Family learning

What is it?

Children and young people learn a lot from their early years practitioners and teachers in educational establishments. However, children's first educators are their parents or guardians. A large percentage of children's waking hours is spent outside the classroom; in other environments where learning can, and does, happen - within families and in community settings. This can have a positive effect, not only on the developing child, but also on everyone involved.

Family learning is a powerful tool which can challenge educational disadvantage, promote socio-economic resilience and foster positive attitudes towards life-long learning. The family is indeed a community within a community so when they learn together it shows community capacity building at its best.

In a 2008 evaluation, HMIE defined the aim of family learning programmes as: 'to encourage family members to learn together. They are learning as or within a family. They should include opportunities for intergenerational learning and, wherever possible, lead both adults and children to pursue further learning.'

In this evaluation, HMIE acknowledged that the role of community learning and development in supporting family learning is not well understood.

Subsequently, the Scottish Government funded a study Scoping of Sustainable Models of Family Learning (2008) and, in the following year, two case studies were developed to provide examples of Effective and Inclusive Practices in Family Learning (2009).

Good practice in family learning

Parents and children at family learning event

The Early Years Framework (2008) outlines the crucial role that parents and communities play in outcomes for children. This role should be supported by the community planning process.

Some of the themes for the Early Years Framework include:

  • Building parenting and family capacity pre- and post-birth
  • Creating communities that provide a supportive environment for children and families
  • Delivering integrated services that meet the holistic needs of children and families
  • Developing a suitable workforce to support the framework.

Partnership working is a key ingredient of successful family learning. Bridging the Gap praises the work of home-school partnerships and the role that community learning and development can have in promoting successful outcomes for young people. 

The Communities team at Education Scotland supports practice development, including family learning, through all three strands of work with young people (with young parents, with adults and in building community capacity).

Generations Working Together (the Scottish Centre for Intergenerational Practice) is supported by the Scottish Government and works with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, as well as individuals and families, to gather and share best practice, provide information and support, and develop new opportunities for intergenerational working in communities.

Future developments will be to highlight and support current and future provision, and disseminate new research. Family literacies practice and discussions are currently highlighted through Connect: Communities of Practice.

The Early Years Team at Education Scotland supports quality early years provision to facilitate and promote evidence-based practice. The Early Years Framework and the Pre-Birth to three: national guidance seek to maximise positive opportunities for children to get the start in life that will provide a strong platform for the future success of Scotland. See working together across services for examples of partnership working. 

Parentzone offers information about education in Scotland for parents of children aged 3 to 18, including ideas on how to support learning. The National Parent Forum is accessible from this site as is information on the Parental Involvement Act.

More from Education Scotland

  • Family learning in West Dunbartonshire

    This project was set up in partnership between West Dunbartonshire Council and Education Scotland to identify current practice in family learning within the West Dunbartonshire area.
  • Family learning in Perth and Kinross

    This project explored the consistency of approach to family learning across Perth and Kinross Council and sought to determine its precise impact on children and their families.

  • School community partnerships

    Schools provide a service that is available for everyone, which makes them a key resource for children and families in that neighbourhood.

  • Parentzone

    Find out how to support your child's learning and decisions about their future career.