An appetite for learning at Bellshill Academy

​You learn something new every day,’ or so the saying goes. At Bellshill Academy in North Lanarkshire families are learning something new every Wednesday by taking part in the school’s latest learning initiative.

Designed to boost parents’ and carers’ engagement with their children’s learning and to foster positive relations, the Family Learning Project (or the ‘Wednesday Club’ as it quickly became known amongst pupils) has helped change attitudes, build confidence and increase opportunities for learning. It’s not just the pupils who are reaping the rewards - it’s the whole school community. Community Learning and Development, in partnership with the school and other agencies, developed a programme of 10 after-school sessions. The sessions were particularly tailored towards families of S1 pupils whose level of attendance was causing some concern.

The two-hour sessions encouraged parents to work with their children in a different subject area each week, supported by a teacher, and included home economics, ICT and opportunities for parents to sample some of the innovative ways their children learn. For many parents, using the whiteboard was a fun and rather novel experience and proved very different from their own school days when the traditional blackboard was commonplace. Feedback from parents shows the sessions really brought learning to life and incorporated a very ‘hands on’ approach, allowing parents to get fully involved and discuss their own progress each week.

As well as the joint sessions where families and pupils worked on a subject area together, time was set aside each week for the two groups to learn independently. After some light refreshments, the pupils enjoyed games and a photography montage project with the youth work staff, while the adults participated in informal group work organised by the Home School Partnership Officer. Again, the interactive approach proved successful and parents enjoyed learning, listening to others and sharing their own experiences of bringing up teenagers. Teachers and families were encouraged to chat informally and overcome any real or perceived barriers.

And there was plenty up for discussion. Sharing experiences proved rewarding and parents said it helped them feel more confident in their own abilities. As well as talking to each other, families heard from a nurse, the police and a drug and alcohol abuse project worker. These talks were well received and gave parents an expert insight into some of the potential problems faced by young people. In fact, several parents and carers said they left the sessions feeling more empowered to talk about these often difficult issues with their children.

The ‘Wednesday Club’ did more than improving attendance and giving parents an insight into learning. It helped families help themselves and each other. By offering encouragement and working towards getting to know each other better, families reported that they felt more linked in with the wider school community. Aptly, the project culminated in a celebratory meal in the school canteen where everyone tucked in and certificates were handed out to acknowledge individual contributions. Now there’s more on the menu - the school is striving to strengthen relationships with families even further and looking at more ways the initiative could be rolled out.