For the best part of ten years, I knew I had been failing.
Failing to engage the parents of young people on the outreach and widening participation programmes I ran. I had tried so many different approaches and nothing seemed to work.
It became a point of guilt and a source of frustration.
Careers advice at Asda
I thought back to my own experience of higher education as a first-generation student and remembered clearly the moment my own Mum, Judy, had said “it’s ok, I understand how it works now” and how everything felt much more possible from that day on. I started to see a pattern of families in my hometown getting in touch for help with their university applications.
How had they found out my details? “My Mum met your Mum in the supermarket, and she said you know about universities”. That’s right, my Mum had been running a freelance UCAS advice session in the veg aisle at Asda. People were seeking her out years after she had helped me make it to university. I began looking for a way to create more Judys.
The truth is that I had held Citizens UK at arm’s length for a number of years. I had been sceptical about community organising and couldn’t understand the methodology. A friend suggested I had a last-ditch relational one-to-one to see if it clicked. I met with my local organiser who challenged me as to why I was spending my time working for universities if I really cared about children and young people.
That question agitated me and I turned it over in my mind in the weeks after our meeting. Joining community organising training in a local church was a pivotal moment in my career and life. I trained alongside people from all walks of life, including local Mums and Dads. I began to realise the power of organising and wondered if it might be part of the answer to meaningful parental engagement.
In 2017, Citizens UK, King’s, and local parents decided to see where organising with local families for educational opportunity might take us. We didn’t begin with a carefully crafted intervention, but started with building relationships with parents and deep listening to their interests, concerns and aspirations. We had no idea how powerful a movement we had started with Parent Power South London. It became clear we had created something special with local Mums, Dads and carers. This dedicated group of parents were pulling down the barriers preventing their children from flourishing in education and accessing university.
Mums and Dads
We had proven the model worked but how could it be scaled? With the support of Brilliant Club and partner universities, Parent Power is becoming a nationwide movement with 10 chapters from Knowsley to Fenlands, Cardiff to Oldham with several more chapters under discussion.
We are building a group of national parent leaders that will give voice and power to ordinary families. In an era when investment in our children and education is not forthcoming from Whitehall it might just be these Mums and Dads that make it happen. The job of universities and educational institutions is to stand alongside these parents, sharing our power, knowledge and experiences in both directions.