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Fair Isle Primary School’s Opportunities for All

Fair Isle Primary School’s Opportunities for All project is a school-based initiative which delivers a range of complementary activities to ensure that families have the opportunity to play, learn and work together. Going beyond statutory educational obligations, and employing staff to work directly with families, the project focuses on encouraging positive family interactions and raising the aspirations of young people and adults.

Fair Isle

What are the aims and objectives?

The project aims to raise the self esteem of both parents and children and provide them with the skills to make positive changes in life. 

The Opportunities for All project is working towards achieving a number of outcomes – the things that the project is helping to make happen in the school and community environments:

  • Parents and carers, including lone parents, step families, fathers and grandparents, will have improved parental skills to meet the challenge of parenting in the 21st century.
  • Parents and children will demonstrate an improvement in their aspirational aims through greater self esteem, life skills and development of a ‘can do’ attitude.
  • Families will report improvements in family life through a greater interaction between the generations.
  • Children and parents will be re-engaged within the family and wider community, developing awareness of different life options and choices thus taking responsibility for their own actions. 

The project adopts a holistic approach in linking education, family life and community through activities based in the school for both children and parents. 

Why was the project set up? Has the approach changed over time?

The need for the project was identified by the school head teacher following an increase in the number of families requiring support through times of crisis. It was recognised that social services intervene in crisis situations by which time irreparable damage may have been done to the family structure. Local charities providing family support were also overwhelmed by the demand for their services. Teachers tried to assist families where possible, but were hampered due to a lack of time, scope of responsibility and restrictive legislation. Unmet demand for practical and emotional support for families in difficulty in the local area was evident.

“The school is at the heart of the community.”

In response to a large number of children displaying challenging behaviours, and following an audit of desired parental support, new facilities and resources available in the school allowed the school to do “something for the community’’. The school was able to put in place a range of activities to allow families to play and learn together.

A successful pilot project was run in January 2007 based on the ‘Philosophy for Children’ programme, where the initial focus of the project was topic based work such as healthy eating activities, arts and crafts and physical activity. The project was subsequently funded by the BIG Lottery in June 2007, a dedicated Family Worker employed and the project officially launched in December 2007.

The project has developed significantly since its establishment and continues to evolve in response to the expressed wishes and interests of participants and the comments and feedback received in project evaluations.

Who are the participants and the partners?

Fair Isle Primary School is situated in the Templehall area of Kirkcaldy, one of Scotland’s most deprived areas which has high rates of unemployment, single parent households and substance abuse. Working for the pupils who attend Fair Isle Primary School and their families, the project aims to reach over 395 beneficiaries over a five year period (2009 to 2014).

The project is managed by a committee comprising the head teacher of the school, the principal teacher, the depute head teacher and community representatives. The management group is supported by a number of sub-groups which include the children, parents and wider family members.

What does the project do?

The project aims to provide parents and children with a new set of expectations, aspirations and values. Set within the school environment, the project adopts a pro-active parenting approach, aimed at supporting parents to acknowledge the impact their behaviour has on their children and providing the tools and resources to parents to make better informed choices. All interventions and activities are additional to the statutory obligations undertaken by the departments of Education and Social Work.

“We’ve built the project on the knowledge and interests of local people."

The activities provided are fun for parents and children to participate in together. The range of joint activities include dance and Zumba classes, dad ‘n’ lads football, cookery classes, drama and music workshops, arts and crafts classes and science club. These events enable families to spend time together and to give people of all ages different perspectives. There is a minimal monetary fee for attendance and a group of volunteers help run and deliver these activities. Currently, 84% of the school community are engaged with the project.

A range of activities are also available for parents and extended family members during the school day. These include positive parenting classes, stress and anxiety classes, relaxation and complimentary therapies, arts and crafts, keep fit and adult education classes. These classes strive to build supportive and effective relationships with parents and between the parents themselves through peer support and mutual learning. They are also aimed at improving mental health, supporting the building of new skills which may improve routes into employment, reducing isolation and improving physical health.

The work of the project is underpinned by the employment of an experienced family worker and an educational consultant (an experienced social worker) to provide on-going support to children and their families. Both the family worker and the educational consultant provide support to children and families through tailored one-to-one, parent and child(ren) and whole family unit sessions, in both the school setting and at home. This approach provides a clear link between home and school life. In addition, the family worker offers a number drop-in surgeries each week for immediate support and advice. The support provided places a focus on early intervention and is dependent on the specific issues affecting each family which may include addictions, housing issues, unemployment, debt, relationship issues and parenting skills. Thirty five per cent of parents of children attending the school, have accessed direct family support this year (2010-2011). The family worker and the educational consultant link in and refer to other agencies as appropriate and work to provide a holistic network of support for parents and children.

