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Homework unscrambled

Parents struggling to help children cope with their studies in Welsh can now call a hotline, writes Mike Lewis

The difficulties in helping children with their homework are recognised the world over, but it is even harder to support youngsters being taught maths and science in Britain's oldest language.

And that's why for the past six months a Welsh language homework support line has helped the parents of children in Welsh-medium and bilingual education.

Advice is given on homework set in Welsh - especially for non-Welsh-speaking parents - and assistance with Welsh vocabulary and terms to Welsh-speaking mums and dads.

"There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence from parents - particularly non-Welsh speakers - that they are unable to support their children," said Catrin Champion, a senior development officer at the Welsh Language Board.

"Welsh-speaking parents who did not study maths and science do not have the necessary vocabulary themselves. There's a real need for such a service."

Initially piloted in 21 primaries, the scheme went national in November and might be expanded in secondaries in 2006-7. Parents in need of help with translation or simply needing to be directed towards relevant reference books can ring the hotline from Mondays to Fridays. "We're not offering to do the homework for them!" stressed Catrin.

Sue Rees, a 41-year-old mother-of-two from Langstone, near Newport, says the hotline has proved invaluable in providing help for her sons Steffan, seven, and Tomos, 11. "My husband and I are fluent Welsh speakers but when it comes to occasional mathematic and technical terms it's nice to have a second opinion," she said.

"We obviously do not know every Welsh word so it's reassuring to know that if there's a problem you can call them."

Nicola Bevan, a 37-year-old mother-of-two from Newport, says the homework hotline is available at times when parents need it most. "Being a non-Welsh speaker I have wonderful support from our local school but there are times when you need help with vocabulary and there's no teacher about," she said.

"My Welsh is basic so it's nice to have someone who can help on the end of the phone. As my 10-year-old son Jonathan's knowledge develops, the help I can give him will obviously diminish, particularly as his subject matter gets more specific."

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