Parents as Partners in Early Learning – Photo Talk, Bristol

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Improving children’s attainment through a better quality of family-based support for early learning

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Bristol City Council, Children and Young People’s Services, Early Years & Childcare Service

Local authority/local area:

Fifteen early years settings across the city, strategically selected (targeted audience of vulnerable groups such as black and minority ethnic, teenage parents and their children, children at risk of underachieving).


The context and rationale

Bristol’s Parents as Partners in Early Learning (PPEL) Programme started in April 2007 as a 12-month, government-funded pilot programme under the guidance of National Strategies. Bristol has continued to fund this programme since March 2008.

The aim of the programme is to work in partnership with parents and children to develop children’s language and speaking skills and to raise attainment, particularly in relation to Communication, Language and Literacy (CLL). We also want to promote and reinforce the principle that education starts in the home, and that young children’s development and future education can be enhanced through programmes that engage parents who are not aware of the positive impact they have. 

Recent research has shown that developing a working partnership with parents is crucial in helping young children to learn and develop effective learning skills for life. The programme recognises parents as their child’s first and most important educators and supports parents to overcome barriers to involvement, for example communication, skills, knowledge and understanding. 

The Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes involved are 'Enjoy and Achieve' and 'Make a Positive Contribution'.

Research has also shown that when children draw upon their own experiences for play, their learning is deeper and more effective. 

The practice

The PPEL Programme involves families using photographs of anything that interests them. Families borrow digital cameras from the setting, take them home or out and about and take photographs with their children. These can be photos of a walk, for example, or from a trip to the park, of their homes, bedroom, families, toys, etc. The families then bring the cameras into school and, with support from staff, download the pictures into a series of games (using blank games templates) such as 'Snap', jigsaws and matching games. They can also make a book out of the pictures. These games assist in learning and development and they differ from commercially bought games because parents and children make them together, they are personal to the family and also representative of their culture and language. 

Project costs were as follows:
• ICT equipment (laptop, digital camera and memory cards, colour printer) = £1,020 approx per setting.
• Two practitioners to support the project for 12 months (dissemination of information, training staff and parents, running groups, etc.) = £16,000 approx.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Parents have developed a greater understanding of how their children learn through play – co-operating, socialising and identifying people, places, objects and events using descriptive language. They have developed IT skills (some had very limited IT skills at the outset), self-esteem and pride in their own achievements. They are becoming confident to take the initiative and use resources independently. 

There has been an increase in the number of parents becoming more confident in taking the lead in their child’s education. Parents’ involvement in their child’s education is to continue as a partnership into the reception year.

Practitioners work alongside parents as supportive role models, clearly taking into account the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statement: parents as first educators.

'The Children’s Centres and Childcare Service Delivery Plan 2008-2011' has identified parenting and family support as a key service priority. There is a wide range of programmes on offer across the local authority that focus on parenting skills, family learning, and parental engagement and involvement in children’s learning. However, many of these programmes have been developed in response to localised initiatives rather than in response to coherent authority-wide strategies on parental involvement. The PPEL programme is unique in that it is a universal programme. The programme has now been identified in Bristol’s Parenting Strategy as a targeted service.

At present, there are no national or city-wide data-collection systems in place that are consistent across all sectors to measure outcomes for children. Any measurable outcomes could only be achieved by tracking children’s progress in the long term.

Helping others to replicate your practice

Quantitative evaluation was based on:
• Records of numbers of parents attending the PPEL group.
• A questionnaire for parents relating to CLL in the EYFS (this will provide scale data). 

Qualitative evaluation consisted of:
• Independent film evaluation.
• Learning diaries (children, parents, practitioners).
• Informal summative interviews and report from participating settings.

Qualitative evidence, including interviews with practitioners, parents and children, indicates clear positive outcomes. 

Questionnaires: Parents’ responses
All responses returned (a small sample) were positive. Parents identified specific ways in which they felt their children had benefited from the project and the IT resources.
• Twenty-five per cent said the resources provided an effective social tool for sharing.
• Thirty-eight per cent said they thought the resources encouraged interaction, discussion and the development of language skills.
• Seventeen per cent said they thought sorting and matching enabled their children to develop a new skill.
• Twenty per cent said they thought their children had learned through play and increased their self-esteem.

Quotes from parents
‘She has been able to recall and talk about what she did in her books.’
‘You learn some ways how to do something with your own child.’
‘I hope to find some ideas of playing with my child and identifying with her.’
‘I learned IT skills and use the camera to make pictures of my children for us to share together.’

Questionnaires: Practitioners’ responses 
Staff were clear about the potential benefits to children and parents.
‘….[parents are] more aware that talking and communicating with their children will benefit their learning.’
‘….demystifying the computer and giving them a taste for learning.’
‘Helps parents who aren’t naturally very vocal with their children to interact/talk/communicate with them’.
‘Making games and books where the pictures are relevant and familiar engages interest and encourages language.’

Hot tips for others

• Ensure there is capacity for internal staff to continue to support parents in continuing/leading the project once the initial IT training and support from the PPEL team has come to an end. It is advisable to obtain written agreement from the setting that they will commit to carrying on the project.
• The resources needed are: Photo Talk CD Rom, IT training for parents and practitioners, dedicated lead member of staff, dedicated room, ICT equipment (laptop, digital cameras, colour printer).
• Staff with limited IT skills may not be confident to teach others. Further training and support could be provided by the PPEL team.
• Staff capacity can be an issue: in five settings, staff predicted difficulty in providing sufficient support to parents once the PPEL team had left.
• The future cost of sundries (printer cartridges, laminating pouches) can be high. Sharing sundries with other settings taking part in the programme can help.
• Maintain a clear focus on using IT resources as a tool to support parental engagement in children’s learning.
• Settings that planned with a clear purpose with reference to the outcomes of the project; deployed a designated member of staff with IT skills; and targeted those children about whom there were communication concerns were more effective in providing a consistent focus on children and families in greatest need. On the whole, the Children’s Centres with a focus on nursery education were best able to do this, due to having experienced trained staff, family support programmes, dedicated space, and robust plans for improving outcomes for children.

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