On August 30 and 6 and 13 September 2003, Open Futures facilitated three open space events in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh for 158 parents and teachers. The theme was "How can parents and teachers work together to help children do their best?"
The Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) wanted to engage parents in the new assessment programme which seeks to involve pupils in their own learning through Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) which are negotiated with teachers and agreed by parents. The PLPs will follow pupils through their educational life. Another feature is the use of interactive techniques to get pupils more involved in learning in small teams. Details on the Assessment is for Learning (AifL?) programme can be found on web sites,http://www.AifL@scotland.gsi.gov.uk and http://www.LTScotland.com/access.
During the three events, there were 41 group discussions that generated 126 proposed actions. Of these, participants voted 23 top priorities across eight categories. More than half (54.8%) involved information to parents on their child's progress, parents' access to teachers and information to parents about curriculum and qualifications. Outputs from the events has gone up and down the education tree to the Minister for Education, Local Authority Directors of Education, schools and parent and school board organisations. Parents were highly motivated and heavily engaged, expressing very positive remarks during the closing circles.
SEED plans to sponsor another event with pupils in February to input on the format of PLPs, allowing pupils to help decide the reporting format which best helps them learn through teacher feedback on strengths and areas needing improvement.
Stay tuned for further developments of Open Space in Scotland's exciting education assessment development programme.
The Executive Report follows below:
REPORT ON PARENT & TEACHER PARTICIPATION EVENTS FOR SEED, BY OPEN FUTURES, EDINBURGH, SEPTEMBER 24, 2003
1.1 Parent and teacher participation events were held in Glasgow on 30th August, Aberdeen 6th and Edinburgh 13th September with 69, 39 and 50 people, respectively.
1.2 Of the 158 participants, about 75% were parents and 25% teachers or programme staff.
1.3 The large group process in all events was Open Space, which has been used in 80 countries since it was devised in 1985. The common theme was as follows: "How can parents and teachers work together to help children do their best?"
2.1 Participants appeared to represent a real cross section of Scotland's civil society
2.2 While it is always difficult to get a large number of participants from the public, as contrasted with individual organisations, to participate in large group events, especially on Saturdays, the 158 people involved were highly motivated and easily engaged one another. The level of engagement is evidenced by the following indicators (please see priorities by summary and events attached):
1. Across the three events, there were 41 sessions that generated 126 proposed actions.
2. The summary of 23 priorities indicate a wide range of categories and clearly stated actions.
3. More than half of priorities (54.8%) were in three categories: information to parents on child's progress, parent access to teachers and information to parents on curriculum and qualifications.
4. There was a high commitment to stay for the end of each event, only two parents left after lunch over all three events.
2.3 During the closing circle, an unusually high proportion of participants spoke about their experience and hopes for the future. More than nine out of ten people talked and, of these, about 95% were positive, thanking sponsors for the opportunity to speak about their concerns over parent/teacher relationships and their children's education and assessment.
2.4 A sizable minority were concerned about proposed actions being implemented, not wanting to see their efforts and positive energy wasted.
2.5 There was considerable passion, humour and commitment around the voice of parents being heard with responses anticipated from the Scottish Executive.
2.6 The events were a learning experience for everyone - parents, teachers and programme staff. Parents had an opportunity to discuss issues of importance with other parents and teachers. Teachers were able to present views on their relationship with parents and hear parental concerns outside traditionally structured evenings.
2.7 Group sessions focused on two-way communication and access between parents and teachers. Parents were very passionate about being involved in their children's education and wanted to continue the involvement. As indicated by the priority summary, parents and teachers proposed positive and innovative actions to improve their relationship and help children to do their best.
3.1 Open Space is a bottom-up process during which participants self organise an agenda around their burning issues.
3.2 Participants, sitting in circles as a Community, create their agenda and people select groups with issues that interest them. Accordingly, the process involves considerable voluntary self-selection and motivation.
3.3 Actions from each session are presented to the Community who vote priorities, creating an agreed list of the most important actions from all those proposed by individual groups on the day.
3.4 A closing circle gives individuals an opportunity to speak to the Community on the event and their hopes and aspirations for the future.
3.5 Open Space allows each participant to have an equal voice, learn from one another and contribute towards making a better future. It needs no advanced preparation and provides easy access and involvement of all participants.
4.1 The Open Space events were highly successful and appreciated by participants, providing an opportunity for more events with larger numbers in the future. The following email was sent by a participant from the Edinburgh event on 13 September to Carolyn Hutchinson and it is included as a representative view of a parent:
"From: email@example.com Sent: 15 September 2003 09:48
I was fortunate to be volunteered to attend your SEED parent event at the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh on Saturday. Thank you for a wonderful day!
Working for a large company I am very wary of this type of event and initially thought " another waste of a day. " Happily I was wrong. The cross section of the group was huge. My first session included a board member from a primary school with 8 pupils, a parent from Dunblane High School, one from an Edinburgh Inner City secondary where over half the parents have difficulty with reading and writing, a couple of teachers and myself with a son with learning difficulties. This provided a very diverse but productive session.
The end result showed the common thread of thought by parents and teachers in Scotland with the strong feeling that with the combined efforts of teachers, pupils and parents the attainment of Scottish pupils can be raised.
This will be positively discussed at my next board meeting and I am anticipating the action points that will be covered in the SEED report. Again thanks to yourself, and the course organisers, for the chance to discuss this important issue. Also thanks with the organisation of the day which could not be faulted.
Alan Keir, Board member, Menzieshill High School, Dundee."
4.2 A critical challenge for AifL? is to find a flexible mechanism that sustains dialog between parents and teachers, as well as involving pupils. The database of 158 participants can be used in the future for responses over issues of interest and concern to AifL?. Sponsors should be careful to ask participants for inputs on subjects meaningful to the participants, such as SEED's responses to the agreed action priorities. Send detailed outputs from sessions in their event. Indicate next steps on agreed priorities.