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“We changed our mindset for supporting families around digital”

Bradford Alternative Provision Academy (BAPA) welcomes secondary-aged children who have been permanently excluded from school. In this blog, Head of Centre Richard Bottomley reflects on his team’s involvement in Parent Zone’s Research Partner Network, and the unexpected shift in mindset and strategy that has emerged as a result.

The scale of the challenge

At the start of lockdown, we realised the scale of the challenge we faced in regards to the digital literacy and resilience of the families that we work with. Securing devices for them to use for remote learning felt like a significant achievement. However, once we had successfully placed these devices in family homes, we realised that this was really only the start of the journey.

We had begun some exploratory work with Parent Zone to identify gaps in digital literacy between students and parents – and any impact on students’ digital resilience. However, we soon changed the focus of our work to look at the impact of the pandemic on students’ and parents’ emotional health and how much of a factor their digital literacy and resilience levels were in this.

We developed a questionnaire to run with a sample of our parents. Parent Zone then supported us to refine our questions, mapping them to the UK Council for Internet Safety Digital Resilience Framework. This was invaluable, as it completely changed our mindset as to how we were supporting our families around digital.

Our initial questionnaire focussed on assessing the amount of time families spent using technology, the content they consumed and its impact on children. However, when reviewing it in light of the Digital Resilience Framework, we realised we were being led by our assumption that lots of time spent online and on social media was bad and lots of time away from it was good.

Identifying the real issues

Through conversations with Parent Zone, we realised that the real issues were around students’ motivations for using technology: what opportunities they were trying to open up, their understanding of risk, what support they had and how they related to that support.

This seemingly simple shift has had a significant impact on our approach. It has changed how our team works with families who have issues with their digital literacy and skills – especially if their child appears more capable online than them. As a result, our team feels more attuned to the digital needs and challenges of families. In turn, families feel more able to articulate their concerns and feel more supported.

We plan to continue to explore how we best support our families’ digital literacy skills and help parents nurture their child’s digital resilience using the skills they already have. This may reduce the need for crisis intervention.

A proactive approach

We teach students about online safety as part of the PSHE curriculum, but our approach felt very reactive in nature. We would always support students and their families if something bad had happened, but as students do not generally stay with us for very long, we felt there was not enough time to support parents with their digital understanding – nor did we understand the impact this could have on their confidence to support their children in the digital world.

Being part of Parent Zone’s Research Partner Network has encouraged us to explore how we can support parents and students much more proactively in minimising risks online, whilst maximising the opportunities the digital world provides. It has given us access to practical advice and resources that we can use to support our parents on their digital journey.

We very much look forward to continuing this collaboration and exploring other possibilities to provide support to some of the most vulnerable families in Bradford.

Find out more about the Research Partner Network

Our Research Partner Network brings together delivery organisations, academics and Parent Zone’s own research, creative and digital teams, to explore ways of building different organisations’ capacity so that they can better support families in a digital context. Read more and find out how you can get involved.

Working closely with each delivery partner, we identify an existing or emerging challenge that impacts their community directly – or the organisation’s ability to serve them as needed. We then explore how we might meet this challenge, through adapting and testing existing Parent Zone products, carrying out further research and developing new solutions.

If you would like to join the Parent Zone Research Partner Network, want to find out more about the challenges or are interested in helping us in any other way, please contact