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School Handbook Guidance

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Introduction

This guidance accompanies the Education (School and Placing Information) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 ("the 2012 Regulations"). It is intended for use by local authorities and all their schools to support them in preparing their School Handbooks, which take effect on 8 December 2012. The 2012 Regulations can be accessed at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2012/130/made. The 2012 Regulations also set out other information that has to be provided by local authorities in addition to the School Handbooks. This includes general information about schools in the area and information relating to placing requests. This guidance, however, only relates to the School Handbook.

School Handbooks can serve a variety of purposes: they communicate the ethos of the school and provide a welcome for parents to the school, help parents to choose a school, prepare their child for school and act as a reference tool while their child is at the school. The School Handbook helps parents understand a child's learning journey and in doing so, facilitates parental involvement in the school and helps parents support their children.

"Parents" are referred to throughout the 2012 Regulations and this Guidance. The definition of "parent" here is the broadly framed definition set out in the 1980 Act which is as follows:

"parent" includes guardian and any person who is liable to maintain or has parental responsibilities (within the meaning of section 1 (3) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995) in relation to, or has care of a child or young person.

The 2012 Regulations are designed to complement the changes brought about by Curriculum for Excellence and to highlight the importance of information to effective parental involvement in children's learning. The 2012 Regulations update the types, levels and methods of communicating information that parents and carers require at a school, local and national level. Annex A sets out what is legally required by the Regulations, with this guidance providing additional information on what schools and local authorities may wish to communicate with parents and carers, reflecting Curriculum for Excellence and other important aspects related to their child's education.

This guidance aims to provide local authorities and schools with a framework to develop a School Handbook that their school community would use. However, schools and local authorities are best placed to develop a School Handbook, in partnership with their own local parents, which reflects their own circumstances and the needs of their school community and provides the information they need to support their child effectively. Annex C provides links that local authorities and schools can use in conjunction with this Guidance when developing a School Handbook.

This guidance is informed by the Scottish Government's public consultation on School Handbooks, held between November 2010 and March 2011. The findings of the public consultation were published on the Scottish Government website in June 2011: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/06/10134353/0.

A summary of the findings of the consultation can be found at Annex B.

The School Handbook should be reviewed and revised by 8 December in each calendar year to ensure the information provided is up to date. However, online information can be updated and amended throughout the year as necessary. Other publications will become available throughout the year and the School Handbook can signpost parents to where and when these can be accessed, e.g. Standards and Quality Reports, School Improvement Plans.

Parents as partners

The School Handbook is only one part of parental engagement and as highlighted in the public consultation findings, parents and carers need to be informed about key aspects of their child's learning journey on an ongoing basis so that they can fully support the school and their child's learning. The new School Handbook also fits in with the provisions for parental involvement as defined in the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 ("the 2006 Act"):

  • promoting learning at home - by improving the information parents receive from the school on the curriculum, assessment and reporting, support for pupils and school improvement so that parents can help with their child's learning at home and in the community
  • improving the home/school partnership - by highlighting opportunities for parents to become involved in the school and access information, support and advice to support their child's learning
  • parental representation - by providing information about getting involved in the Parent Council or other parent representative body at the school

In line with the 2006 Act, local authorities should consider any factors that may act as barriers to parental involvement, whether this is due to challenging family circumstances, busy working lives or communication difficulties. Some parents may find it hard to be fully involved in their child's learning for a variety of reasons and schools must try their best to break down any barriers and provide a warm welcome to all parents to help them support their child at school. Schools should use a range of ways to ensure that all parents and carers have the information they need to support their own child's learning and to help them become involved in the life of the school.

Format

The 2012 Regulations make clear that School Handbooks are to be made available on a website which the local authority uses for the purpose of giving information to the public. This could be the school's own website, GLOW page, blog, etc. However, parents have said it would be helpful to have a link to where all School Handbooks can be found on the local authority site too and you may wish to consider how best you can do this.

As well as being available online, the School Handbook must be available on request to a parent in an alternative form including in a language other than English (if it is reasonable to do so). This also includes providing a hard copy to a parent if online access is an issue. Schools may wish to ask parents annually what is their preferred means of receiving the School Handbook. The local authority should also consider its duties under other legislation including the Equalities Act 2010 in respect of the provision of the School Handbook to parents. In the consultation, parents have highlighted that pupils are key to helping parents understand their learning experiences. Local authorities and schools could consider how pupils could be involved in the development of the School Handbook, to improve accessibility of information for parents and provide insights from a pupil's perspective.

