Getting it right for every child means getting it right for every parent too

It might be easier to count the leaves on a tree than the things a new parent can find to fret about.

Feeding, sleeping, smiling, crying, walking, talking, too much, too little, too soon, too late. A nagging suspicion that something is not quite right can often feel like the only constant for new parents in a world suddenly turned upside down.

When Lyndsey Boyle’s first baby was born, however, she had a very real reason to worry after her daughter Lexi arrived nine weeks early, weighing just 2lbs 4oz.
Fearful for her newborn baby, Lyndsey, who has learning difficulties, endured more uncertainty after being told that, even if Lexi pulled through, she might not be allowed to return home.

There were concerns that Lyndsey could not safely care for her baby and that she might become one of the 40 per cent of parents with learning disabilities who no longer live with their children.

Thankfully, after four months in hospital, Lexi was allowed home in October to live with Lindsey and her mum and dad in care arrangements bolstered by Aberlour in South Ayrshire.

Our team, based in Girvan but operating across the region, work closely with parents with learning disabilities to increase their skills, self-confidence and ability to provide safe, caring homes for their children. We deliver practical advice for families, where one or both parents have learning disabilities, but as importantly, we offer emotional support and reassurance, an encouragement that they have the skills and support to care for their children.

Research in 2013 suggested children of parents with a learning disability were more likely to be taken into care in Scotland than in England while also highlighting significant differences between Scotland’s councils when deciding if their children should be taken into care, fostered or adopted.

Things may have improved since then but, sadly, there remains a suspicion that some parents with learning disabilities are still having their children taken into care without being given every possible opportunity to care for them at home. If it can be done, the benefits of keeping their family intact are boundless. It is good for the parents, good for taxpayers but, above all, good for children, securing them a far better start and a far brighter future.

Funded by the Big Lottery and South Ayrshire Council, our team improve the prospects of children of parents with learning disabilities, keeping them out of care and protecting their mental and physical health. Experts suggest more community-based services like ours would allow many more parents to care for their children at home, greatly improving their chances in life.

Planning, never mind funding, those services is difficult, of course, when we cannot even be sure how many Scottish parents have learning disabilities. The current best guess is around 5,000 but – since 63 per cent of the parents we support are found to have an undiagnosed learning disability – there are almost certainly many, many more.
A consistent definition of learning disability that is both simpler and more flexible might help. Currently, a parent being a few IQ points above or below 70 can mean the difference between their family securing concerted, consistent support and getting none at all.

An evaluation of our service by the Social Value Lab focused on just six of the families helped by Aberlour across South Ayrshire. It found that without the charity’s support: 12 children would not have attended school regularly; three children would have ended up in the criminal justice system; nine children would have been taken into care; and five children would not have received essential health care.

In addition, three parents would have suffered deteriorating health; two parents would not have attended college; three parents would not have found other vital support services; and one parent would probably have ended up in jail. In total, the support scheme saved taxpayers £1.4million in one year with a projected saving of £9.6million over ten years.

Of course, sometimes it cannot work. Sometimes, parents – with or without learning disabilities – cannot properly care for their children and careful, clear-eyed assessment of parenting capacity, responsive to the needs and wishes of parents and their children, is the seam that runs through our work.

No two families are the same and we work closely with families to establish what kind of support each needs and tailor our work to provide that. Early intervention is, as always, crucial. A quick fix, a sudden intervention when a family is already in or facing crisis, will often only postpone another crisis. Much of our work is about seeing and tackling potential problems long before they become critical, winning the trust of parents and ensuring the physical and emotional needs of their children are being met.

Parents need long-term support from before their baby is born, in the months after birth and, often, for many years to come. Often they will need particular support at milestones in their child’s lives, at times of transition, from baby to toddler, nursery to primary from primary to secondary. They need to know help is there and how to find it.

Getting it right for the children of parents with learning disabilities demands a concerted effort from everyone involved, from midwives and health visitors to social workers and psychologists. That life-changing effort should also be shaped by the experience, expertise and commitment of the Third Sector and driven by the kind of innovative, effective support delivered by charities like Aberlour.

Parents with learning disabilities only want to be the best they can be, to care for their children and give them the best chance for a better future. That is all they want and they deserve every chance. Getting it right for every child means getting it right for every parent too.

By SallyAnn Kelly, Chief Executive of the Aberlour Child Care Trust

#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning





Family Learning Research Café

Education Scotland in partnership with the Family Learning Strategic Group is running a series of research café sessions which are being held across Scotland. The aim of the café is to provide an informal opportunity for practitioners, national stakeholder groups and partners to look at current research on family learning. The research café will also:

¨ help build the capacity of practitioners

¨ discuss how to embed research into practice

¨ help stimulate thinking and challenge practice amongst practitioners

¨ look at gaps

¨ enable sharing of ideas and good practice

Sessions will take place in Glasgow, Inverness and Dundee. I am hoping that this will be an on-going programme.

