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13 May 2020

Empowering parents across the UK

King’s Widening Participation Department provide invaluable support to parents

A screenshot of an online meeting of parents from the Hastings Project

With schools closed across the UK in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on-campus access programmes temporarily suspended, King’s Widening Participation Department have quickly adapted their programmes to provide additional support to parents across the UK. From facilitating meetings online to supporting parents with home-schooling, the team are continuing to serve students that are underrepresented in higher education.

Two years ago, in collaboration with the community organising charity Citizens UK, King’s created the award-winning Parent Power in order to address inequalities in education and access to university. This innovative parental engagement programme recruits and trains parents from King’s local boroughs to become experts in university access and campaigners on educational equality within their communities.

Since the project began in July 2017, it has engaged over 200 underrepresented parents, recruiting 35 as local Parent Power leaders. In recognition of its successes, Parent Power won the Guardian’s Social and Community Impact Award in April 2019.

The programme has recently been expanded to include the first Spanish-language Parent Power – ‘Empoderando Padres’ – and a group in Hastings as part of the Widening Participation Department’s Hastings Project. These programmes have all been adapted in response to COVID-19, along with King’s Scholars, the Widening Participation Department’s flagship pre-16 programme.

Taking Parent Power online

Before COVID-19, the Parent Power group met every six weeks to discuss educational inequality and receive training from King’s staff on topics such as the unaffordability of private tutoring, social and cultural capital, competitive university applications and youth violence.

These meetings have now moved online. During the virtual Parent Power meetings, parents get the chance to talk about how lockdown is affecting them and their children and to discuss any help they need from the King’s team or from the wider group. After the first virtual meeting, many parents expressed how much they appreciated being able to speak with others in their position and requested that virtual Parent Power meetings take place more regularly during this time.

Continuing the conversation with Latinx parents

King’s recently launched a second branch of Parent Power in South London serving the local Latinx population, the fastest-growing minority group in London. Empoderando Padres aims to create a space for Latinx parents to speak, fight and win on issues that matter to them: education and security for their families, status, housing, representation and more.

There are fears that the pandemic will disproportionately impact the education outcomes of minority communities. To try and combat this, Empoderando Padres meetings now take place more regularly online. The weekly virtual sessions aim to connect Spanish-speaking parents, supporting them with their children’s education and maintaining a sense of connection within the community. King’s and Citizens UK will also continue to provide short sessions about the UK education system and community organising during these virtual meetings.

The team have closely supported the parents in this transition to "moving" online by not assuming that everyone knows how to connect and interact digitally. During the first meeting, tech support and instructions on using digital platforms were provided in Spanish. This additional support has not only been useful for the purposes of the Empoderando Padres initiative but also in ensuring parents can help with their children’s online-schooling.

Parents from Empoderando Padres are continuing to meet online
Parents from Empoderando Padres are continuing to meet online

'Relationships are deepening and the leadership development of parents has dramatically increased', remarked Paulina Tamborrel Signoret, a Citizens UK community organiser for Greenwich, Lambeth and Diaspora communities in the UK and a facilitator for Empoderando Padres. ‘Parents are leading sessions and determining what and how they want to learn. The key action was the 1-1 tech support given to each parent by one of our leaders before our first Zoom call. Through a relational approach to technology, all of our parents felt confident to connect online and the space was from the start one where they felt able to participate.’ 

Me siento acompañada de unas muy lindas mujeres – I feel supported by some lovely women.

Maribel, Empoderando Padres member

Feliz de verlas porque casi no he visto a nadie, gracias – I was happy to see you all because I have hardly seen anyone, thank you.

Ruth, Empoderando Padres member

Reaching out to parents in Hastings

The Hastings Project is run in collaboration with Eggtooth, a creative learning organisation based in Hastings. It aims to equip local parents with the confidence and information to improve access to higher education.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, parents participated in weekly sessions delivered by Eggtooth which focused on raising levels of confidence and self-efficacy. The parents were also due to attend seven sessions delivered by King’s staff members, which focused on information, advice and guidance about access to higher education.

To ensure the Hastings Project continued during the pandemic, these sessions have moved online. In the first meeting, Hastings Project members spoke candidly about their personal experiences which strengthened the sense of community amongst the group. They also took part in a higher education quiz to recap everything the parents have learnt so far. Parents enjoyed the meeting so much that the King’s team is organising weekly sessions while lockdown is in place.

Supporting the parents of King’s Scholars

The King’s Scholars programme aims to encourage pupils from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to apply to, and succeed at, top universities. It focuses on raising the attainment of these pupils, providing information, guidance, and reassurance on how to progress to higher education, as well as engaging parents in their children’s education. The King’s Scholars programme currently supports 900 students in years 7-9 in King’s home boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster.

While the King’s team is unable to deliver face-to-face sessions with students, they have refocused their work to support the parents of King’s Scholars students. The team send a weekly text to parents, pulling together existing resources on how they can support their children’s learning at home.

At first I was worried that without face-to-face interaction, the programmes would lose what makes them special. But despite the challenges involved in moving things online, I’m pleasantly surprised at the positive outcomes. I’m looking forward to seeing people in real life again, but continuing the programmes over video chat, sharing coping strategies and offering encouragement to one another, has actually brought us all closer together.

Paul Webb, Widening Participation Officer

During this period of uncertainty and change, King’s is stepping up efforts to deliver on its promise to make the world a better place by continuing to serve our local, national and international communities.

Visit the #ContinuingToServe webpage to discover the many ways in which King’s is making a difference, let us know how you can help or discover existing projects that need support.