Somali Parent Engagement in Inner-City Secondary School


City Academy in Bristol is a large multi-cultural inner-city academy with a growing Somali population. In the summer of 2005 its curriculum leader of citizenship, PSHE and religious studies was studying the PSHE continuing professional development (CPD) programme and recognised that good sex and relationships education was based on the needs of the young people, parents and the local community. She realised that including the parents of the Muslim Somalian pupils she was teaching was particular important and sought to overcome any challenges this might bring and how best to communicate with this particular community.

Setting up the group

Her first step was to look at what the school was doing already with parents. The academy had a community liaison group within the school, and so she went to the group to see what structures were already in place to communicate with parents. The group had already set up a parental advisory group to engage with parents who were unable to engage with the school in a traditional way, such as parent evenings, email, etc. and so she attended the group and advertised for members so she could set up a PSHE group. This was then advertised word of mouth via the group members.

The school already had a good relationship with its Muslim community and prayers were led every Friday morning by the local Imam who also attended the group. The group was attended by on average eight parents, including a majority of dads and some mums, and they met every half term for the first eighteen months that it was set up, and continued on a termly basis from then on.

When the group was first set up the members translated for each other, but it felt that for accuracy of translation it was best to organise a parent/community engagement worker to translate, who already worked in the school.


The group's agenda was led by the curriculum leader and focused on a number of key PSHE initiatives, including the setting up of on-site sexual health drop-in service, the implementation of the HPV vaccination programme,   the content of the PSHE curriculum including SRE, the commissioning of a theatre in education programme covering sex and relationships themes, and sensitive but culturally relevant topics such as Female Genital Mutilation and Sexual Orientation.

Some of the key aims of setting up the group were to ensure that the parents fully understood what SRE was and were able to dispel any myths before they escalated amongst the parents. The parents were very supportive of the programme that included an emphasis on relationships and delay; waiting until they were ready. They were offered the opportunity to review the content and resources before each year programme was due to be delivered and were happy for their children to have an insight into the subject and be able to discuss it with their peers in a safe space.  This process also helped avoid withdrawals and ensure that initiatives such as the drop-in service and theatre in education programme were financially viable.


Some parents had concerns about the role of the sexual health drop-in, and were worried that their children would be exposed to information they were not ready for. However once they realised it was optional, and the children self selected- opting to attend in their own lunchtime they were reassured. They also requested that Somali children who were questioning their sexual orientation were signposted to someone from the Muslim community to talk to. The school reasoned that they were able to include information about someone from the Muslim community in the literature they provided when signposting young people, but had a responsibility to provide information about all the services available so the young person could make the right choice for them.  

Unexpected outcomes

Discussing the HPV vaccination offered the opportunity to talk about cancer, and it became apparent that the parents were unaware of the health services, such as screening; including smears and other vaccinations that were available. Word of mouth ensured this information was shared with other parents and the curriculum leader ensured her availability during the school day, after school and over the phone to talk to and support parents to access these services.

Key learning

  • Keep discussing SRE with parents, maintain regular meetings, as the group members can be quite a mobile group and their children may only attend the school for a year or two before moving on.
  • Be creative about the way you recruit parents. Don't just go through the official school channels, but think of other voluntary organisations who work with your target group and ask them to help recruit.

For more information contact:

Christine Townsend
Curriculum leader of citizenship, PSHE and religious

Published July 2012