To register for one of the sessions please use this link:

If you would like to know more about this before you register please contact me at any time using the details below.

Hope to see you there!


Tel: 131 244 3870/07540671940




Focus On Families Events

Over the past 2 years we have been running family learning sessions for practitioners to upskill and share practice across the 4 local authorities of Fife, Dundee, Perth and Kinross and Angus.

In year one, we held a daylong event that saw around 40-50 people attend. This offered presentations from Gary Roberts University of Dundee and Susan Doherty from Education Scotland, as well as a range of workshops. Feedback from this event was very positive and people really enjoyed the networking and the workshops as it was informal and informative.

We had projects share ideas and visit projects in other areas to further develop their practice.

Based on feedback from year one, it was decided to do 4 smaller events in year two and each authority to take on the responsibility of their area. This included

Workshop 1

Fife Council ‘7 Habits of Successful Families’

Workshop 2

Dundee City Council ‘Family Learning: The Power of Experience’

Workshop 3

Perth and Kinross ‘Family Learning with Men and Children in Perth and Kinross’

Workshop 4

Angus Council ‘Learn Laugh and Cook’

We had a lot of positive feedback from participants, who appreciated the ‘hands on’ nature of the workshops, with lots of ideas to take back to the workplace. It has helped cross authority working and people have enjoyed seeing other venues. It was also noted that the numbers were lower at each event but overall we still had 40-50 people attend over the 4 areas. However, further feedback highlighted that there was not the same buzz as the big event and that people find it difficult travelling a distance for a 2 hr event. So we have decided to do another full day event this year and we can potentially rotate for future years.

Look out for the next event in Dundee in September 2017.

Sue Holland-Smith

Sarah McEwan

Tricia Ryan

Maureen McGinlay

Rhona Cameron-


Family learning: linking improved attainment rates and the involvement of disabled people?

The recent Education Scotland Review of Family Learning states that “little is known about the impact of family learning on families which include a disabled child and/or parent.” There is an optional family learning quality indicator in How Good is Our School 4 (2.5) and 10 schools have opted to use this in recent inspections.  A step in the right direction but no evidence yet.

Thinking specifically about the impact on families which include a disabled child or adult is important within the child poverty raising attainment agenda when you consider that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Annual Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Report 2016 found that “half of people living in poverty are either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household”.  Makes sense to target people who stand to gain the most.

The Carnegie Report, Digital Participation and Social Justice talks about the digital revolution amplifying inequalities at a time parents increasingly need to be up to speed to help with online homework.  Disabled people are statistically more likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.  Here an example of a disabled woman who is motivated to find work and develop digital skills and confidence to support her son doing his homework.

IMG_0180 learners and Amy

Enable’s IncludED in the Main highlights grim statistics of exclusion and stimulates a national conversation about the experiences of young people who have learning disabilities, their parents, carers and teachers in school through 22 clear and positive recommendations.

In their report 98% of education workforce feel that teacher training does not adequately prepare them for teaching young people who have learning disabilities. 62% of class teachers of class/subject teachers said they have experienced stress and professional anxiety due to the thought of not having the right support to meet the needs of children and young people who have learning disabilities.

Makes me wonder what percentage of family learning workers feel confident about effectively engaging, involving, teaching and offering the right support to disabled adults and children?

Highland CALA group

With the right support in place at the right time could attainment rates be higher?  Some parents who call Lead Scotland’s helpline think so. The 2014-15 School leaver attainment and destinations report shows that 1.2% of non disabled pupils left school with no qualifications at SCQF level 2 or above, rising to a figure of 7.7% for pupils with additional support needs, 11.2% of pupils with a hearing impairment and 18.2% of pupils with a visual impairment.  The picture above shows some of a group of young carers who recently achieved their SCQF level 5 Community Action and Leadership Award with Lead Scotland in partnership with Connecting Young Carers.  For some of the young people this was their first formal qualification.

The transition from school can be a very concerning time for young people and their parents/supporters. Could family learning practitioners be more involved in the transition planning meetings to increase post school choices/options for disabled pupils?  Many parent callers to our helpline report that the transition planning meetings don’t provide enough options and that the planning doesn’t start early enough. Lower attainment rates restrict post school choices.

Principles of Transition 3 outlines 7 principles and advocates for cross sector providers to jointly work together and for the voices of children and young people to be at the centre of decisions made about their future.

The #nothingwithoutus philosophy outlined in the Scottish Government Delivery Plan has been hard fought for by disabled people and involvement is a key principle of Community Learning and Development.