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

The project works to improve parenting skills and family interactions, and to generate opportunities for families to spend time together raising the confidence, aspirations and self belief of both parents and children.

Through the work of the project and relationships and links established by the family worker parents and children are supported to make changes for the better by enhancing their skills for resilience, relationships, and self esteem, and to build supportive networks and friendships which help them make sense of their environments and take control of their lives.

“We start with the good things they do already rather than focusing on the problems. It’s about acknowledging the positive aspects of the family.”

The family worker supports families to identify the strengths and resources within themselves and to recognise the positive aspects of their families rather than simply focusing on the problems they face. Many adults have moved into volunteering opportunities within the wider school community and with local workplaces and voluntary agencies after engagement with and support from the project.

Parenting skills and family relationships are improved through experience, participation and exposure to a diverse range of activities and interventions, all of which are led by the areas of interest and wishes of participants. The approach is responsive and adaptable to the feedback of the children and parents. Parents have become more aware and recognise the importance of health and wellbeing for themselves and their children and the impact this has on performance at school and educational attainment. Many families are now learning how to have fun together and the project reports improved family relationships and connections alongside reduced personal and community isolation.

How has success been measured?

Internal monitoring and evaluation of the project is carried out using questionnaires and focus group sessions with children, parents and wider family members to ensure that the project regularly reviews and monitors its work and responds with ongoing adjustments as required.

“…taking steps to make life better from themselves and their children.

Positive feedback has also been received from a wide range of educational partners and regulatory bodies including the HMIE Good Practice visit feedback, Fife Council review and the HMIE Inspection 2010. The HMIE Good Practice visit, which focused on the school’s activities in relation to health and wellbeing, reported that Fair Isle Primary School’s practice was considered to be ‘excellent’ and, in some areas sectors, ‘leading’. The Fife Council Review on Learning and Teaching praised the school for strong partnership working and involving parents and carers in school life. The HMIE inspection visit carried out in 2010 acknowledged the link between the work of the project and positive impacts on health and wellbeing.

The project is currently undergoing an external evaluation of its activities, engagement, outputs and impacts of the project on children, parents and the wider community. 

What are the strengths and challenges? 

The project places the school at the heart of the community. It provides a non-threatening environment for families to spend time together while participating in a diverse range of fun activities, over and above those required by educational obligations.  It further encourages positive family interactions, positive parenting and the development of new skills, interests and opportunities for both children and adults.

“Spend and support now to save later."

The project is able to support parents by providing early intervention and short term support, before making the links with appropriate agencies for families and individuals who require longer term support. The school and the project have been able to reach a number of families whom ‘”it could have been worse for” had they not benefited from the support of the family worker and wider school community.

The responsive nature of the project, effective partnership working and information sharing across sectors has allowed the project to be a local success and gain recognition of its innovative and creative ways of working in an educational setting. The local school, community, statutory agencies, and families have been able to work together to address a local need. The family worker has become a trusted member of the school community and ensures that families have rapid access to support where needed. Furthermore, the family worker has built up effective links and relationships with children and families across the school which has become pivotal in maintaining the child and family centred ethos of the project.

On the other hand, funding was identified as an ongoing challenge for the project. The nature of short term funding placed a high degree of uncertainty on the project in being able to plan ahead and created anxiety within the staff team around the likely impact of withdrawing the service on local families. The project is now well recognised within the local area and more security in funding terms would enable the project to support a greater number of families and provide stability for the children and families who already participate.

“Anxiety over not being refunded and having to withdraw the project and its support from community.”

The transient nature of the local population was also highlighted as a challenge for the project which presents difficulties n terms of providing continuity of support for individuals and families. A number of hard to reach families, despite attempts, remain unable or unwilling to engage with the project.

“It’s rewarding to see the journey taken by families, parents blossoming and enjoying their role.”

From a personal perspective, staff expressed high levels of job fulfilment and pride and stated that it was a privilege to be involved in people’s lives and to be able to support them though difficult times. Staff expressed pride in seeing parents and families learning together and in being part of the ‘journey’ that families had taken to improve their circumstances and home life. It was also highlighted that staff must be open and honest with families and help them to realise the reality and impact of their situation. Staff also spoke of the enhanced educational role taken by the project and the benefits of taking a more holistic approach.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  social capital, lifestyle, health, children’s safety, children’s lifestyle, children’s wellbeing, mindset