Whilst this guidance sets out what information is required, it is for local authorities and schools to decide how the information is organised and laid out. The format of the School Handbook should be accessible to all parents, avoiding the use of jargon and schools should consider involving Parent Councils in its development. Findings from the consultation highlighted that some parents would like to see the use of photographs, artwork, a section on Pupil Voice, Frequently Asked Questions, etc. included in the School Handbook.

Contact details

This section was highlighted by parents in the consultation as an essential part of the School Handbook as good communication is necessary for effective parental involvement. It should include contact details (including the school website and email address) for the school and the Parent Council. Contact details for the Headteacher should also be provided, as well as arrangements for a parent to visit the school if offered or seeking a place for their child. The 2012 Regulations also require that the School Handbook should include information on the school roll, denominational status and, if the school admits pupils of one sex only, the sex admitted. The School Handbook should also outline procedures for reporting absence or sickness and how parents can voice a concern about their child and how these concerns will be dealt with. The School Handbook should also include information regarding the school's complaints procedure.

The School Handbook should describe provision available at the school, including the stages of education and if the school provides learning experiences through the medium of Gaelic language. As well as detailing options for how a parent can communicate with the school, it should also illustrate how the school communicates with parents.

Parents highly value face-to-face communication. The consultation provided a range of examples of how this could be done, such as arranging a meeting with a teacher or Headteacher, parent surgeries, involvement in school assemblies or attending a specific event to gain a greater understanding of what the child learns and experiences at school.

Parents are also aware of, and appreciate the range of methods of, communication that schools use, including letters, radio announcements, texts, phone calls, emails and the various forms of social media. It may be helpful to outline in your School Handbook how your school is using technology to improve communication with parents and to strengthen home/school partnership and learning at home. This could include the different methods of communication with parents and carers, including routine communication via the school website, newsletter, emails and urgent communication which may involve sending text messages about emergency school closures.

Parental involvement

This section should include information about the opportunities provided for parents to become involved in their child's learning and the life of the school, covering all three aspects of parental involvement (as defined in the 2006 Act) - supporting learning at home, improving home/school partnerships and parental representation. This should also include how support and advice is provided to a parent to help support their child's learning at key stages. The School Handbook could signpost parents to the local authority's Parental Involvement strategy, which sets out how the authority is fulfilling its duties under the 2006 Act.

The School Handbook provides an opportunity to communicate how the school seeks and takes account of parental views on the education it provides and how it involves parents and pupils in evaluating the school's performance (e.g. through audits, questionnaires, open events). In line with the 2006 Act, schools should foster a positive and open ethos which encourages parents to share their views.

The School Handbook provides the opportunity to set out the school's approach to face-to-face communication and thus manage parents' expectations. Parents involved in the consultation have provided characteristics of what they perceived were "open" and "closed" schools as outlined below. Schools may wish to include information in their School Handbook to illustrate how they promote "open" schools.

"Closed" schools "Open" schools
Gatekeepers who prevent or hinder access Direct and easy access to who you want to talk to
Not responsive to approaches Always responsive - within 24 hours
No tools for continuous engagement Tools for continuous engagement,
e.g. homework diary
No open access times Promoted times each week for open access to Headteacher and teachers

Source: Engagement Events and Focus Groups to Support the Consultation on School Handbooks and Better Information for Parents: Final Report, Rocket Science UK Ltd, June 2011

Parents may also want to learn more about the role of the Parent Council in representing their views on education matters and how they can contact them. The School Handbook could signpost parents to the Parent Council resources listed in Annex C.

School ethos

The findings from the consultation indicated that school ethos is the most frequently cited factor when parents and carers choose a school for their children and that a purpose of the School Handbook should be to communicate that ethos. The School Handbook should include a statement about the school's culture, ethos and values and aspirations for its pupils, as well as details of partnership working and the school's role within the wider community, including partnerships with denominational bodies at a local and national level.

The way that the school articulates its aims and values is felt to be extremely important, with parents describing it as understanding the "uniqueness" of their school. When developing the School Handbook, you may wish to include the following kinds of information that will help parents understand the ethos of their school:

  • the values that the school displays and expects of its young people and staff, e.g. caring, courteous, mannerly
  • where appropriate, an emphasis on faith and the partnerships with churches and other denominational bodies
  • the links that the school promotes and maintains with partners in the community, e.g. sport, business, cultural links
  • the school's emphasis on health and wellbeing and positive behaviour such as restorative, solution oriented and nurturing approaches
  • the school's approach to global citizenship education, including participation in programmes such as Eco-Schools, Rights Respecting Schools, Fairtrade, etc.

