No cold feet for parents here

James Nesbitt is spearheading a campaign to break down barriers between home and school, writes Linda Blackburne

Mrs Chadwick is sitting at a parents' meeting looking exasperated: "All these subjects Kate's doing - it's all gobbledygook to me," she says. "What with ICT, PSHE, DTI I know what G and T is, and I could do with one now."

She's had enough and is about to leave when a smiling, rosy-faced teacher beckons her to his desk.

Mrs Chadwick is one of six parents featured in a DVD aimed at persuading parents to take more interest in the school lives of their 11 to 14-year-olds.

The nine-minute docu-drama is aimed at parents who don't have the time or inclination to help their children with their homework. But everyone will empathise with Mrs Chadwick's tussle with education-speak. After all, the average document issued by Whitehall would never pass a plain English campaign test.

Nevertheless, the Irish actor James Nesbitt, famous for Cold Feet and Murphy's Law, has a point. He tells the DVD audience: "Just remember, the teachers are there for your benefit - to help you, not to test your knowledge. Getting involved only takes a few small steps but it can help your child make big leaps forward in the future.

"You have been your child's teacher from the moment they were born. You have helped to shape their lives and the way they behave, so why stop now?"

Most parents of primary-age children help their sons and daughters with reading and writing, but once they reach secondary age, the help often grinds to a halt. This is not only because the work gets more difficult, but because young teenagers are notoriously hard to communicate with.

In the film, the well-meaning Mrs Chadwick regularly asks Kate what she's been doing at school. But Kate is obviously going through the obnoxious "Mum is stupid" period. "Doh! - Lessons! - That kind of thing!" she snorts.

As Tania Lewyckyj, deputy head at the 1,200-strong Darwen Vale high school, near Blackburn, Lancashire, says, it's not cool for some secondary parents to go into school or get involved in their children's lives. Darwen Vale is trying to overcome these problems by attracting parents' interest in Year 6, before their children start secondary school.

In that way, the momentum of involvement is not lost at transfer.

The high school is also trying to encourage parents to come into school to use the internet and attend classes and courses. Parents taking part in a recent survey said they were interested in parenting classes, maths courses and basic ICT skills.

Darwen intends to use the DVD on a large screen at the beginning of parents' meetings. But Ms Lewyckyj fears it might be considered "a little bit patronising" by parents who already play a big role in their children's learning.

Even so, she believes it is a good tool to use alongside other strategies for getting parents involved. And she believes James Nesbitt, who frequently makes asides to the camera during the drama, will appeal to parents.

Marion Lloyd, senior regional director of the key stage 3 national strategy, says: "We have used three families to try to portray what teenagers are really like. We are trying to get at parents who may have helped at primary school and now find it hard. It's not really aimed at hardcore, uninterested parents.

"Parents feel nervous about helping," she says. "They feel that, because the work is more complicated, they are not able to do it. What we are trying to say is, 'We don't want you to do the homework - we want you to facilitate it.'"

The idea is explained in the 10 top tips promoted with the DVD. The twinkly-eyed Nesbitt pulls a different face for every tip in a large poster and 10 colourful stickers.

"Getting Involved", a DVD made for Department for Education and Skills, has been sent to schools but is available from the distribution company, Prolog Contact the Centre for School Standards, 60 Queens Road, Reading RG1 4BS Tel: 0118 902 1001. Leaflets for parents can be downloaded from

10 ways to make homework count

1 Remember that children need space to work.

2 Keep pens, pencils and calculators to hand.

3 Dip into a dictionary.

4 Put learning into practice.

5 Help children with their homework, but don't do it for them!

6 Every so often, make a little time to look through one or two books with your child.

7 Go out and about - learn together!

8 Watch out for school-related TV programmes and videos.

9 Breakfast gives children the energy to learn.

10 Educational games, books and internet activities can make learning more enjoyable.

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