So back to the original question, can family learning link improved attainment rates and the involvement of disabled people?  We don’t have the evidence to support this yet, but if we listen to, involve and work together to enable and empower disabled people to take the lead I think the answer will be yes.

Emma Whitelock, CEO Lead Scotland,

#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning

Family Learning for Closing the Attainment Gap – Practitioner Voices

Friday 26 May 2017, 9.30 – 13.30, University of Dundee, Dalhousie 2G12

This event is for all Family Learning Practitioners in the different roles across the sector. The event is an opportunity to explore the current policy framework and creative practice approaches in Family Learning. Speakers will offer perspectives on policy and practice and you will be invited to debate what the sector can do to address the attainment gap, a current Scottish Government education priority and address the following questions:

What can Family Learning practitioners proactively do as individuals to address the attainment gap?

What collective actions are required by Family Learning Practitioners, at all levels, to gain recognition in the Scottish Education sector for the value of non-formal and informal learning provision to address the attainment gap?

Soup provided but bring your own sandwich.

For more information contact Ann Swinney or Jackie Howie

SATEAL Conference 18 March 2017

A conference about Family Learning: Improving Learning and Achievement through Effective Partnerships.

SATEAL Conference 2017 Poster

Open to all with an interest in family learning, fostering and developing English as an Additional Language.

Keynote speakers Caroline Oliver and Dr Daniela Sime.

Booking via eventbrite


#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning

Working with Bilingual Parents – Family Learning Edinburgh

In Edinburgh Family Learning has a collaborative partnership with National Museum Scotland which offers many opportunities to working in a creative learning context with families. By involving families with the wide variety of the museum’s collections we are immersing them in different ways to be heard, to talk about their own family stories and to engage in meaningful ways with their children. This can be a liberating and enjoyable experience for many families, especially those for whom English is an additional language.
There are many barriers in place for bilingual families in engaging in formal education in Scotland – quite apart from language, parents are unfamiliar with the education system, the life of the school (rules/homework/uniform etc), cultural norms. In addition, many bilingual families are housed in peripheral housing estates and rarely visit the city centre – again cost, unfamiliarity, cultural differences and communication difficulties all play a part in families having difficulty accessing city centre venues.

Edinburgh FL piloted a project with NMS and two city nurseries. This was developed from a previous award winning Magic Carpet project – a collaboration between National Museums Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council Family Learning team 2012.

Our aims were:
• To widen access to the Museum for bilingual families
• To raise awareness of the importance of using home language at home with children
• Increased involvement of bilingual parents in the life of two nurseries
• Parents share rhymes and songs in their home languages with each other, the nursery, and the Museum

We organised sessions for parents and children together, including activities, songs, object handling and Museum visits. A focal point each week was a Magic Carpet from the Museum where the families could connect to the Museum’s collection through stories, songs and objects.

The families shared songs and rhymes in their own language, and learned new songs in English. Several reported using their home language more with their children: for some it was a surprise to learn this is important. Parents appreciated meeting as a group whose first language is not English, as this gave them more confidence to participate.
Following the project, several parents visited the Museum as a family. Dads as well as mums were keen to take advantage of what the Museum has to offer families. Several parents had not realised how child friendly it is, or that entrance is free.

What were the outcomes of this project?
Participants have continued their involvement in both nurseries, and in one, parents decided to work together to create their own magic carpet for the nursery. Some also went on to take part in other Family Learning initiatives; in particular a short Family Learning ESOL course, supporting them to share simple, fun activities they can do together at home, building confidence in the use of home language and English, and continuing to develop social networks with other bilingual parents.

Parents’ feedback:
“What made it special was that we can share some stories from our countries. That I could do something with my child and she’s proud that part of her hard work is on the carpet”
“I would like for future projects more parents involved. Even if they think their English is not good enough we should encourage them”
“I met great people there and we’re all good friends now. No one is judging us for the country we’ve come from, language etc”

Mhairi McNeill & Karen Buist

For more details of this project or any other FL projects in Edinburgh please contact us on:

