During the pandemic, I wanted to make sure our schools adopted a “whole family approach”, which meant identifying families who need and are best supported through regular contact with the school.
This led to many families being telephoned for weekly check-ins to see how home learning is going, how they were managing the challenges of lockdown, and how their entire family was coping both mentally and physically. We found that there were in fact numerous families where daily phone calls were required throughout lockdown periods.
We knew that one of the best ways we could supplement this support was through our regular Parent Workshops. This is a project that had already been running previously in partnership with ACL (Adult Community Learning). We knew that it was imperative that these sessions continued and were effectively adapted to suit remote learning during lockdown.
The weekly workshops include a variety of topics to not only help the attendees to support their own children’s learning, but also to support the wellbeing of the family overall. The topics include English for EAL families, study skills, story sacks, wellbeing practice and much more.
The workshops have been a key part of our wider strategy of whole school wellbeing. We currently have an on-site psychotherapy team, alongside a play therapist, learning mentors and free in-house psychotherapy and counselling for our staff. We recognise the importance of mental health and to have a mentally healthy school we knew we needed to be supporting both our staff and pupils in schools to help them have the emotional literacy and tools to cope in hard times.
While this support is provided in school during term time, we knew we needed to keep finding ways to ensure that the mental health of our parents and carers was also being supported. For example, we are looking to further our pastoral provision in the future by offering whole family therapy sessions. However, in the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, the workshops were an invaluable tool for us to get much needed engagement with families who may have fallen off the radar.
Typically, these weekly workshops are hosted within the school, giving parents the opportunity to form friendships and connections with other likeminded families. Our Pastoral Manager and one of our Parent Governors worked tirelessly to ensure that parents and carers still had access to the resources, support, and guidance that the workshops provide. They even went as far as to deliver the resources weekly to parent’s homes so that these interactive workshops had maximum impact.
The beauty of these workshops is that we have been able to tailor them to our school community and Adult Community Learning have provided us with a bespoke service. This may include helping adults to gain qualifications for employment they may have missed at school, or give parents and carers ideas for healthy and productive ways for families to spend time together.
The feedback has not only been around how engaging and interesting the sessions are, but also how the workshops make the families feel cared for, especially during this dark period.
We knew it was crucial that we kept communication open between us and our hard-to-reach families during the pandemic. We feared without those face-to-face interactions you have at the school gate, we might possibly lose valuable opportunities to find out how our vulnerable families were really doing.
By offering workshop spaces to parents and carers who really need them, we have nurtured a trusting relationship with the vulnerable families within our community. They have acquired new skills to better manage the parenting challenges they face, but they also know that we are a school community that they can reach out to for help. By making it clear that we are agents of wellbeing support, they know that by coming to us they will be able to find solutions, or that we will direct them to agencies that can provide support that may end up being transformational.
Gina Bailey, headteacher of both St James’ Church of England Primary School and William Martin Church of England Schools, based in Harlow, Essex.