whether it has evidence of promise, and whether it is ready for trial
Improving the engagement of parents/carers and home learning environments may improve the educational outcomes for children who are disadvantaged, including Children With a Social Worker (CWSW). The home learning environment is shown to have powerful effects on literacy and numeracy in early primary school for the general population and has been particularly pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Evidence of feasibility – Was it feasible to implement Our Skills as an online programme for the parents/carers of CWSW?
- Evidence of promise – What evidence is there that Our Skills can have a positive impact on family literacy environments and children’s attainment?
- Readiness for trial – What if any further work is required for Our Skills to be ready for trial?
Two implementation science frameworks were used in the study design. Proctor et al.’s conceptual model of implementation outcomes (2009, 2011) and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR), which synthesises information and evidence about determinants of implementation effectiveness (Damschroder et al., 2009).
Data was collected using observation of intervention sessions, parent/ carer surveys, interviews, focus groups and administrative data
- Take-up of Our Skills by schools and families was very low, with challenges from COVID-19, identifying eligible families, online delivery, and programme duration. The most effective strategies for recruiting schools used existing connections and for recruiting parents/carers involved direct contact.
- The programme was originally intended to be delivered face-to-face but delivered online as a result of Covid. It was largely delivered as intended. A significant number of courses did not deliver all 10 parent/carer and joint sessions, but there was good adherence to the intended content.
- Adherence to some intended teaching strategies was inhibited by delivering online, and school engagement was low. Adaptations were made to resources and approaches to conveying the content.
- Parents/carers interviewed were very positive about the programme and tutors. The programme was very well accepted by participating schools.
- There is clear evidence of promise for parents/carers who participated more fully and received the intended dosage. There was evidence of change in parent/carer confidence, enjoyment and understanding in relation to children’s reading, and in children’s enjoyment of reading.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Overall, Our Skills shows promise as a programme to support parents/carers of CWSW to support their children’s reading and learning. However the study raises a number of issues about its optimal form and delivery.
- Online delivery has some advantages and schools and delivery partner organisations envisage that some online learning will be part of the landscape of family literacy at least for the near-future. However the clear preference of parents/carers who had participated more fully in Our Skills online was that face-to-face delivery would have been better, and feedback from schools and tutors suggests that online delivery was a significant issue reducing take-up.
- An alternative approach would be to designate Our Skills as a universal targeted programme, aimed at parents/carers of children in Reception and Year 1 who would benefit from additional support for family literacy, with schools encouraged to target recruitment to families facing greatest disadvantage or obstacles to family literacy, including parents/carers of CWSW. Further testing of the programme would be needed with this wider population
- Schools appreciated the low burden that Our Skills placed on them. However, many did not engage in the programme as intended, and it may be that their involvement, both during and after the programme, is necessary for Our Skills to achieve the intended outcomes. In addition, creating and leveraging effective parent/carer-school partnerships in support of children’s learning requires change from schools as well as from parents and carers.