Parenting Early Intervention Pathfinder Programme, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • General resources
  • Local area early intervention strategies

Basic details


Organisation submitting example

Parental Engagement Team

Local authority/local area:

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

The context and rationale

In June 2006, we were awarded two years of funding from the then Department for Education and Skills’ (DfES) Families Unit to run a series of parenting early intervention pathfinders (PEIP) which aimed to:

• Provide support to parents of children aged 8 – 13 at risk of negative outcomes
• Develop effective practice on parenting that can be applied nationally

The pathfinders were to focus on supporting the local authority to develop a multi-agency parenting support ‘team’ which could work to facilitate the development of infrastructure to enable integrated delivery of one of three selected parenting programmes. This could include an initial needs assessment of the local authority, provision of organisational and practitioner training support for programme delivery, and employment for a senior lead officer and a project manager. 

In order to meet the requirements of the funding, we had to ensure that we had:

• Identified local need
• Identified local partners
• Established a core workforce to deliver the parenting programme
• Provided the necessary support for schools and community organisations to ensure sustainability
• Complied with DfES’ monitoring requirements
• Provided data for external evaluation
• Built in a robust internal evaluation 

However, in order to meet the specific needs of the local community, we also wanted to allow flexibility for any appropriate additions and adaptations, while maintaining fidelity to the selected programme throughout.

While the project officially ended in March 2008, we received additional funding through a continued Think Family grant from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) up until the end of March 2011. This gave us the opportunity to expand the programme and ensure that it was firmly embedded into core services when the funding came to an end.

We wanted to select a parenting programme that would be appropriate to the needs of our target group in Tower Hamlets. One of the three parenting programmes accepted by the DfES for the project was Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities (SFSC). This was already in existence in the borough, although on a smaller scale, delivered by the Support for Learning Service (SLS), the Parents Advice Centre (PAC) and Coram Family.

We chose this programme because:

• Already having trained staff meant that they were readily available to start running SFSC as part of the PEIP, with the programme dovetailed into their existing duties
• SFSC is specifically designed to be suitable for people from a broad range of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, with course materials available in a range of community languages spoken in Tower Hamlets, including Bengali and Somali.
• Part of the course is specifically geared towards parental engagement and community involvement, which added value to the project when considering the long-term impact on parents’ personal progression and community growth.

What were you trying to achieve?

In 18 months, from October 2006 – March 2008, the key objectives were to:

• Recruit two (1.6 wte) Project Managers
• Train 36 SFSC facilitators 
• Run 40 SFSC courses
• Run SFSC courses in English, Bengali and Somali
• Register 600 parents onto SFSC courses
• Achieve a 70% retention rate
• Run 10% of the courses outside school hours
• Ensure an in-built sustainability embedded into the programme to ensure continued delivery after PEIP finished

National targets were to show how effective the programme had been in:

• Providing support to parents in order to improve children’s behaviour
• Achieving success in the roll out of the programme.

The practice

Who was involved: 

Lead Body: Parental Engagement Team, reporting directly to the multi-agency operational group, Parental Engagement in Schools and Settings, chaired by the Head of Early Years and Learning. 

Partners: primary and secondary schools, voluntary sector (London Muslim Centre and the Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA))

Staff: from the PAC and the SLS with a proven track record of running SFSC groups in the local community. We also commissioned services from Coram Family to provide additional experienced facilitators to take the lead in running new courses. In all, this involved 11 trained facilitators (6.5 working time equivalent), two of whom were also the PEIP Project Managers (1.6 wte).

For publicity and project promotion we:

• Wrote to all schools and relevant agencies in the borough providing services for families with children between 8-13 giving information about the project
• Held an open day for all those expressing an interest
• Followed up with visits on site to explain conditions of agreement
• Asked schools/organisations to nominate two members of staff with a specific role in parental engagement to ensure sustainability
• Gave initial incentives
1. Free SFSC facilitator training
2. Support from experienced facilitators in running initial courses
3. Support with childcare and refreshments
4. Support with cover for school staff during training
5. Additional support and workshops for qualified facilitators


• Parent recruitment was made at school through personal contact
• We produced written information in a leaflet for distribution
• We provided taster sessions with experienced facilitators
• We provided training to facilitators on recruitment and retention
• Courses were offered in community languages (Sylheti/Bengali and Somali)
• The course is accredited through the Race Equality Foundation which provided further incentive for attendance
• We produced a centralised database of all courses being delivered to answer general enquiries

We also began pooling resources with other funding agencies, leading to the planning and delivery of additional facilitator training courses with the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the Family Intervention Project. This significantly broadened the potential scope of programme implementation across the borough, both geographically and through the specialist areas of the different agencies trained.

