Category Archives: Blog

Making family outreach a priority to tackle social inequalities in Europe

Authors: Sofia Guichard, Gil Nata, & Joana Cadima, University of Porto

Ensuring outreach and making it a priority is one of the central recommendations of the recent inventory of proven or potentially effective approaches to family and parenting support in tackling social inequalities, developed by members of the ISOTIS teams from Czech Republic, England, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Portugal.

The inventory defines parenting support as all services aimed at improving how parents approach and fulfil their role as parents. Parenting support also includes services that are designed to increase resources and competencies that parents employ in child rearing, including information, knowledge, skills and social support. Therefore, parenting support measures can include both direct support to parents and families, but also wider policies such as parental leaves, health care services or Early Childhood Education and Care measures. Parenting support services developed for and with children and families with a migrant background (or non-native speakers), Roma/ethnic minority background, or who were in a situation of final hardship or general social risk were selected for the inventory.

The inventory suggest that although it is visible in the 7 participating countries that family and parenting support includes a broad range of services across several sectors (such as education, social/welfare, and health), there are important differences in how services are implemented across countries. In four countries, parenting support is part of a clear strategic framework that integrates a broad range of early intervention and prevention universal services for families. This is the case for England, Germany, Netherlands, and Norway. In the three other countries - Czech Republic and Portugal, and up to a certain extent in Poland, particularly for children under 3 -, the main approach taken in parenting support is focused on the most vulnerable families, through targeted specialist support. The aim in these targeted programs is to address the most basic needs first with a focus on child protection and families in adverse social circumstances. Countries also show differing priorities and approaches to parental leaves and ECEC services for children under three.

In addition to a broad investment in outreach, other recommendations to existing challenges include:
• Be adapted to the country needs and existing services;
• Be designed and adapted to the target-group characteristics and degree of disaffection and distrust in the country’s institutions;
• Address parents’ specific needs while maintaining high-quality standards;
• Be continuously monitored and evaluated against its aims;
• Target the needs of multicultural groups, fostering multicultural beliefs;
• Address and promote the first languages of migrants;
• Take advantage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools to build communities of trust, overcome challenges, foster outreach and integrate first language of migrants.

Read the full inventory:

How do educational achievements relate to socioeconomic and migration background?

Author: Jesper Rözer

Achievements in mathematics, science, and literacy skills are related to educational attainment and success on the labor market, resulting, for instance, in more desirable jobs and higher wages later in life. Yet, we know that the education of one’s parents as well as whether one’s parents or oneself is born in the country in which one attends school matters a lot for one’s educational achievement. In this ISOTIS report, we seek to answer: how do these differences in achievement by socioeconomic and migration background vary between countries over time and across the life course?

Therefore, we combined information from more than 5.6 million individuals from 103 regions. The findings indicated:

• There are substantial differences in test-scores between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, with children from higher educated parents performing better. Smaller differences are found between children with and without a migrant background in Europe.
• Socioeconomic inequalities are particularly large in Central-Eastern European countries, while inequalities by migration background are particularly large in North-Western Continental European countries.
• Socioeconomic inequalities seem to be stable over time, but may have slightly increased between 1995 and 2015. Inequalities by migration background fluctuate more, and were observed to increase again, especially in later stages of the school career, in recent years.
• Inequalities by socioeconomic and migration background seem to evolve similarly over the life course: being already large at grade 4 (approximately age 10), remaining stable or even declining while children follow primary and secondary education, and increasing again around age 21 when children leave secondary and tertiary education.

Thus, high quality environments and the promotion of equality in primary and secondary schools may reduce the inequality trends by socioeconomic and migration background, and work as equalizers. In addition, there are large differences between countries in how large the inequalities are. In our next ISOTIS report, we will address the question: Are some national policies more effective in tackling inequalities than others?

What characterizes promising professional development interventions related to inclusiveness?

Author: Pauline Slot

In view of life-long learning there is a lot of attention for on-going and continuous professional development (PD) that can contribute to changing professionals’ competences and behaviour. For the current purpose, professionals include a wide range of practitioners working with children and families, such as teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals and volunteers, in formal and informal settings. PD concerns all actions aimed at changing professionals’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs or behaviour. Although there are abundant PD studies, there are two drawbacks in this literature. The first is that the majority of studies published in scientific journals come from Anglo-Saxon countries. Secondly, these studies do not always provide detailed information on the different components of professionalization, thus providing limited details on its key. The ISOTIS inventory aimed to address both gaps by exploring aspects of promising European PD interventions.

Based on the inventory, we propose a new framework to view PD.

The outer layer situates the professional within a larger (organizational) context, which is likely to impact the effectiveness of PD. inside there are three main PD components related to the who, the what, and the how of PD.

  1. The characteristics of the learners and the context are important to consider when thinking about PD. For instance, the results of the inventory showed that the majority of the programmes in the inventory could be considered as general interventions, rather than aimed at professionals working with a specific target group. In some cases the programmes were aimed at professionals working with disadvantaged children or second language learners.
  2. Different content areas can be addressed in PD. The results of the inventory showed that 69% of the interventions were specifically focused on cultural diversity, multilingualism or inclusiveness. Further, different focus domains can be distinguished, such as knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes. The findings of the inventory revealed that the majority of PD interventions emphasized knowledge and skills or knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  3. Broadly speaking, three different types of PD strategies can be distinguished: training or courses, coaching and reflection. The inventory highlighted that the combination of all three strategies was the most common across interventions, followed by a combination of training and reflection. The preferred delivery mode was face-to-face and the PD was targeted either at an individual or at both the individual and the team level.

Mechanism of change

The inner circle reflects the two main processes hypothesized to change professionals’ behaviour and practices. Enactment concerns the translation of newly acquired beliefs into practice and illustrates the on-going exchange between professionals’ knowledge, beliefs and skills in changing actual behaviour and practices. The results of the inventory showed that the majority of PD interventions was both theory- and practice based, which could support enactment as underlying mechanism of changing professionals’ practices.

Reflection is the other key facilitator of change as it allows professionals to use (daily) experiences to critically consider, (re)evaluate and reconstruct knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, skills, and behaviour. Indeed the results supported the importance of reflection, as this was part of the majority of PD interventions included in the inventory. In order to be effective, reflection needs to be critical and constructive. Moreover, there are some indications that reflection involving the team as a whole, rather than a single professional, and that incorporate a focus on attitudes besides knowledge and skills can be more effective in changing professionals’ behaviour and practices.

Recommendations for practice

  1. Reflection is an important aspect of PD and should have a prominent role in professionals’ (everyday) practices, as part of continuous professional development within the organisation, and in specific interventions aimed at changings professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes.
  2. A comprehensive approach to PD involves a combination of theory and practice with interplay of face-to-face and online delivery using different PD strategies, including training, reflection and coaching, targeting professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes.
  3. Online PD can include e-learning activities, video-based reflection, online exchange of practices and online tools for self reflection.