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Does it feel like people are talking a different language when they discuss the Internet? Jacquie Disney has some ideas for parents to help them keep up

Standards funding for the National Grid for Learning (NGFL) has significantly increased the hardware provision and access to the Internet in schools. The majority of primary schools now have, for the first time, networked ICT suites. Of schools recently surveyed by the Parents Information Network (PIN), 7 per cent had increased hardware provision through NGFL funding. A combination of the requirement of NGFL funding and pressure from parents themselves means that more schools are considering how they take the plunge and offer support to a wider community.

For many the Internet is a starting point. Schools are having to contact parents about how they plan to use the Internet and the terms of that usage. Equally parents are interested in and concerned about this development. How schools deal with this differs. Some simply send home their Acceptable Use Policy for parents to sign, others combine this with supportive information about the Internet and the issues it raises. Some are going one step further and inviting parents in to see and use it for themselves.

Due to pressure of time and inexperience, many schools launch in one of two ways:

* here's the Internet - have a go;

* this is how you search the Internet - now have a go.

While these approaches do provide people with a hands-on experience, more can be made of this opportunity. Increasingly schools have invited me to see some of the work they are doing with parents and I have been pleased to visit and get involved where possible.

In the main the lessons learned by such schools have been quite straightforward in hindsight:

* first, it is important to provide a structured context for the majority of parents (and adults in general). When faced by the world's largest information resource for the first time it is not uncommon to find yourself at a loss about where to start;

* second, this is an ideal opportunity to discuss and demonstrate some intersting learning issues; eg how to manage the mass of material, how children need to be discerning, why printing out Web pages as homework answers is not what you are looking for (even though it might be a legitimate answer to the question). This is also an opportunity to explain what the school is trying to achieve and what you are trying to encourage children to do. Parents value this. It gives them the confidence to interact in a meaningful way with their children.

The energies of schools can be used more effectively if much of the time-consuming donkey work is done for them. In addition, tips and hints about how to work with an adult audience can help to increase success earlier on in the development of a parent support initiative.

With this in mind, PIN has taken note of what teachers are doing and the lessons they are learning, combined this with our own experience of working with parents and ICT, and established a pilot project called Family Web. We developed a series of four workshops introducing parents to the Internet.

Our Family Web workshops are currently being trialled in schools across the country. Trial schools are also supporting the development by adding their own contributions, adapting the materials to suit the local parent group, and adding hints and tips based on their own experiences. One of the schools has already taken things a stage further by introducing a cyber-club for staff, parents and children which is supported by some parents from the workshops. The results of all of this will be shared and available for those of you who are thinking of dipping your toe in the water. Keep an eye on the PIN website for details.

Jacquie Disney worked as a teacher and ICT advisory teacher. She is the director of PIN (Parents Information Network) (see also the Learnfree website Email her at

Case-studies are published on the PIN website, demonstrating what some schools are doing, exploring the extent to which closer home-school partnerships in ICT can make a difference to raising achievement.

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