On Wednesday, 18th June, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Mobility held a session on parental engagement as a tool for social mobility at the Houses of Parliament. This was a significant event for The Brilliant Club – our CEO Anne Marie-Canning was invited to sit on the panel, and some of our own parent leaders from Parent Power chapters across the country were in attendance. Parents came along to the Palace of Westminster to listen to the discussion and share their own thoughts on the importance of increasing parental engagement to improve educational outcomes.
Anne-Marie used this opportunity to share the work that our parents have been doing as part of our community organising programme, Parent Power. Parent Power is a programme which creates parent communities across the UK, each one supported by an anchor institution. Parents and carers are empowered to make change to support their children’s futures by coming together and using community organising skills to take action.
Anne-Marie cast her mind back to the start of the programme, which she had worked on as Director of Social Mobility and Student Success at King’s College London. She spoke about the importance of providing parents with agency so that they can ‘win’ in their own communities on behalf of their children, and ultimately improve educational outcomes in their local areas. Parent Power is now one of The Brilliant Club’s core programmes and currently runs in eight local communities across the UK.
The APPG also heard a presentation from Becky Young from the charity Peeple. Becky spoke about the importance of parents building literacy and communication into the early years of a child’s life. Reading with children from an early age, for example, has a huge impact on a child’s readiness for school-based learning. Families, Becky argued, need support from the beginning of their child’s life, especially because parents cannot help their children develop if they are only worrying about fulfilling their families’ basic needs, like food or clothing.
Lastly, Sam Phripp from the charity Parentkind shared evidence that parental participation on PTA boards leads to improved outcomes for children in schools. He shared stories about parents on PTAs clubbing together to buy important learning resources and textbooks and pay for school trip attendance for families that cannot afford it. Parentkind’s Annual Parent Survey, a poll of 5000 parents across the UK, shows that 83% of parents want to be more involved in their children’s educational journey. Sam argued that PTAs might be the right avenue for parental engagement. However, the survey also found that there are several barriers to parents engaging more with their children’s education, including time poverty and access to resources.
The panel then discussed the role that government should take in encouraging parental engagement in education– Becky spoke about the existing family hubs model, which, she suggested, needs guaranteed longevity in the form of more government investment. Anne-Marie proposed that the government create a ‘two-way’ relationship between parents and politicians. This means setting up a policy agenda that will deliver a ‘parent promise’, and that will deliver information, advice and guidance to families on how to ready their child for school, college or university. Anne-Marie argued that the government should see parents as assets—bringing parents into the public realm is one of the most powerful things that policymakers can do.
The co-chair of the APPG, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, asked a question about how charities and government bodies should engage parents who are most in need, but might be considered ‘hard to reach’ in the sector. In response, Sam Phripp suggested that ‘hard to reach parents are just hardly reached parents’. Policy and decision makers must be willing to find them and involve themselves in their communities, making an effort to understand local issues.
The questions then moved to the floor. One of our parents, Beverley Wong, who is one of the founding members of South London Parent Power and is now a community organiser and host of the Parent Power Podcast, pressed the chair, David Johnston MP, on what the government will do to support parents. Beverley emphasised the importance that politicians create legislation that deals with the whole education journey, rather than dealing with early years, primary, secondary, and university study separately. She also argued that half the battle is changing the narrative about parents in the UK media. Though David agreed, he could not make any commitments on behalf of the House of Commons and talked about the difficulty of cross-governmental collaboration. However, he expressed a hope to visit parent communities, like Beverley’s, more frequently in the future.
Gina Rodriguez, a parent leader from South London Parent Power, told us about the importance of inviting parent communities like hers into political spaces like the APPG: ‘I would like to thank The Brilliant Club for the invitation to this event. As a Latina mother of two children, I understand the importance of being involved in my children’s education from an early stage. I believe that parental involvement is an important factor in driving social mobility. However, there are other social and political factors that could have a greater impact on our children’s access to higher education and career opportunities. So listening to all the political parties and the people in charge of the different educational schemes was very reassuring. Hopefully these schemes can be implemented in the community at large. And they could be as inclusive as parent power is.’
Another parent, Maxine Binger from South London Parent Power, spoke about how attending the APPG was ‘a fantastic opportunity to experience a taste of what happens in Parliament and to know that us, as parents, can have a voice and begin to be heard’.
The APPG highlighted the vital role that policymakers can play in fostering a culture of active parental involvement in the education, and served as a reminder that when parents are actively engaged in their children’s education, they become powerful partners for positive change.