Standing at the front of the school hall, I watched 60 participants trying frenetically to solve a maths puzzle involving tangrams. I noticed two children were not participating, so I wandered over and asked them why they were not getting involved.
“They live next door to us,” answered the adult at the table, distractedly, “we’ve got to beat them!”
His daughter, looking frustrated, then said: “You better let me do it dad, because you’ve got it all wrong...”
As you can see, this was no ordinary maths lesson. It was a workshop I put on for children and their parent or guardian. It was not only well attended, but also the engagement was very high indeed.
Parental engagement push
How did we get to this point? For many years the school has operated a model of parental engagement called Families in Thinking. This includes free Families in Thinking trips with parents and their children (one per term), supported by workshops in core and foundation subjects.
Around 85 per cent of children speak little or no English at home. Many parents have had limited access to education – only 10 per cent of parents went through post-16 education.
According to the IDACI ranking, the local area is in the bottom 6 per cent of deprivation nationally.
We know from research that parental engagement with education is crucial. We considered a number of ideas to ensure we could promote that engagement. Hands-on workshops seemed the best method because of language issues.
This is particularly true of maths. Many parents can be put off the subject because of their own experience of maths education or if they feel they lack the skills to help their child.
So for my first workshop, I planned activities that were fun, easy to explain, practical, and challenging but not demanding a significant amount of prior learning.
I asked children to make invitations for their parents with the details of my workshop. At the end of that day, I watched the children in my class proudly handing their creations to their mums and dads. Parents started asking questions and sharing their own experiences of maths (which were not always positive).
'One big family'
Even though I had that initial enthusiastic response, I still worried about how many parents would attend. So I was delighted when for the first session we had 30 parents arrive through the doors.
I was even happier with the comments afterward. One parent commented: “We feel like one big family helping and sharing with each other,” while another said she hated maths before but now could see the joy in it.
Parents wanted to know when the next one would take place. It created a real buzz for learning for children and parents alike and I hope to run many more sessions like this.
If you want to give it a go yourself, my top tips are as follows:
- Set time for children to make personal invitations for their parents. Send a reminder via text message to parents nearer the time.
- A practical workshop can help parents who may be concerned about their prior skills or those who have had negative experiences in their own education.
- Allow parents to learn with their children – try not to interfere!
- Always thank parents for attending a workshop at the end of the session – we can be guilty sometimes of assuming they have endless time when many do not. Showing our appreciation makes a big difference
Keranjit Kaur is a teacher and maths lead at Bridge Junior School, Leicester