Quotes from pupils, staff, community members and parents can be a helpful way to describe the school's unique ethos, along with images and examples of measures that the school uses to promote its unique values. The Parent Council also has an important role to play in supporting the school in conveying the ethos and values to parents and prospective parents of the school and this could be reflected in the School Handbook.

Feedback from parents highlights the importance of understanding how children are supported throughout their learning. Supporting learning for all children and young people underpins the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence and it is the responsibility of all practitioners and partners to deliver this universal entitlement within their own teaching environments.

Curriculum

The School Handbook is seen by parents as a vital resource to help them understand what type of learning experience a child will have as they progress through the school. By understanding and being aware of the key stages, parents are in a better position to support their own child's learning and to support the school.

Curriculum for Excellence introduced a new approach to planning and delivering learning and teaching in Scottish schools on the basis of a continuous 3-18 curriculum. It is built around nationally agreed aims - the four capacities - that all children should become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The curriculum covers not just what children will be learning but how this is planned and delivered. At the heart of Curriculum for Excellence is the learner's journey and parents wanted the School Handbook to help them understand what that learner journey would look like. It would be good practice for schools in a local cluster to liaise with each other to consider how best to share curriculum information with parents.

Schools are best placed to describe to parents what those different journeys will look like and local authorities will also have information about how they implement and support Curriculum for Excellence. There is also national information which describes the entitlements for each child and young person, the purpose of a broad general education, the expectation of progression through the curriculum levels and curriculum planning guidance which may be helpful additional information for parents who want to further understand the rationale and background to Curriculum for Excellence. Schools and local authorities must signpost parents to where they can access this local and national information and links are provided at Annex C to help with this.

The timing of when information is made available is crucially important. Schools must update information annually, but it is important that relevant information is also made available and updated as necessary throughout the year, particularly at key points when parents are most interested or able to focus on what it means for their child. This includes when schools are working with learners and parents on subject choices and options for the senior phase and assisting learners as they leave school.

Not all of this information needs to be included in the School Handbook, but it should be made clear to parents, when the School Handbook is made available each year, where they can access relevant information. This should include local and national information which will give parents more information on Curriculum for Excellence and the entitlements and aims for all learners.

The information that should be provided must include:

what subjects are covered, and when
Parents want to understand what the curriculum will look like, the pattern of the year/phase, what their child will be doing and when. Parents want to know this so they can help support their child's learning and also plan ahead. For example, parents find it helpful to know in advance when particular topics or activities occur throughout the school year, or at a particular stage in the child's journey through the school. Examples could be school trips or outdoor activities, language learning, or other planned learning opportunities at a particular stage in the child's school years. This could be linked to the experiences and outcomes, to illustrate a learners' journey through their broad general education and into senior phase. Information should cover opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, and how learning across subjects is planned and delivered.

approaches to literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing
Under Curriculum for Excellence, all practitioners have a responsibility to develop young people's literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing skills across all areas of their learning. There are separate experiences and outcomes for these three core areas of Curriculum for Excellence and parents will find it helpful to know how the school intends to support children in developing these skills.

how the Senior Phase (S4-S6) is structured and how subject choices can be made
Curriculum for Excellence allows schools and their partners to build a flexible system that offers personalisation and choice. For secondary schools the range of options could include staying on at school, going to college or university, entering work-based learning or community-based learning, volunteering or a combination of these. Parents should be given information which helps them fully understand this key stage of their child's learning journey and enables them to support their child and school in making decisions about their child's future. The School Handbook should let parents know how they, alongside their children, will be involved in decisions around their child's senior phase options and where they can get advice and information to help them make those informed choices.

opportunities to develop skills for life, future learning and work
All young people are entitled to be given opportunities to develop the necessary skills for learning, life and work. It will be important for parents to understand how the school is encouraging pupils to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens, which could be illustrated by examples from pupils. Secondary schools should explain how they work with partners, such as Education Scotland and Skills Development Scotland, to ensure that opportunities to develop career management and other skills are made available and young people are supported and encouraged to seek these out.

arrangements for providing support to pupils in relation to leaving school
Secondary schools should explain how they assist learners as they make the transition beyond school education. This should include guidance on careers, financial advice and further and higher education opportunities. As part of the approach to Opportunities for All, the school could highlight its partnership working with the local community, Jobcentre Plus and also with Skills Development Scotland, perhaps highlighting the use of Skills Development Scotland's 'My World of Work' and links to the 16+ Learning Choices framework. Local information on what is available post school is clearly very important and the School Handbook should signpost parents to where and how they can access this.

sensitive aspects of learning
The School Handbook must also cover how the school will inform and involve parents in any sensitive aspects of a child's learning, such as relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, drugs awareness, etc. It should set out how religious instruction and observance is covered, as well as explain to parents their right to withdraw their child from any such religious activity.

