VET a choice or a punishment? - Report on the European Vocational Skills Week

Over two days, 500 people from different European countries discussed the importance of Vocational Skills in Education and Training of young people today. Entrepreneurs, trainers and young people presented examples of good practice across Europe. But one question came up: Is vocational education a choice or a punishment?

Parents still continue to consider that their children should choose a university course. For them vocational training is always a second choice. The main reason for it is that many schools in Europe, when their pupils have poor results, do not show interest and they repeatedly bump, compulsively oblige them to attend a vocational training. This type of behavior is more visible in the South than in northern Europe. That is why often the vocational path is interpreted as a punishment.


How to empower parents for a better quality of childhood – EPA co-organised talk in the European Parliament

Professor Ramon Flecha (CREA, University of Barcelona) gave a Quality of Childhood talk on 8 November in the European Parliament on scientifically evidenced methods to empower parents to become more successful educators. This was a major event for EPA to raise awareness of the importance of empowering parents, and also to raise awareness about EPA among MEPs. The event was hosted by MEP István Újhelyi (S&D, Hungary, member of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group of the EP). It was the 61st talk, the first ever to be co-hosted by EPA, and has been for 2 years in the pipeline.

Our host MEP Újhelyi called the attention of the audience, including professionals as well as people from the EP, to the importance of investing in children and empowering parents as part of this investment. To invest in an equitable way can not only decrease child poverty at present, but also help preventing the recreation of poverty of forthcoming generations.


A child rights perspective on parental involvement and child participation

This paper was prepared for school heads and assistant heads participating at a school leadership training, but it may also be useful for all parents and teachers for designing a rights-based participatory system in their schools. It also contains some child rights aspects to be considered generally in education, some of them often violated, a couple of them are regularly violated on the basis of false assumptions on responsibility or out of ignorance. With 20 November, the day we celebrate the rights of the child, approaching, it seems to be a timely publication. The logo illustrating the article is awarded to schools respecting the rights of the child. There is a lot to be done to achieve that.


Helping to overcome the challenges parents (and teachers) face in the digital age

DLearn, The European Digital Learning Network asked EPA to contribute to their website, that we did, by an article entitled Helping to overcome the challenges parents (and teachers) face in the digital age. It is hopefully the first step in collaboration for a Europe prepared for the digital age, with special focus on parents and children from our side.

DLearn aims to embrace the challenges brought by the digital transformation in terms of digital skills mismatch and digital learning opportunities. The 47% of Europeans is not properly digitally skilled, yet in the near future 90% of jobs will require some level of digital skills and numerous opportunities in terms of jobs that are going to shape the labour market.


Integrating refugees and migrants through education

The Lifelong Learning Platform has published a new policy paper on integrating refugees and migrants through education as a means to build bridges in divided societies. EPA, very much in line with the work we are currently doing to support the inclusion of migrant parents, has contributed to the paper, especially on the need to empower all educators, to involve parents and to have a school leadership approach for achieving this in formal education. Migration internal and external, the refugees, inclusion and integration are hot topics in the EU and nearly all member states, so this is a very timely communication.


What are young children telling us? - Think about school segregation from a totally different angle

The Serbian member of EPA, Pomoc Deci organised a very interesting event in Belgrade in the middle of September 2016 with participants from Balkan countries, Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro as well as Northern Ireland. While the event had an early childhood focus, EPA was offered the opportunity to give our views on parental involvement and child participation with special focus on peace-building, as well as to hold a totally interactive workshop on active European citizenship on school level. This was also a great opportunity to pilot our ELICIT+ training material in an exciting context, the Balkans.

The most interesting presentation of the event was by Prof. Bojana Breneselovic from Belgrade University. The title of the conference was borrowed from her, and she made us change lenses and see segregation from a totally different angle. After listening to the presentation, you are likely to have realised that the younger your child is, the more likely it is they go to a segregated school. But to prove that, you need to understand what segregation really means according to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘the action or state of setting someone or something apart from others’.


