Education: Ambassadors for learning success in Leeds

Parent ambassadors and pupils at Ryecroft Primary School, Farnley, Leeds.
Parent ambassadors and pupils at Ryecroft Primary School, Farnley, Leeds.
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A scheme bringing together parents and staff at primary schools across Leeds is going from strength to strength.

The Parent Ambassador project was first piloted at Ryecroft Primary School in Farnley – and surrounding schools are now aiming to break down barriers and unite parents and teachers.

Under the initiative, a dedicated team of volunteers promotes links between home and school, building closer working relationships and helping children fulfil their true potential.

Ryecroft currently has six parent ambassadors with a wide-ranging remit. They attend regular meetings with staff, share ideas on new projects and help build activities like after-school clubs and holiday play provision.

Staff and parents agree that in the 18 months since the scheme was launched, it has paid real dividends.

Ryecroft headteacher Jan Tootill said: “Our parents feel much more confident about coming into the school and discussing things with us.

“When there are issues of concern, for example with attendance, we can work together to improve the situation in a positive way instead of parents feeling worried at the prospect of coming into school.”

Non-teaching support staff also contribute their expertise to the project.

Extended services development officer Christine Morton, who helped co-ordinate the venture, said: “Our job has been to look at and identify specific groups and needs in the area and fill in the gaps between home and school.

“No-one knows the needs of their children more than parents and they can bring their strength and support to schools and help us come together.”

Parent ambassadors commit to coming in to the school every week and helping organise everything from after-school clubs to summer sports activities and joint classes in a wide range of subjects. There is the chance for mums and dads to top up their skills in everything from arts and crafts to maths and literacy.

Christine Morton said: “It works fantastically well. Parents can sit in with tutors and tutors can work with parents to get them to engage more.

“Many parents are here every single day and they can contribute so much. Because when you look at a child’s aspirations, if you work with and involve parents then you are far likely to get a much better outcome in terms of achievement.”

Staff say their parent ambassadors have significantly increased take-up of after-school clubs and encouraged more mums and dads to get involved with school activities.

Inclusion support manager Karen Tiffany has worked at Ryecroft Primary School for 15 years.

She said: “They act as role models and encourage others to get involved. Parent ambassadors can help us deal with a whole range of issues affecting the school and they do a lot of good.

“We were originally asked to pilot the scheme through Education Leeds because we are a school with a track-record of courses for parents.

“We were asked if we could pick that up and help spread it further across the city.

“Last year we organised training sessions for parents and children to do together and separately. They included everything from cooking to gardening, arts and crafts, literacy and numeracy.

“We have organised courses and activities for parents to improve their skills with a view to help them to return to work.

“We have also set up regular sessions where we talk to other parents and find out what their children would enjoy doing before and after school as well as during school holidays.

“Last summer, we had over 189 children attending activities. We are really proud of what we have achieved so far.”

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of Ryecroft’s Parent Ambassador project is mum Claire Lindley, from Wortley, who has two sons at the school.

This term she signed up for a 12-week science course and thoroughly enjoys the weekly lessons with Lewis, eight, and six-year-old Elliott. She said: “It’s great to get parents involved in this way. Everyone I speak to agrees that it’s good to know what’s going on and to feel that we are helping with the progress our children are making, as well as improving our own skills.”

The Parent Ambassador scheme is also up and running at Lower Wortley Primary School, Cobden Primary School, Greenhill Primary School and Lawns Park Primary School.

Other schools in Leeds are expected to sign up to the project as the year progresses.

susan.press@ypn.co.uk