The campaign for learning: Success at school begins at home

Parents can be teachers too – and one charity's main aim is to help them in that role
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The Independent Online

The Campaign for Learning is 10 years old, and the anniversary could not have come at a better time. The UK languishes at the bottom of the Unicef league for child well-being. Newspapers talk of unprecedented levels of child stress. In a recent speech, Gordon Brown spoke about the importance of family learning.

The Campaign for Learning must feel like the whole country has been laid at its doorstep, because a significant part of the charity's work involves exactly that: family learning. According to joint chief executives Linda Siegle and Tricia Hartley, children spend only 15 per cent of their waking hours in school. At age seven, they say, what children learn at home has up to six times more effect on their attainment. But it's not as simple as telling mum and dad to sit with the children while they do their homework, as many parents lack confidence in literacy and numeracy.

"We do a lot of research," Siegle says, "and have come to the conclusion that the barriers to learning are often emotional and personal – someone having a bad experience at school, or a negative image of themselves." Hartley adds: "A lot of adults had such a rubbish time at school that they're very keen for their children to have a different experience. But they often don't know how to go about helping their children."

The charity works on three levels, devoting itself to educating adults in the workplace; improving education in schools; and bringing about the fusion of these elements in the home as part of family learning.

Part of this is a re-branding project. The charity says that, when it started, it looked into the meanings of the word "learning" and found that it was a turn-off. "It's about helping people to see learning in a different light," Siegle says. An example is the renaming of libraries in Tower Hamlets, now called "Idea Stores". "It's all part of a movement; thinking outside the box and thinking differently about learning," Siegle adds.

To achieve this, the charity runs campaigns such as last month's National Family Learning Week, where events ranged from African drumming to a Victorian family fun day, taking place in all sorts of places from libraries and schools to zoos. The charity co-ordinated it all; fundraising, involving schools, liaising with Newcastle and Durham universities for teacher training, publicity, and researching the outcomes.

The event is part of a wider project, the National Family Learning Network, set up in 2001 with two other charities, which has 8,000 members working with about five million families.

In schools, as part of its Learning to Learn campaign, the charity wants to make learning more akin to, say, a university tutorial: the teacher acting not as a pedagogue but as the chair of a discussion. "We want a process of inquiry and discussion, and the teachers are leading that," Siegle says.

The campaign also runs National Learning at Work Day. This can involve several things: taster sessions in health and safety or IT; team bonding; job swaps; or a day shadowing another worker. Taster sessions are usually lucky to achieve a 3 per cent continuation, but Campaign for Learning saw more than 23 per cent of participants go straight into accredited courses. "You have to give that warm-up to people to give them the confidence to take a qualification," says Siegle.

The challenge over the next 10 years will be funding. The campaign is on the shortlist of five to become Sky's new charity partner, which will further boost the profile of the charity.

When it does have the funding, the charity has shown it can get rewards. For instance, the Reading Families Millennium Awards Scheme, which ran from 2001 to 2004, resulted in 36,000 new people actively engaging in learning. "We can turn a tiny amount of money into a very big impact," Hartley says. "It's getting much harder for small organisations like us to secure money, but we're used to managing on 4p."

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