Why are parents important? - Ask your teacher and publish the video on #ParentsAndSchools Day

On the second Tuesday of October, this year on 11 October, Europe celebrates the European Day of Parents and Schools since 2002. Initiated by the European Parents’ Association (EPA), this day is used to highlight the importance of parents and teachers working together for the benefit of children by parents’ organisations, often supported by their respective national Ministries of Education.

Parents’ associations gathered together in EPA want to use the occasion of #ParentsAndSchools Day to promote and advocate for the implementation of new policy messages by the European Commission published earlier this year on transforming schools to make them more attractive for students and families alike in order to achieve the EU2020 headline target of reducing early school leaving. These recommendations fundamentally build on the school community, parents, teachers and students taking ownership of learning by actively participating in transforming the school to meet the needs of today’s children as well as preparing them for the challenges of the 21st century.


A new Europe for people, planet and prosperity for all

Common statement by 177 European and national Civil Society Organisations and Trade Unions

177 civil society organizations and trade unions have adopted a common position demanding leaders fight back against populism, EPA among them. The initiative was a joint effort of Concorde, ETUC, EYF and WWF and asks the question of what is necessary to build the Europe we want and need. 

"Europe is at a crossroads, and the future of European cooperation and the benefits it brings are at stake. This is about the future of our society and how we want to be viewed by the wider world. The future of our planet and the kind of Europe our children will grow up in. The current crisis highlights the urgent need to reflect on fundamental questions: how do we ensure that the European project reclaims its promise of peace, democracy and solidarity? How can Europe work for its people?

Too many people across Europe are dissatisfied and disillusioned with the European Union and feel remote from its institutions and policies. But there are groups of committed politicians, trade unions, community groups and non-governmental organisations across Europe who are ready to take action and work for a renewed Europe. Together, we can shape a Europe that is inclusive, open, just, sustainable, and that works for people of all ages, social backgrounds and nations.

Where do we go from here to build the Europe we want and need?"

The civil society answer given includes
  • rejecting populism
  • tackling challenges together
  • working for better Europe, not less Europe
  • listening and engaging
  • making the case for Europe

Download the full statement from this link


Seeds for Integration

A new initiative by OBESSU to build bridges between migrant children and their peers in secondary schools

New large-scale programmes are being developed and carried out to support migrants' inclusion by a group of EU-level organisations, EPA being one of them. One of the partners, OBESSU, in order to encourage building bridges between migrant children and their peers in secondary schools, decided to launch the project Seeds for Integration. The main idea is to provide small, medium and large seed-grants to secondary school student unions and councils, or - in case there is no student council in the school - to independent groups representing the school’s students, to come up with creative initiatives around the topic of educational inclusion of migrant and refugee children. Read on to learn more about the initiative, and inform secondary school students who would be interested in it.

We will share information on all other projects, including our own, in this cooperation, made possible with the financial support of Open Society Foundation. Follow the EPA blog for new initiatives.


Agenda 2030 - Child Rights and Sustainable Development Goals

UNICEF has recently developed a publication mapping of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It highlights the connections and synergies between the two documents, allowing the reader to jump between each Global Goal and each Convention article.

It takes a detailed, yet deliberately broad, interpretation of the Global Goals and the Convention, highlighting for users the connections between the two frameworks, so as to reinforce their potential for advocacy and implementation. It will therefore be an invaluable tool for both UNICEF and external partners, as they advocate for both CRC and SDG implementation over the coming years. To reinforce the links in both directions, it is divided into two sections: The first part identifies relevant CRC articles for each Global Goal and their targets. The second part lists the goals and targets for each CRC article. By clicking, the reader can jump between goals and articles in a simple and user friendly way.


New Skills Agenda launched

On 20 June the European Commission organised a high-level event to launch the New Skills Agenda for Europe to boost human capital, employability and competitiveness, adopted on 10 June 2016. EPA was represented at the event by Vice President Janko Korosec.
On 10 June, European Commissioners Thyssen and Katainen announced the adoption of a new and comprehensive Skills Agenda for Europe, that was officially launched at the Brussels event. The aim of this new policy framework is to ensure that the right training, skills and support is available to European Union citizens and to equip them for good-quality jobs and help them fulfil their potential as confident, active citizens. According to the communication of the EC it will ultimately boost employability, competitiveness and growth in Europe. The agenda includes provisions for non-EU citizens and their inclusion in education and the labour market.


