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Hard sell sees adults hooked

THE GROVE primary school serves the eastern end of Highfields estate. Here parents are being enticed back into adult education classes by getting them involved in school life.

David Williams, the headteacher, has been at the Grove for six years. He recalls: "One of the things which totally floored me when I came here was when I did the Christmas play.

"At previous schools whenever we did a play people were fighting for tickets.

"Here the first Christmas play we did, we had about 25 adults in the audience and when the little ones finished doing their bit, half of them got up and walked out because it was the juniors next and they didn't want to watch that.

"We've tried to change that culture - now we have full houses, and parents come. But in terms of actually getting parents involved in their child's education, that was a much bigger barrier to get over."

Initial attempts at this failed spectacularly. The school tried running workshops for language and maths games, but nobody turned up.

And when they teamed up with Stafford College to offer adult literacy, one person went - a recent immigrant from the Middle East from outside the school's catchment area, and not a parent.

So, when the college started a Parents In Partnership course at the school, Mr Williams tried another, more personal approach - targeting parents he thought would come, getting to know them, gently persuading them.

"I'll go round in the evening or in the holiday and I'll knock on doors and I'll spend time with them to explain what it's all about and really be encouraging and positive about it.

"If I think I've got them hooked I'll keep niggling away at it for a week or two, just saying you are coming, you have promised me. And in the end - this sounds awful - I try to make them feel that they will personally be letting me down if they don't come," he said.

"And it works. Our drop-out rate is very, very low. Other schools in similar areas I know have tried to run these sorts of things and they found that that's the barrier - you can provide, but people won't always come."

In a formal agreement with the college, the Grove now has a dedicated training room and creche for adult education classes. There are basic and advanced computer courses, parent volunteer courses, introduction to literature, and women in the 21st century.

And with Basic Skills Agency funding, the school has just begun an intensive 80-hour family literacy course with 10 parents and children.

Mr Williams says the project has its rewards: "I approached a number of parents who completed the parent volunteer training course last year. I asked them if they would come in this year and help in school only to be told by the first five: 'I'd love to Mr Williams, but I'm full time at college now. ' "There was one point where somebody from the local authority wanted to segregate all the training into a separate part of the building.

"I said 'no, I'm not having that'. Part of what we're doing is making sure that children see their parents, their aunties, their uncles, in school as students.

"And that's an enormous benefit because suddenly they see. 'Ahhh! This is what I should be doing'.

"And children are proud of their parents. They don't hide their faces when mum walks in - they actually nudge the kid next to them and say: 'That's my mum - she's on a course here.'"

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