Groundbreaking graduation at Harpur’s Hill

TWENTY-six local families are graduating at Coleraine’s Harpur’s Hill Primary School this Thursday from a pioneering new education programme proven to help children achieve more in school and strengthen family relationships.

Parents, carers and their children aged four to eight have successfully completed an eight-week Families and Schools Together (FAST) programme – the first cycle for the school which is also the first in Coleraine to take part in the initiative.

The FAST programme, backed by Save the Children, supports families by working with parents and children in schools and has been endorsed by the United Nations.

The programme has been funded by Lloyds Banking Group as part of its 2011/2014 Charity of the Year partnership which raised funds to support Save the Children’s work in the UK.

Participation in FAST is voluntary and designed to give all children the chance to succeed at school. Over eight weekly sessions at their primary school, parents learn to lead activities with children such as singing, family games and sitting down together to eat a family meal that parents have prepared together. Parents are also supported in setting boundaries.

The aim is to provide a fun, relaxed space for families to experience a mix of play and learning activities, hands on coaching and support for parents and carers.

For Harpur’s Hill principal, David Radcliffe, forging links between families and the school was a priority. “We wanted to get more families into the school and build those parental connections.

“With FAST we were able to do so and the response from parents has been very encouraging. Already, after our first cycle, we have seen the benefits – improved attendance and attainment amongst the children who have taken part. Everyone involved has gotten so much out of it.”

Mr. Radcliffe added that there is already plenty of interest in the next FAST cycle which takes place in spring 2014 at the school.

“We believe that every child should have a fair chance to do the best they can at school and that every family should have access to proper support in their local area,” says Laura Feeney, Save the Children Programme Manager in Northern Ireland.

The programme enables parents to fulfil their potential too. Following graduation, they can take part in FASTWORKS – a further 22 month scheme. Many of the Harpur’s Hill parent partners have expressed an interest in continuing this type of work and hope to join the follow-on programme.