Conference – Valuing Parents Linking Policy and Practice




Conference – Valuing Parents Linking Policy and Practice


The Further Education and Training Division of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board hosted this two-day International Conference on Family Learning, in Ennis, Ireland. It brought together a range of national and international experts to look at Family Learning as a valuable element in further education provision and examined ways to engage with local and migrant families to improve the educational outcomes of children and parents.

Attendees included

  • Researchers in the field of family learning and educational disadvantage
  • Policy makers in governmental departments
  • Decision makers in key agencies with an interest/remit in Family Learning

The conference

  • Showcased models of good practice in Family Learning work in Ireland and in Europe
  • Highlighted the role of Family Learning in tackling educational disadvantage
  • Aimed to Influence policy and consider strategies to rolling out a national model of Family Learning based on effective interagency working.

In 2018 SOLAS funded a family literacy research project that reviewed Education and Training Boards family literacy activity and relevant government policy in order to guide future development of family literacy practice. The research managed by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) was overseen by SOLAS (the National Further Education and Training Authority) and ETBI (Education and Training Board Ireland), was carried out by Dr Ann Hegarty and Dr Maggie Feeley, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice University College Dublin.  This research was planned to preview at this conference.

The ‘Guidelines for Family Literacy Practice in Education and Training Boards’ will be launched at the National Adult Literacy Agency Family Learning Conference in Dublin on 28th November, 2019.


Dr Inez Bailey, NALA

Mary Flanagan, Organiser

Liz O’Sullivan, National Parents Council

Margaret Donovan, Parent

Roisín Doherty, SOLAS

Juliette Collier, UK

Mats Mikiver, Sweden

Maria Tobin, TUSLA

Dr Áine Cregan, Oral Language Specialist

Luxembourg Speakers

Dr Ulrike Hanemann, Germany

Dr Jude Cosgrove, ERC

Dr Ann Hegarty, NALA

Conference Summary

The Family Learning Conference, organised by the Further Education and Training Division of Limerick and Clare

Education and Training Board, was held in the Temple Gate Hotel, Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th March, 2019. Delegates from seven countries were in attendance at the conference, including: Ireland, Germany, England, Sweden, Italy, Luxembourg and Finland.

The conference brought together practitioners, experts, researchers, policymakers, educators and Family Learning advocates to share and discuss innovative strategies and contemporary efforts to connect with and engage both child and parent/carer with learning and personal growth. Family Learning activates inter-generational transformation and change. Feedback from delegates was collated the following points were outlined by those who attended: 

  • Raise the profile of Family Learning for both policy and communities
  • Nationally, spread the key message to all parents and carers that they play a vital role as their children’s first teachers, and that the home is a very valuable learning environment
  • Family Learning needs to be a national priority
  • Form a National Family Learning Community of Practice-A portal to share examples of good practice and information
  • A national Family Learning strategy is imperative to ensure that a consistent, cohesive and coherent Family Learning provision is provided throughout Ireland
  • Increased investment in Family Learning at local, regional and national level. Ring-fenced either through naming a Family learning co-ordinator within each ETB area/county with responsibility for Family Learning work, or provide a specific percentage of literacy funding to be allocated to Family Learning work. Funding needs to take into account a higher input per hour of delivery, due to the effort required to reach priority parents, this may not always be recognised in existing budgets and workload
  • All initiatives need to be collaborative with child and parent interactions at the heart of this work. Incorporate the voice of parents/carers and meet families where they are at in a warm, stimulating learning environment
  • Reduce barriers for parents/carers to attend short taster courses. Use simple expression of interest forms for short taster courses where possible
  • Gather longitudinal tracking of participants to formulate the impact of Family Learning provision in order to collate robust, concrete evidence. Work with interested researchers to build up evidence of Family Learning/Literacy working for families in Ireland
  • Examine the impact of the digital world on families in Ireland
  • Provide opportunities for more formal collaboration with community-based organisations and greater engagement between schools, parent councils/associations and parents
  • Buy-in is needed from other Government of Ireland Departments, for example, Health, Children and Youth Affairs
  • Work in a consistent way with Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinators in designated disadvantaged schools and other disadvantaged schools across Ireland
  • Place a strong focus on oral language and the ability to communicate
  • Focus on the importance of having books in every home
  • Create a website space or platform to:
    • Showcase good practice across Ireland
    • Collate successful methods of engaging parents nationally and share these
    • Provide an email list of those involved in Family Learning nationally.
    • Focus on a lifelong learning approach.

Recommendations from the conference proceedings will be forwarded to various stakeholders including: the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS – the National Further Education and Training Authority, the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, and other agencies, to lobby and advocate for a more coherent Family Learning provision across Ireland. 

No identified service is equipped to solely address the myriad needs that families face every day; however, Family Learning offers an inter-generational learning approach, creating learning and growth opportunities for both children and adult caretakers to tackle such issues. Mary Flanagan is Adult Literacy Organiser with Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board and was one of the key organisers of this international conference. She said: “Research shows that parents who are interested in their child’s learning make a positive impact on the achievement of the child at school. Parents don’t have to know everything, we are all learning every day. We must never forget how much parents already teach their children in a very natural way. We build on this in family learning work and show how the home is such a valuable learning place.”