Thursday, 24 October 2013

Celebrating Family Learning

Between this year’s Family Learning Festival and NIACE’s Family Learning Inquiry, the spotlight this week is firmly on family learning.

Everyone is likely to agree that family learning is a positive thing, but many of us would have to think a bit more about how family learning works in practice and what needs to be done to support it.

Education in the UK is defined by age - we have playgroups, pre-schools, primary schools, secondary schools, sixth form colleges, further and higher education colleges all catering for a specific age range. We even have special provision for older people in the University of the Third Age.

Family learning needs to cut across the age specific provision and is often part of community learning programmes. Fortunately there are wonderful organisations like the Campaign for Learning and NIACE, who support and promote family learning and encourage partnerships between schools and parents.

I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago organised by the WEA on ‘Building Communities in Challenging Times’. Baroness Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster, gave a keynote speech in which she talked very movingly about her own childhood growing up in a working class family in Lancashire.

Both Joan’s parents left school at 13 and went straight to work, but she said that both of them went out twice a week to WEA classes. This meant that she grew up in a family where learning was respected and valued, and when she went to university herself she was able to discuss what she was learning with her parents. Joan Bakewell’s story illustrates the importance of family learning in transmitting the value of learning between generations.

At the National Extension College we often have parents enrolling on a course so they can understand what their children are learning at school. Maths GCSE is a popular choice, because the Maths curriculum has changed so much over the last few years.

Family learning can embrace lots of other activities, like grandparents contributing to school history lessons with first-hand accounts of their lives and experiences, or passing on language, cooking or other skills.

You can read more about family learning and NIACE’s Inquiry at their website. The Family Learning Festival runs until the beginning of November - click here to see what events might be happening close to you. Our own 50 Hours For Free campaign will also continue to run until the end of this year’s Festival. Learn something new for free and share the experience with your family!

Ros Morpeth

Chief Executive, National Extension College

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