Fragmented notes brought home from the Fundamental Rights Forum

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) organised the first European Fundamental Rights Forum in Vienna on 20-23 June 2016. The event brought together about 700 people from and beyond Europe from policy, practice, governments, civil society, research, arts and several other fields. The organisers did the huge job of discussing the issues of inclusion, the refugee crisis and digital challenges on a human rights basis by providing the organisers with an enormous amount of food for thought as well as opportunities for networking and discussion.

The following paragraphs are not intended to be a full report, but rather a collection of a few thoughts and issues that echoed in me as president of EPA, vice president of the Lifelong Learning and Social Platforms, as a child rights activist for over 25 years, as an apt reader, a Hungarian and a mother. It is unusual for this blog, but I hope they will also resonate with the readers, and given the richness of the programme I couldn’t find any other ways to make a report.


New network launched by the Commission to support those in greatest need

The FEAD (Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived) Network launch conference was held in Brussels on 2-3 June, with over 200 delegates, including representatives of EPA as well as its national members from Slovenia and Portugal. The network is aiming at not only supporting to deliver the programmes financed by decentralised FEAD, but also to build synergies to give leverage to the support provided, it is a new open membership community for people providing assistance to the most deprived in Europe.
Through the Network, those working to reduce the worst forms of poverty in European countries are able to share good practice and work together to develop new ideas. In addition to regular network meetings, the Network members stay in touch through an animated online community.


Joint Statement: The Alliance for Investing in Children welcomes Council Conclusions acknowledging the need to address child poverty

The Conclusions adopted by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumers Affairs Council on Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion: An integrated approach, are a welcome step in addressing child poverty and promoting children’s well-being. The Alliance for Investing in Children appreciates the initiative of the Dutch Presidency to address the persistence of child poverty in Europe and encourages the EU institutions and Member States to do more to reverse this disturbing trend which is blighting the lives of younger generations in Europe.


ESP Advisory Council to boost development and recognition of entrepreneurial skill-sets among young people

JA Europe and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) has just announced in a press release the establishment of the ESP Advisory Council in support of the Entrepreneurial Skills Pass, a unique international qualification in entrepreneurial skills, knowledge and competences for 15-19 year olds. EPA has been invited to participate at the Advisory Council.

In line with the upcoming New Skills Agenda for Europe, the ESP Advisory Council is committed to boost recognition of the competences and skills young people acquire through initiatives like the Entrepreneurial Skills Pass and promote greater uptake of entrepreneurship education at schools across Europe.


Can we learn from the PISA-champinons?

The Finnish school system is known all over world, or at least in the OECD world, to be the best in almost everything, and many are the delegations that travel to Finland to see and experience the Finnish schools.

I was on one of those delegations last week as a part of the Microsoft Summer Institute (more on that later), and what I saw on the visit to a primary school in the outskirts of Helsinki was not very different to what I would experience in a Danish school. On average, the teachers teach 24 lessons a week (in Denmark 25), and the schools have more or less the same funding as in Denmark, so the magic comes from something else than time and funding.


Parents, let’s play together

Message and call for action on World Play Day (28 May) and International Children’s Day (29 May) 2016

Did you know that playing a lot as a child also helps you to have a better job when you are an adult? Play helps children to have higher IQ, to have better self-control and also to relax, thus play is essential for all children and they should not be deprived of it at any circumstances, it doesn't matter if they are refugees or attending expensive private schools.

If you remember the last time you engaged in a good game of Activity or Scrabble, you will agree with the opinion that it is very similar in the case of adults. This is why European parents applaud the choice of topic for World Play Day 2016, 'Play for all ages'.  Playing definitely is not only for children, and we are doing our best to encourage parents and grandparents to play. As WPD is the day before International Children’s Day, this weekend should all be about children and playing. We are calling parents and guardians to share what they are playing to celebrate the day with the #WorldPlayDay and #ParentsPlay hashtags this weekend. (Please protect the privacy of your children and do not post photos with their faces in it.)


