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The parents who get homework

A homework club for parents sounds unlikely. But there are plenty of takers at Robert Browning primary. There, in a Victorian classroom tucked away in south-east London's Walworth Road, they sit with squares, triangles, pentagons and favourite tales such as The Sun and the North Wind.

Children's stuff, this may be. But to families uncertain about how far they can, or ought, to help their children, the Share scheme of "homework" materials has provided essential support.

Last week it was praised by education minister Estelle Morris, speaking at an international conference on school-parent partnerships sponsored by the DFEE and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The Government has already helped Share expand from last year's introductory pilot in five local authorities to a further 10.

Daulat Kapadia, the deputy head responsible for overseeing Share at Robert Browning, is clear about the benefits. "We did a reading test at the start of this year. We found that the Year 2 pupils, whose parents have been through Share, had the best reading results in the school. I think the quality time that the parents are spending with their children has helped hugely."

The scheme not only puts parents in touch with the school's aims and methods, it provides a mechanism for helping them sit down with their children - rather than "supervising" homework at the sink.

For some of them, the creative side of learning was a discovery. "I was surprised at how flexible it can be," says Jeannie Scott. "It's not rigid, you can use your own imagination and your child's imagination. Half the time I was trying to teach them the harsh way," admits Susan Gomwe.

Robert Browning has few advantages. The London borough of Southwark is one of Britain's poorest, and the teachers must get to grips with pupils speaking 24 languages. But Share has helped the whole school. "I think it's brought the school and the parents closer together," says Daulat Kapadia.

"Parents are getting more involved. I have always wanted that. If you have the parents on your side, you can almost achieve anything. The Share scheme came at exactly the right time."

Share has also helped parents in other ways. They say they are more confident with their children and with the school. They also get Open College Network credits for their involvement, a formal recognition which could lead to further opportunities. Jeannie Scott, for example, would like to take a nursery-nursing qualification while Christine Gadson is thinking of book-keeping.

Lisa Capper, the national director of Share, believes the scheme is particularly important for parents who might need help with the basics. As a father in St Helens told her: "This is the only certificate I've had in my life, and my daughter helped me get it."

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