In my schooldays, a good working definition of homework might have been "a meaningless task, started on the bus and completed in the cloakroom". The problem was, and still is, especially in secondary schools, that it is very difficult for a busy teacher to think up work which can be done at home with no guidance and minimal equipment yet at the same time can be considered educationally worthwhile.
So the drive to enrol parents in their children's learning includes providing home-school tasks in which they can become involved. It is not a new phenomenon - many reading schemes have had home-school link components for a long time. There have been a number of projects such as the Homework File, which was initially produced four years ago for Scottish schools by Strathclyde University at the behest of the Scottish Office and, now in book form (pound;12.50), is still selling well. Its title conceals a broad partnership approach to learning.
Another resource is Primary School - Home File from Primary File Publishing, which has been a subscription resource for schools for three years. It contains information for schools and parents and graded learning-at-home worksheets with supporting material for parents. A subscription costs pound;47.50 a year.
The Share project, launched in September 1996 by the Community Education Development Centre (CEDC), has a comprehensive approach to involving parents in learning. Initially a pilot scheme in five authorities, it now involves 150 schools in 18 authorities.
The schools receive training and go on to run group activities for parents of key stage 1 pupils, and there are plans to extend the project to key stage 2 next year. The scheme aims to involve parents who have been reluctant to come to school or who do not have the means to buy support materials. The training for teachers specifically addresses the issue of recruitment. Parents discover how children learn and ways of helping them. They can have this work accredited through the Open College network.
There are three Share books - Learning Together, Living and Growing and Out and About. Each contains information and activities. For example, Learning Together shows how to practise arithmetic using pegs on a washing line.
The Share concept is spot on in its intention to provide support where it is most needed. Schools generally provide the books, which cost pound;3 each, and the authority pays for training and support.
Partners in Learning, launched last November, is a subscription resource intended for primary schoolchildren. It comes from a collaboration between the Northamptonshire Inspection and Advisory Service and Accelerated Learning Systems. Every two months a child receives a pack appropriate to their year group, containing a colour magazine, a video, an activity book, a poster and either a game, a piece of science apparatus or an audio tape, all for pound;9.95 (or pound;7.95 if parents sign up for a year). There is also a supplement for parents, with guidance on using the materials and other information.
The materials are thoughtfully designed and of high quality, achieving an excellent balance be-tween entertainment and information. The magazine, sKIDoo, has articles on a range of topics. "Mighty Migrators", for example, has illustrations, graphics and text about bird migration. The posters have space for stickers which can be used to reward children for their efforts and achievement. The activity books, printed on stout paper, are filled with things to make and do.
The scheme is carefully planned across each area of learning and the different age groups. Links to the national curriculum are not thrust at children but are clear to teachers. The notes for parents recognise the need for brevity and clarity, with bites of text and numbered points.
The ultimate way for parents to involve themselves in their children's learning is to take them out of school altogether and teach them at home. Thousands of children in Britain are successfully educated in this way, and the number grows year by year.The self-help group Education Otherwise gives advice on this.
* Quality in Education Centre, University of Strathclyde Faculty of Education, Jordanhill Campus, 76 Southbrae Drive, Glasgow G13 1PP * Primary File Publishing, 61 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8TL. Tel: 0171-404 2776 * Community Education Development Centre, Woodway Park School, Wigston Road, Coventry CV2 2RH. Tel: 01203 655700. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org * Partners in Learning, 50 Aylesbury Road, Aston Clinton, Aylesbury HP22 5AH. Tel: 01296 631177. Stand G36 * Education Otherwise, PO Box 7420, London N9 9SG. Helpline: 0891 518303