Along with the Early Years being some of the most important in a child’s learning, it has also been found that parental involvement with children from an early age equates to better educational, social and cognitive development. This lasting effect is shown in the fact that the students who are in the bottom 20% of attainment at age five, are six times more likely to be in the bottom 20% at the end of Key Stage 1 at seven years old. That’s why Kirsty Graham and Mashuda Begum developed their Time to Engage project to improve parental engagement in Early Years education, for which they won a Let Teachers SHINE grant in 2015.

Kirsty and Mashuda noticed that many of the children who were coming into school with very low academic levels had parents who were disengaged with their child’s education. Often this was a result of cultural differences, lack of confidence, inexperienced young parents, and poor English language skills. Simple activities such as reading to a child to develop their communication skills, or taking them to the park to help with physical development – which is essential for the ability to hold a pen, turn a page, or sit in class for extended periods of time – were not adopted. This meant that children were arriving at nursery school well behind many of their peers. The parents didn’t feel they could ask for help, and didn’t have relationships with other parents within the school to find the support they needed.

Time to Engage helps to support and encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s education, through a variety of workshops and activities such as:

• Evening workshops for parents and their child to learn activities they can do at home together
• Weekend family trips to local attractions such as museums, the theatre and parks
• Coaching for parents to develop their skills, confidence and creativity to engage with their child’s education
• Access to educational resources and learning tools
• Social time with other parents to develop a network of parental support and personal relationships

One parent who took part in the project didn’t speak any English when Kirsty and Mashuda first met her, and didn’t have the confidence to even look at her son’s Teachers, let alone talk to them. Her son was quiet and falling significantly behind in his academic attainment. After building friendships with the other parents and the Teachers through the project, she now speaks more English and takes part in all of the workshops. She now says hello to the Teachers and is thoroughly engaged in her son’s schooling, resulting in him becoming one of the highest achievers in the class. Progress like this is essential, as the effects of early years learning are still evident in a student’s results at age 15.

The feedback from parents has been very positive, with relationships being formed and parents coming to speak to Teachers with requests to be able to do more in the programme.

The Time to Engage project started off in one school in East London working with 20 students and their parents. In its second year, it’s now grown to a group of 60 to include children in reception, and has even expanded to another school in the local area. It’s also made fantastic use of the experience of the parents involved in the first year of the program, and now has them mentoring and supporting the new parents.

To find out more about our Teacher-led Innovation projects, you can visit this page, or see a full list of our Let Teachers SHINE projects here. Tes has written a great article on the importance of Early Years intervention for social mobility, which you can find here.