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

Between 2007-2008 we:

• Delivered five SFSC facilitator training courses
• Trained 105 SFSC facilitators (average 21 per course)
• Trained facilitators from 5 main providers, shown in figure 1
• Produced publicity leaflets for distribution
• Ran 53 courses, including four in Somali and 10 in Bengali
• Four fathers’ groups were completed 
• Childcare was provided for all courses when required
• 98 facilitators went on to deliver SFSC courses
• Registered 609 parents on SFSC courses

In Tower Hamlets, we wanted to ensure that the range of SFSC facilitators trained to deliver the programme was reflective of the local population. 27% of the staff trained classified their ethnicity as White UK, 27% as Bangladeshi, 13% were Somali, 9% Black African and 6% Black Caribbean. 6% of the staff came from either a Mixed Heritage background or fell into other classifications that were not listed. This was seen as a fair representation of the key target groups as the relatively even spread of ethnicity across the facilitators proved useful in giving the option to run courses in languages other than English, particularly Bengali/Sylheti and Somali.

Of the facilitators trained, 93% went on to deliver at least one course. 100% of all 53 courses were completed, with 19% courses delivered in Bengali/Sylheti and 7.5% in Somali. Of courses completed, 7.5% were specifically for fathers. However, overall, fathers were still underrepresented in attendance. Of parents attending courses, 4% identified themselves as having a disability. 

A retention rate (that is, people completing the 13 week course) of 81% was achieved, significantly higher than the original target of 70%. The average number of participants for each group was just over 11, with just under 10% of courses run outside school hours.

Findings from the CEDAR evaluation of the PEIP (Lindsay et al., 2008) demonstrated that all the courses were effective in improving parental mental well-being, parenting behaviour, parental efficacy and satisfaction as measured by self-report, with moderate to large effect sizes on all measures.

The parenting courses also produced statistically highly significant improvements in the parents’ perceptions of the emotional and behavioural functioning of the children on all scales of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The percentage of children rated in the clinical range on the SDQ Total Difficulties score reduced from 58% to 33% (op cit.).

National indicators were also included in the DfE second interim PEIP report (Lindsay et al., 2010), where the parenting programmes were found to have had positive effects on the parents’ mental well-being and the style of parenting. The parents felt that the behaviour of the child about whom they had been most concerned at the start of the parenting group had also improved.

Another local indicator was the rate of permanent exclusion. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets Annual Attendance Report 2009-10 showed that there was a significant decrease in permanent exclusion of pupils between 2006 and 2010. In 2010, the lowest ever rate of permanent exclusion in the borough was recorded. More than half the secondary schools made no permanent exclusions at all in 2009/10. 75% of permanent exclusions occurred in schools that had not yet delivered SFSC, although it should be noted that no direct measure was taken to correlate parents attending the course with the pupils excluded as this specific information is not currently recorded by the LA. 

One particular area promoted through the SFSC programme is the personal development of the parent/s and how they might use local community resources, firstly for their own benefit and subsequently to enable them to contribute to the community themselves. To measure the success of this aspect, a sample was taken from one of the schools taking part in the project, recording the individual pathways taken by parents once they had finished the course. From a total of 83 parents/carers attending SFSC at Marion Richardson Primary School between April 2007 and July 2010, 84% went on to further education, training or voluntary or paid employment.

One of the conditions of training had been a commitment to deliver a course within 6 months. After the final facilitator training in June 2010, 80% had gone on to become active practitioners. This has also promoted a level of autonomy that did not previously exist in the delivery of parenting programmes in Tower Hamlets.

Further evaluation of progress in outcomes for children, young people and their families was carried out through an internal qualitative study approved by the LA Research and Development Ethics Committee in 2010. This was to find out what longitudinal outcomes there had been for families completing the SFSC courses at least six months previously.
65 parents were surveyed through interviews and focus groups.
All parents interviewed could remember the SFSC course they participated in positively and expressed how much they enjoyed the course as it facilitated sharing and support within the group.
93% of the parents, including all the fathers interviewed, said the course had helped them to enhance their knowledge about themselves and their children as well as gain skills to manage their children.
Parents expressed that ‘clear instructions’, discussed in session one, and 'reward' and 'praise', discussed in session three, were all effective tools of discipline they had learnt from the course. These assisted parents in dealing with sibling relationships and difficult behaviour without having to use smacking or other negative measures.
Over 60% of the parents had progressed onto joining other courses and could observe the personal development within themselves and their family as a result of participating in the course.
In addition, the majority of the parents took up some level of voluntary work within their children’s schools and within the local community centres. 

