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Parent partnerships

Sarah French shows how home help can make a difference

With exams looming, students at Emmanuel College in Gateshead are queuing up for study skills training sessions. There's nothing unusual in that, except that it's 7.30 in the evening and these pupils have children of their own.

Invited into the college to learn revision techniques, many come with trepidation and memories of sitting alone in their bedrooms as teenagers, staring at a book in the name of revision.

Students at the college receive a range of aids to help them prepare for exams, ranging from an annual lecture that's adapted for their year group, to a booklet of advice on how to plan and organise, and their college diary with pages of tips and a revision planner.

Emmanuel doesn't simply expect or encourage parents to be involved, it insists on it. The college puts on curriculum evenings when parents can sample mock lessons and learn what it's like to be in school today.

Principal Jonathan Winch says: "It's not about teachers delegating some of the responsibility to the parents; rather the opposite. Education in the fullest sense is the parents' responsibility and we are empowering them to fulfil their role."

The partnership approach certainly seems to work in a city technology college that insists on taking the full range of abilities. Emmanuel students consistently achieve results that put the college in the top 10 comprehensive schools in the country, with a 97 per cent A*-C GCSE pass rate.

Vice-principal Gwyneth Evans, who is overseeing the evening, says: "Parents can have a very active role in testing their children, helping them organise their revision and knowing what to do when they say 'I'm tired, I can't do any more'."

The evening begins with a presentation on basic revision good practice.

Maths teacher John Lawley shows how to:

lcreate a revision planner by making a list of all the topics in all the subjects you need to revise, with a mix of subjects for each evening; lwork in short bursts with rewards for maximum effectiveness; lrevise "actively" rather than sitting passively reading a book. Make lists and diagrams and cover the walls with Mind Maps; luse memory retrieval systems - mnemonics, memory pegging (associating items to memorise with, for example, items in your bedroom) or bizarre image association; lturn a bedroom into an effective study environment and shed TV and internet.

Andrew Moore explores with parents the effectiveness of different memorisation techniques and Marie McHugh discusses study guides and shows how to use library resources many parents don't know exist.

Andrew Thomas demystifies the internet, showing parents how to discern the good from the misleading, and how to avoid plagiarism.

Gwyneth Evans has a few final tips:

lWork with your child at the planning stage. Reduce stress and anxiety by getting the revision planner right.

lLook with your child at the notes they have made after, say, 30 minutes.

That way, they know they need to have something on paper.

lOne of the most important ingredients in successful revision is sleep; staying up until 1am "revising" means something is wrong.

She adds: "Technology has changed some things but revision still has to be done. It demands discipline, organisation and structure. It's not easy but students need to be encouraged that there will be fruits in the longer term, to know they have support and that there are people at home and at school who are interested in what they're doing.

"Sitting in your bedroom with just a pile of books for company can feel very lonely. Students need to know that they're not on their own so the most important thing parents can give is their time."

Deborah Coffell, whose four children include twins, says: "I never imagined all the different ways you can help your children to revise and remember, especially when it's difficult to find a quiet room in the house. Now I can really help the boys and understand more."

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