Assessment and reporting

It is vital that parents know and understand how their child's progress in learning will be planned, assessed and reported on. The School Handbook must detail the schools' arrangements and approaches for assessing and reporting a pupil's progress and planning their future learning. How parents are involved in the assessment process and what opportunities they will have to discuss their child's progress with teachers and the school is very important. The School Handbook is an opportunity to set out the arrangements for assessment clearly for parents.

Assessment takes place throughout the school year. Parents are key partners in learning and assessment gives them the opportunity to be involved in understanding, reviewing and planning next steps in learning. They need to know how the school will keep them informed and involved in their child's progress and achievements. Reporting a child's progress can take many forms, including written reports, children presenting their learning to parents, parents' evenings and ongoing discussions. Reports provide clear, positive and constructive feedback about children's learning and their progress. The School Handbook provides an opportunity to illustrate local approaches for reporting, in line with national guidance.

Not only do parents want to be kept informed about progress, they also want to know how to find out more about assessment and qualification procedures. The School Handbook provides an opportunity to explain to parents the school's arrangements for profiling and the timing of when profiles are available, notably at the key points of change in the school year, for example when moving from primary to secondary. Profiling also provides another opportunity to involve parents in supporting pupils in the development of the content of profiles, particularly information on achievements outside of the school. You may wish to provide details or direct parents to local authority and national information explaining assessment, achievement and profiling.

Transitions

Transitions can have a big impact on children's learning and wellbeing and it is important that parents are well informed to help them support their children as they move on to different stages of learning. Transitions can include moving to primary school from early years learning, moving from primary to secondary school, moving to the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence and then post-school learning, training or work. Transitions also include any changes in a pupil's learning journey, for example when a pupil changes school or when learning is interrupted.

The School Handbook should set out the arrangements in place to support pupils making transitions, outlining what role parents can play. It may also wish to highlight the role of different partners including the early years and college sector. Where the transition involves moving on to the next stage of a child's education, e.g. from a primary to a secondary school, the School Handbook must include contact details for the subsequent stage. Local authorities will have appropriate arrangements in place to ensure that transitions in school education for all children and young people can be as smooth as possible and any information they provide in this respect can be signposted to parents via the School Handbook.

The 2012 Regulations also deal with advertisement by local authorities regarding placing requests and require the authority, on receipt of a placing request, to send out information specified in Schedule 2 to the 2012 Regulations. These arrangements could also be included in the School Handbook or links provided to where this information is available.

National organisations, such as Parenting Across Scotland and Enquire, will also provide advice to parents on supporting their child's transition. Their contact details, which can be found in Annex C, could also be included in the School Handbook.

The School Handbook should also set out the arrangements in place to support pupils with additional support needs in making successful transitions in line with the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended). The revised supporting children's learning code of practice includes a specific chapter (chapter 6) on the requirements on local authorities and others in relation to transition.

Support for pupils

Parents need to know what arrangements exist if they think their child needs extra support, how they can get the information they need and want to help them support their child's learning and development, how they can best communicate with the school to help staff understand their child's needs and responses and how the school will provide them with key information. Feedback from the consultation suggested that it would be helpful for all parents to have an understanding of the range of support needs of children at the school.

The School Handbook must signpost parents to further information about how a pupil's additional support needs will be identified and addressed, as well as the provision made for pupils having additional support needs and ongoing support arrangements. The School Handbook should also include contact information about further advice and guidance relating to additional support, details of the ongoing support arrangements for pupils, including how pastoral care and pupil support arrangements are provided, as well as procedures for contacting the key adult who has the overall picture of how a pupil is progressing.

Parents of children with additional support needs highlighted their need for different types of information. For parents of children with communication difficulties or more complex additional support needs, how information will be provided was felt to be vital to allow them to support their child and the school in best meeting their child's needs. Local authorities and schools may wish to consider how more detailed information around practical issues, such as the layout of the school and how the playground is supervised, is communicated to parents, depending on the needs of their child.