Dad’s engaged through man-centric approach to family learning

This blogpost gives a flavour and summary of their approach. Please follow the link to the full research report: Evidencing change and the development of personal efficacy in fathers participating in organised Men and their Children family learning groups
There is a school catchment area of around 5,000 people within Dumfries and Galloway where people have an increased likelihood of experiencing poverty, high unemployment, rural isolation, alcohol and substance misuse, with the associated restricted access to services, when compared with national statistics.
Men within this community were notable for their lack of involvement at school parent nights and lack of participation in adult learning opportunities, but the gains for children when their dads are engaged drove community and family learning practitioners to find a way to reach them:
  • better exam results
  • better school attendance and behaviour
  • less criminality
  • higher quality of later relationships
  • better mental health
Community and family learning staff asked dads to come in to sit for a free, naturally shot, portrait with their children on the condition that they return to the school to pick up the photos.  When they came back in they found their photos had been made into a beautiful slide show of images of all the dads and their children which was put up on a big screen set to music.  This simple engagement tactic brought the men, dads and granddads, together and had them starting to talk to each other.
Hands on activities were set up to increase men’s confidence in their ability to contribute to their children’s education. For example a MATCH group was at set up each of the two local primary schools. Activity evenings still take place monthly, with an annual Saturday or Sunday excursion intended to include families otherwise unable to participate due to other commitments. To date, over 100 dads with well over 200 children have participated in the groups.
Over the course of the project (6+ years at the time of the research), the team perceived significant change in ‘personal agency’ in some fathers, i.e. in their ability to contribute to the groups. They became more disposed to offer opinions in group situations and to volunteer to serve on the groups’ committees. (The groups were constituted in order to apply for funding but also for the purpose of building community capacity, by giving participants the experience of running the groups and organising events.)
The research study examines change in a sample of past and present committee members.
It is expected that this research will be most relevant to educators working with parents, including school staff, CLD workers, family learning workers and social services staff, through contributing to a deeper understanding of the factors affecting the abilities of parents to engage with those delivering education and social services,
between researcher, interviewees and their children, and other team members.
Blogpost produced by Emma Whitelock, but for more information please contact Jim Cooper, or Mary Ann Riddell,

#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning

Family Learning Working Group update

One year in I thought I’d give a wee update about what we’ve been up to. Let’s wind back to remember why a group of committed national and local, strategic and operational practitioners are getting together as the Family Learning Working Group, without extra funding I might add, to get excited about the positive impacts of adult and family learning.

The National Strategic Forum for Adult Learning in Scotland are a group of cross sector national adult learning providers and have been the driving force behind the 2014 Statement of Ambition for Adult Learning which now has Cabinet Secretary, Shirley Anne Sommerville MSP as the new Ministerial Lead.  Four working groups were formed in 2015. Two members from the National Forum are the eight Co-Chairs and a member of Education Scotland policy member of staff also support each group.  I (Emma Whitelock) am a Co-Chair of the Family Learning Working Group. Our other Co-Chair Eric Whitfield has now moved on from East Renfrewshire Council and so we currently have a Co-Chair vacancy.  Eric was the Adult Learning Representative from Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland. Other Family Learning Working group members, and associate group members of the Family Learning Working group, are local practitioners and researchers.

The National Forum have charged us with the task of showing how Adult learning practitioners in Scotland use the most effective approaches to deliver family learning experiences which impact on attainment.  Just a small task then! So how can our disparate but very enthusiastic group of positive ambassadors for adult and family learning take this forward?

Well, we’ve created a Family learning working group plan, we meet quarterly to review our progress and we are curating this blogsite to make some positive noise about effective adult learning approaches to adult learning. The Co-Chairs and Education Scotland representative feedback to the National Strategic Forum.

We will aggregate what we’ve been learning and will produce an artefact for idevelop in the future but for now please do help us by spreading the word about how effective adult learning approaches positively benefits families and children.

Share what you have found works well or just as importantly what you wouldn’t do again.  Comment on our blog posts and get in touch with the authors. Help us to join up thinking around what’s important and spread the word.  That’s our whistlestop update but if you would like to find out more, please do get in touch.  Thank you for your time and I hope you will check out our other blogposts.

Emma Whitelock,, 0131 228 ,9441, @ewhitelock

Co-Chair, Family Learning Working Group (day job CEO at Lead Scotland)

#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning

Online European Community of Practice event 9th, 10th Nov and Family Learning Network Event in Edinburgh 9th Nov

It’s all happening! The European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) Community of Practice on Basic Skills and Family Learning is being launched as an EPALE online event on the 9th and 10th of November.


The European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) will be hosting an online discussion about Family Learning on EPALE. We will discuss purposes, models and good practice and would like to hear from anyone who has been involved in family learning related to basic skills or is interested in developing expertise in this area.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion, or if you just want to learn from the experiences of colleagues in other European countries please join us to discuss purposes, models and good practice in family learning related to basic skills. We hope to engage participants from all countries involved in EPALE.

It will begin at 10.00 (CET) on Wednesday 9th November and the discussion will continue until 16.00 (CET) on Thursday the 10th.  Full information is available at:

To join the discussion please subscribe to the Community of Practice. Click on ‘Subscribe to group’ below the EBSN forum – Basic Skills and Family Learning. If you have any question or need any assistance please e-mail to

This coincides nicely with the National Family Learning Network on Nov 9, National Museum Edinburgh.  Some of our family  learning group members will be presenting at that event.  Register for the National Family Learning Network event.  Hope to see you there.

#familylearnscot #AdultLearnScot

Blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Strategic Forum for Adult Learning