The Year of the Dad and new membership framework

Newsflash from Scotland - May 2016

Scottish Parent Teacher Council has published the latest issue of their termly publication, Backchat. Inside they announce that they are introducing a new membership framework for 2016-2017 which is based on a 1 to 4 star model and allows parent councils more freedom in deciding which benefits and services they require. Furthermore, the pricing structure is being changed in order to make things fairer for parent councils of smaller schools.

The issue also contains news on The Year of the Dad, which aims to make 2016 a year of celebration, insight and collaboration to promote the importance of fathers in child development. The campaign will not only be holding events across Scotland based around fatherhood but will be calling on employers and services to update their practices in order to reflect this importance.

You can learn more about Year of the Dad on their website: http://www.yearofthedad.org/ or on Twitter https://twitter.com/yearofthedad

The full issue of SPTC’s Backchat is available to read here: http://www.sptc.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Backchat-May-Online.pdf


European Pillar of Social Rights - learn the basics and participate in the public consultation

On 8 March 2016, the European Commission launched its new key initiative in the social field: the European Pillar of Social Rights. Now that Europe2020 seems to be fading more and more into the background, the Pillar represents one of civil society’s best hopes of restoring the balance between social and economic goals on the EU agenda. However, at the same time, a lot remains unclear about the Pillar. What will be its legal nature? How many Member States will actually accept and implement it? What will its relation be to the European Semester? And what will it actually say?
The Commission has published a preliminary outline of the Pillar, outlining 20 key principles or ‘rights’ which should be promoted and upheld, including adequate minimum income, adequate access to essential services, and adequate long-term care. Citizens, civil society organisations and trade unions will have until the end of the year to respond to the outline and to share their perspective on what a Pillar of Social Rights should look like.


School as the training ground of active citizenship for parents and children

Report of the EPA Conference 29/30 April 2016, Dubrovnik, Croatia

EPA has started its second 30 years with a very successful conference on parental involvement and child participation as an important means of learning and practising active citizenship. The conference has proven to be very timely. The original idea behind our choice of topic was to give a parents’ answer to the challenges put forward in the 2015 Paris Declaration, focusing on active citizenship and inclusion for all. While we were preparing for the event, the European Commission published a new set of policy recommendations on Transforming Schools, mainly to offer a solution for countries to achieve the EU2020 headline target on early school leaving. The new policy recommendations are based on parental involvement and child participation, so it was evident we will link the two initiatives together. Our guest speakers set the scene for a day of discussions where EPA members and guests could elaborate on the topics of the conference, make their own advocacy plan for implementing the new recommendations, and also formulate their wishes towards EPA to support their work on national level.


Improving the Public School - reform of standards in the Danish public school (primary and lower secondary education)

In 2013 the public primary schools underwent the largest reform in many decades. The aim of the reform was to tackle some of the biggest challenges in primary education, such as too many students leaving school with poor academic results, especially children of parents with lower education. 
The three goals of the public school are:
  • to challenge all students, so that they realise their full potential; 
  • to reduce the influence of social background on academic results; 
  • to ensure that trust in the school and student well-being are enhanced through respect for professional knowledge and practice. 
The role of parents in schools is emphasised in the reform giving the school board the task to make principles for involving parents more in the home-school cooperation. 

The reform is still being implemented, and the implementation is difficult due to challenges with financing, inclusion, changes in school structures in many municipalities, and the after waves of the lock out of teachers in 2013.

More information about the reform here


Playful learning rocks – Let’s enter PlayFutures together

21st century skills
This year’s LEGO Idea Conference highlighted the most important issues around quality education by revisiting two world famous oldies: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Give P’s a Chance (sic!) by John Lennon. While the former relates to PISA results and equitable education systems, the latter refer to the 4 P’s of a quality learning experience (projects, passion, play and peers). The event was also the opportunity to launch the new PlayFutures network aiming at creating a world that values playful learning, and EPA is a partner in. The conference has come up with a ‘simple’ recipe for education reform: putting children in the centre of change and making them feel it is good for them.