Local authorities and schools should also consider how their approach to implementing Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and Child Protection procedures are best communicated to parents.

All children and young people should have frequent and regular opportunities to discuss their learning with an adult who knows them well and can act as a mentor, helping them to set appropriate goals for the next stages in learning. These arrangements should be described in the School Handbook.

In addition to the information specified above in the 2012 Regulations, School Handbooks must include information specified by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended) which includes:

  • the authority's policy in relation to provision for additional support needs
  • the authority's arrangements for identifying children and young people with additional support needs and those who may require a co-ordinated support plan together with the particular additional support needs of those so identified
  • the role of parents, children and young people in any of these arrangements
  • the arrangements for monitoring and reviewing the additional support needs of, and the adequacy of additional support provided for, each child and young people with additional support needs
  • arrangements for independent mediation services, including details of the service and how to access it
  • procedures for dispute resolution, including details of the service and how to access it
  • the officer(s) in the authority from whom parents of children having additional support needs, or young people who have these needs, can obtain further information and advice information about any NHS Board in their area or part of the area from whom parents of children having additional support needs, or young people who have these needs, can obtain further information and advice
  • such other recognised agencies or organisations that can provide further support, information and advice to parents and young people that it considers appropriate, including information about support and advocacy which currently include:
    (a) Children in Scotland: Working for Children and Their Families, trading as "Enquire - the Scottish advice and information service for additional support for learning", a charitable body registered in Scotland under registration number SC003527;
    (b) Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance, a charitable body registered in Scotland under registration number SC033576; and
    (c) Scottish Child Law Centre, a charitable body registered in Scotland under registration number SCO12741.

School improvement

Parents want to see information about the school's performance and improvement in a form that allows them to recognise the school's progress. The School Handbook must detail the school's main achievements over the last 12 months or signpost to where this information can be obtained, e.g. in the School's Standards and Quality Report. It should also outline how the school has performed over the previous three years, including information from qualifications results, leaver destinations, awards and other significant achievements in improving literacy and numeracy and health and wellbeing. Parents also value information around the school and pupils' wider achievement, such as recognised awards and programmes like Eco-Schools, Active Schools, Duke of Edinburgh, John Muir Trust, Young Scot Awards and Sports Leaders UK.

The consultation highlighted that parents want to be involved helping their child's school improve and the School Handbook must identify future improvement plans for the school's performance over the next three years, such as the School Improvement Plan and the role parents can play in that improvement. Schools might also wish to include information in their School Handbook about their approach to raising educational attainment for all children and reducing inequalities in educational outcomes.

The School Handbook should also outline details of where information regarding the school's performance at local and at national level can be obtained. This could be to a local authority website where information is provided on all schools in the area, and also to Scottish Schools Online and the Scottish Government national statistical publications.

Parents view inspection reports as a key source of information. The School Handbook could provide a link to the Education Scotland Inspection website as well as parent-friendly versions of the School Improvement Plan and Standards and Quality reports, as they help parents understand what needs to be improved and how they can support that improvement.

Local authorities and schools might want to consider, in partnership with the Parent Council, how performance data could be presented more clearly. The School Handbook should not duplicate information that is available elsewhere but provide a parent-friendly summary of this information. There are several sources of general information that could be referenced or signposted, including information provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.

School policies and practical information

School policies and practical information are vital for parents as they enable them to plan, prepare and support their child throughout the different stages of their learning journey. Parents value a wide range of information about life at the school, but they want the School Handbook to be more than a list of policies. They want the School Handbook to be a practical resource and to aid communication between themselves and their child's school.

The School Handbook must include information about school and local authority policies or provide a link to where they can be accessed. It should provide details on extra-curricular activities and pupil representation, including involvement in a Pupil Council. The School Handbook must also highlight the arrangements for school meals and other food and drink, including eligibility and procedures on how to apply for free school lunches.

Parents see the School Handbook as a reference document. Feedback from the consultation highlighted that parents want to know where they can find information on a range of issues such as health matters, homework, school meals, school uniform, anti-bullying, discipline, transport and financial assistance.

Parents also see the School Handbook as a source of practical guidance about their school. The School Handbook must include information about the organisation of the school day, including times of arrival and dismissal, break times, school term dates and holidays. The consultation findings highlighted that parents would like schools to develop a timetable for communication and calendar of events including key dates, such as holidays, parents' evenings and timetable information about gym days, lunch times, etc. In addition to practical information, parents want guidance from the school, which could include information about the role of parents in times of inclement weather, study leave and end-of-term attendance.