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Add parents, subtract confusion

`I'm no good at maths' is no longer an excuse for adults. Never be afraid to go back to the classroom, says Crispin Andrews.


Pupils at George Green School on the Isle of Dogs in east London were fed up with hearing how their parents were "never any good at maths" whenever they asked for help with homework. "I can read and I can write but I can't do a quadratic equation," they'd say.

Now, thanks to a series of workshops, those parents are discovering that they can understand maths after all when it's presented in everyday terms rather than as abstract formulae. They are building learning relationships with their children that are already leading to better exam results.

In the school hall, Year 11 GCSE pupils and their parents work through a series of problems and puzzles. Having been given the value of three variables, a group of four is doing an algebraic substitution exercise, while another examines a GCSE question on European exchange rates. One youngster is explaining to his mum how to work out the amount of ingredients needed to cook for their whole family. Another is telling her dad that angle A must be 69 degrees as the others are 39 and 72 and the angles in a triangle add up to 180. The emphasis is on enjoyment, exploration and discovery for children and parents.

"It's important that pupils can explain what they are doing and why rather than simply writing down an answer," says Sukaina Sesay, George Green's head of maths, who is leading the session.

Twenty or so adults have turned out for this, their second workshop. During the first, parents only were invited, to familiarise themselves with GCSE syllabus content and build their own mathematical confidence.

"We want to intrigue the parents and get them thinking and involved," says Sukaina. She deliberately chooses GCSE questions on percentages, enlargement, ratio and money conversions - topics more likely to be used in everyday life.

This workshop and other similar ones aimed at Year 7 parents are being delivered at George Green with the help of the Ocean Mathematics Project - a group of academics and teachers given a New Deal for Communities grant to develop learning across Tower Hamlets in 2001. So far, 11 local schools have benefited from the workshop programme, which also runs at key stages 1, 2 and 3. The project's website also provides advice on how to engage with parents and downloadable homework activities.

"All of the schools we have worked with have significantly improved their Sats results over three or four years and we hope to see similar results now that we have started working at key stage 4," says Ocean's Pindar Singh, a former senior lecturer at the University of North London who is now based at Stepney Green School in east London.

One local primary has improved its key stage 2 maths Sats results by almost 50 per cent over the past three years.

"The philosophy behind the project is simple," says Pindar. "Children who get support with their school work at home make much better progress."

After a successful conference last June and with government funding set to run out next year, Ocean is seeking charitable status in order to continue its work across the country. "Sharing is the essence of the project, it's what makes it work. The child feels supported, while the parent feels involved," says Pindar.

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