Learning Participation - new position paper published by Lifelong Learning Platform

The Lifelong Learning Platform (former EUCIS-LLL) has published a brand new position paper on learning participation.  The paper covers a large number of topics for improving quality, access and outreach. EPA contributed to the position paper substantially as it is a hot topic for parents in Europe.

The paper starts by urging the acknowledgement of learner diversity and the importance of having a well-being focus, covering individualised approaches to teaching as well as learning environments and curriculum design. Increasing collaboration as a tool for increasing attainment is also elaborated on. The position paper revisits the important topics of transversal skills and digital literacy and urges the promotion of successful outreach strategies to raise awareness of participation in all stages of lifelong learning.

As the platform shares the holistic approach to education with EPA, details are also dealt with this approach. A comprehensive tackling of learning participation needs a holistic view including all learners, all educators (parents among them), and a change in the role of educational institutions.


New EU policy recommendations on transforming schools focus on parental involvement and child participation

On 7-8 March a conference in Brussels discussed the results of the ET2020 Working Group on Schools Policy – an expert group of policymakers and stakeholders from more than 30 European countries. The Group’s work over the last two years had focused on identifying successful policy approaches to reducing early school leaving and to raising the quality of Initial Teacher Education. The set of new policy recommendations focus very much on parental involvement and child participation, as well as preparing professionals for this. EPA was represented by Eszter Salamon, President, who was invited to participate at the closing plenary round table discussion, together with representatives of other stakeholder groups, of the event.


Parents concerns about the Skill Agenda

On 14th March the European Commission is holding a consultation with representatives of civil society. There has been a background paper issued on the Skills Agenda that will be discussed at the meeting. As those organisations that are not Brussels based are not financially supported by the Commission to participate at the meeting, the European Parents’ Association (EPA) has compiled a position paper instead to express our concerns. We keep demanding that there must be an obligation for EU institutions as well as national governments and other decision makers to involve those most directly concerned, namely children, young people and their parents when preparing national skills strategies, action plans, and last but not least in the activities connected to the European Semester and in its annual review.

Our greatest concern is that the holistic approach to education and the network of education institutions is missing, thus it does not tackle the fact that it is schools (primary, secondary and VET) that are the cheapest and most hands on places to support the skills development for local communities, but only if education segments cooperate and manage to change the face of schools, which means to open them up to all locals as community learning spaces. Successful projects all over Europe show that this is the right approach, but it need a very strong collaboration and an even stronger political will to rejuvenate systems that have been in place for 150-200 years. As there has been a huge emphasis on higher education in EU policies, we applaud to the approach that highlights vocational education and adult education as at least equally important policy areas. Parents have been concerned that pushing higher education attainment instead of giving equal support and promotion to other forms of tertiary education may not be the real solution for youth unemployment.


Family matters in financial education

Money management is one of the many crucial life lessons that parents must pass on to their children. As Wim Mijs, Chief Executive of the European Banking Federation, said last year, no one can replace the parents as the main guide for children learning how to deal with money. With this in mind, let’s assume the important role of families in teaching a skill that will be vital at all stages of life.


Parents’ contribution to the European public consultation on ‘challenges of work-life balance’

The European Commission launched a public consultation on a roadmap on ‘possible action to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers’. The roadmap openly declares that “the main reason behind the initiative is to address the low participation of women in the labour market by modernising and adapting the current EU legal and policy framework to today's labour market”. On behalf of European parents, EPA as a registered lobby organisation contributed to the public consultation emphasising that issues of reconciliation parents are facing are much broader than measures pushing women to participate at the labour market. First of all, it is important for us to demand the use of another phrase ‘work-life balance’ as it suggests that work is not part of life while it is.


BETT Conference in London - 20-23 January 2016

The BETT 2016 conference 20-23.January 2016 at the ExCel Centre in London was four days of insight and exploration into the world of education technology. It is the biggest event in the world on the topic of digital technology and education where EPA was represented by Vice President Christian Hellevang.