Internal support is now provided through the LA Parent Support Service (PSS), which also offers ongoing support through termly facilitator workshops covering varying aspects of the course.

Service development

One particular aspect of service development has been the connection made by the PSS between participating agencies in order to help pool resources and promote collaborative working. Linking service providers within clusters has two major benefits: firstly, to promote proactive collaborative working, as well as skill share across facilitators from different professional and experiential backgrounds; secondly, to combine resources, including staffing, premises, materials and finance. Both have been successful, with a number of primary schools now alternating sites and staff with neighbouring schools and children’s centres to deliver joint SFSC courses, reducing costs while increasing contact points with potential users. This has the additional contingency benefit of providing alternative support to continue running courses should only one member of staff be available from each site due to other operational commitments.

Sustaining and replicating your practice


The DCSF PEIP report (2008) stated that the PEIP intervention can be considered as ‘a process whereby resources (LA budgets for PEIP) are used to purchase inputs (trainers, facilitators, course materials, accommodation etc.) which are then combined with parents in a variety of activities (PEIP courses). There will be outputs from these activities, the principal one being the completion of the PEIP course’ (p70). This formula was used as the primary measure of PEIP cost-efficiency.

During the project, a unit cost to run a PEIP SFSC course in Tower Hamlets was £7,863. This unit was calculated by taking the initial DCSF funding provided, £416,766 from October 2006 – March 2008 (including all set-up costs, staff, training, support, resources, monitoring and evaluation, publicity materials and awards ceremonies), divided by 53 courses that were delivered from March 2007 – March 2008.

A unit cost per parent attending a PEIP SFSC course was £684. This cost was calculated by dividing £416,766 by 609, which is the number of parents who attended the course. Based on an average of 2.1* children per family taken from the data regarding those attending the course, the unit cost per child was £326 each course, or, when including the parent, £228 per person per course**. This equates to £17.50 per person per session. When broken down further, this is under £2 per hour for each potential beneficiary child. 

*This may be an underestimate, as the average number of children per family across the borough is closer to three.
**This does not take into account another parent/carer in the family who may benefit indirectly. 

Although the project was extended by three years up to the end of March 2011, central funding tapered significantly over this period. However, partly through pooled resources across a number of partners delivering the programme, as well as the in-built sustainability made possible by the training the trainer approach, this had little impact on the quantity of courses provided, as shown in figure 2. This was in spite of the fact that schools running courses no longer received financial support for staff cover, crèche provision and refreshments. This shows the value of the initial investment, using an effective incentive to engage schools in the project, giving them the motivation to continue financially unaided once delivered successfully. Also, given the high follow-up rate of over 80% of facilitators trained going on to become accredited through delivering at least one programme, this can be seen as a cost-efficient investment. 

As stated previously, this was made possible through ongoing investment in centralised support from the PSS, keeping open the necessary information-sharing pathways to ensure effective access to joint resources and providing opportunities for continued professional and service development. 

However, as also stated in the DCSF report (2008), outputs are not ‘an end in themselves but merely a necessary step in the process of achieving the intended outcomes (changes in the behaviour of children). Provided the outcomes occur and are positive as intended, then a number of benefits (both for the individual and for society) might be expected to follow’ (p70).

For preventative work, cost-effectiveness is always difficult to measure without a longitudinal study with a large sample, but both quantitative and qualitative research methods are being used by Warwick University for the final evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the PEIP.

However, when additional factors on personal progression for parents is taken into account, in terms of bringing them in to further education, employment or community engagement, there is a clear potential added value in terms of possible reductions in state dependency and reliance on other external agencies, as well as any additional long-term benefits in children’s overall achievements, both socially and academically. 

What ‘hot tips’ do you have from your experience for others?
We are particularly interested in any barriers you encountered and how you overcame these and in your views regarding the potential for replicability of your practice example.

