A literacy campaign in one of the deprived areas of Birmingham is reaching out to isolated families to improve parents’ skills in order to help them in turn support their children’s development.
#GetBalsallHeathReading introduces families to books and reading at weekly classes during the school holidays. Since February 2017, more than 200 families have joined Balsall Heath Library, where many of the sessions take place, as a result of the programme.
Director of Smartlyte, Hafsha Shaikh, says, ‘#GetBalsallHeathReading aims to get parents engaged with their child rather than just involved. When parents are learning, there is a massive positive impact on the child’s learning, family and their community.
‘The absence of family learning is a huge barrier to achievement. We know there is a persistent gap in the attainment of children from poorer backgrounds compared to their wealthier peers. This begins to emerge early in children’s lives, continues through school and results in a considerable gap at the age of16 and beyond.
Ms Shaikh says the programme demographic is ’99 per cent BAME. We have many Yemeni, Pakistani, Syrian and Somalian families. They can be very isolated, and often are not working and they have to go to their husbands to ask for money to go to college or get other types of training. Some have been here for 30 years but never accessed tuition:
To help combat this, Smartlyte delivers English My Way, a pre-entry ESOL programme supported by the Good Things Foundation.
The programme started in November 2016 with a class of 14 learners, predominantly women, aged between 19 and 65.
Ms Shaikh says that while the focus of the programme is reading, she quickly became aware the problem was larger than just illiteracy.
‘I knew they needed to be reading, but I realised it’s also about communication. I knew this wouldn’t develop without increasing their awareness of the world around them.