Family learning’ refers to any learning activity that involves both children and adult family members, where learning outcomes are intended for both, and that contibutes to a culture of learning in the family.
The Inquiry into Family Learning was launched in October 2012 to gather new evidence of the impact of family learning, to develop new thinking and to influence public policy.
NIACE’s decision to sponsor the Inquiry was made in response to a reduction in provision in England – the latest figures show a 10.4 per cent decrease in participation in family English, maths and language courses and a 3.4 per cent drop in participation in wider family learning provision – and in the context of growing concerns about the lack of strategic join-up at government level. Following the restructure of national support agencies and cuts in local authority budgets, there are serious concerns about reductions in training and expertise and the impact on quality of provision.
In Wales, nearly one child in three lives in poverty and levels of adult literacy are lower than those in England. The Welsh Government’s approach to policy on family services is rooted in its mission to tackle child poverty. It recognises that the best way to support children is to work with the whole family and emphasises preventative and early intervention, encouraging an overarching ‘team around the family’ approach. However, while there are some instances of high levels of co-operation, overall the picture is very mixed. There is a clear need to marshal evidence of impact in order to promote family learning as a cost-effective intervention, the increased use of which could address Welsh Government policy intentions.
Against this backdrop, the Inquiry into Family Learning set out to explore how family learning interventions could support the most vulnerable and at-risk families, giving them the resources they need to make the most of the opportunities available to them. To steer the Inquiry, a group of 11 commissioners was appointed, chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth. Over the course of a year, the Inquiry gatherered evidence, capturing the voices of teachers and learners involved in family learning in England and Wales, through calls for evidence (on creative practice and impact against a range of policy agendas), expert seminars, focus groups and site visits.
Based on the evidence gathered, this report on the Inquiry considers what needs to happen to place family learning back at the heart of policy, research and development.