Barriers we initially faced included the following issues:

• Schools have other priorities
• Schools can’t always release staff
• Schools can’t afford it financially
• Voluntary organisations are under-resourced
• Parents won’t come to a 13 week course
• No childcare facilities
• Fathers won’t engage
• Can’t recruit families who don’t speak English
• Different cultural beliefs about child-rearing

Why did it work?

• Using a ‘Training the Trainer’ model to strengthen sustainability
• Clear agreements on commitments with course providers
• Partnership with existing agencies
• Team of core facilitators to support the newly qualified 
• A diverse workforce reflective of local population
• Direct recruitment methods 
• User-friendly locations/times
• Tailored delivery to meet community wants and needs
• Additional workshops for trained facilitators
• Joint working promoted across schools/other organisations
• Parents awarded a certificate of course completion from the Race Equality Foundation 
• Recognition and promotion through local publicity and awards ceremonies

Lessons learned: 

While there are certain fundamentals influencing success or failure in any project, such as sufficient funding, wise investment of resources, clear strategic and operational planning, accurate record-keeping and monitoring and evaluation methods, and effective communication, perhaps the most crucial factor has been the genuine community drive for the programme to work. Over the past four years, this has meant creating a triangulated partnership between PEIP, schools/other service providers, and the parents/carers due to benefit from the programme, all with a voice in how the project is delivered and a high level of motivation to ensure that this happens. One of the key lessons learned was that, in order to be sustainable, the project needed to be organic, adapting to the needs of the local community while sustaining true fidelity to the programme chosen. As such, the model used here has been successful from both a local and national perspective, with the prospect of continued implementation with carefully planned, continued investment of relevant resources.

Service Expansion

With regard to the second national target, the effective roll-out of the programme locally, the increased range of locations for parents to access the service was successful, becoming available in 28 different schools, two community organisations and additional community venues that had previously not hosted such courses.

For schools and organisations involved with the project, one of the most important measures of success was the ability to run the course independently in order to ensure sustainability. By the end of March 2008, 17 schools (61%) were able to deliver the SFSC programme without direct support from a core facilitator.

This growth in service provision was exponential given the relatively short time span in which it was achieved. This was helped by the extensive training provided across a broad spectrum of children’s services in education, social care and the voluntary sector. This has the added benefit of making the service community focussed rather than institutionally dependent. It is specialised to meet the needs of the diverse range of local residents. A family can now choose to attend a parenting course based on both the parents’, and their children’s, circumstances. For example, for the children, their age, the school they attend, and the complexity of their level of need; for the parent/s, their location, ability to travel, the language through which they learn most effectively, the time or day most suited to them, gender, the severity of their social/emotional needs, and whether or not crèche facilities are needed. 

Lindsay et al. (2010) found that the roll out of evidence-based parenting programmes through the PEIP has been successful on a national scale and has significantly increased support for a large number of parents. While the number of parents supported through the PEIP varied substantially between LAs ranging from over 500 parents supported per LA to fewer than 100, Tower Hamlets represented the higher end of the spectrum, attracting 603 parents during this initial period, rising to over 2,000 by February 2011.

After centralised funding was extended until March 2011, albeit at a significantly reduced level, the project was able to continue to expand. Further facilitator training was provided, leading to a total of 200 from all service providers, of which 119 are school-based. By March 2011, a total of 50 schools had delivered the course at least once, as had eight children’s centres and six organisations from the third sector. This increases the accessibility of the programme for families across the borough. The number of courses delivered increased each financial year as the training of facilitators in schools and community organisations increased, showing a positive divergence between the funding invested (see also 4. Costs) and the service delivered. 

While parents/carers completing the course receive a certificate from the accrediting body, the Race Equality Foundation, it was identified that a more formal qualification for parents attending would act as a stronger stepping stone into further learning and employment. For the community development aspects of the course, units were designed by the PSS and subsequently approved through the Open College Network at levels one and two. This is going through a pilot study at one of the open access SFSC courses running in the community.

The availability of centralised support is still an important factor in continued operational efficiency, as well as guaranteeing effective governance both in principle and in everyday practice. The mainstreaming of this project was made possible through the use of a core team of Parent Support Co-ordinators and experienced SFSC facilitators, supervised by the Project Manager, with a senior Administrator providing daily support. 

A natural scaling down of the project means that any remaining centralised service will focus on providing ongoing support rather than further service expansion. This includes direct and indirect support and advice on a needs led basis, further training opportunities, and the option of a core SFSC practitioner to co-facilitate a targeted parenting programme when required.

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