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A pocket-sized partnership

Technology brought school and parents closer together as families worked on projects about drugs using mini computers. Nicolas Barnard explains

A SET of computers measuring just six inches by three is credited with helping children learn about drugs and creating a new relationship between schools and parents.

Primary schools in Manchester have trialled a programme of drugs education for 10 and 11-year-olds using pocketbooks - mini computers compatible with their own school's Acorns, but which pupils take home to work on with their parents.

Organisers of the PRIDE 2 project (Parents' Role in Drugs Education) say it enthused pupils but also got parents involved in their children's education - and in some cases inspired them to sign up for IT courses themselves.

It builds on the success of Manchester's original PRIDE programme for infants in which parents and children worked together at home and school. More than 1,000 copies of the pack have been sold to schools and local authorities around the country.

Co-ordinator Emma Beresford, of the Partnership with Parents unit in the city inspection and advisory service, said: "PRIDE worked very well with infants. We wanted to see if it could work with an older age group."

Technology proved the key. Each school was given a digital camera and 10 of the versatile pocket books, each with word processor, spreadsheets, and even digital microphones.

Parents were briefed at a special meeting and computers and cameras were only allowed home with an adult. Despite many of the inner-city schools usually finding it hard to engage parents, turn-out was high, and all but a handful of children took equipment home.

Teachers' faith in families was repaid. "These are pretty rough estates, but we didn't lose a single pocketbook," Ms Beresford said. "People guarded them with their lives."

Children worked with their parents, for example, on a survey of drugs in their home, listing everything from coffee to aspirin to cigarettes. There were some surprises - the size of one chocoholic mum's stash, and an alcohol level in one home that rang alarm bells until classmates pointed out the lad's father ran a pub.

Karen Bowers, whose nine-year-old daughter Lisa took part at Openshaw primary, said: "It brought home to me a few things I'd overlooked, like how much paracetamol there was in the house."

It also showed parents how little they knew about drugs - and how much their children knew. "They pick up playground slang. Lisa was teaching me," Karen said.

That wasn't the only area where children enjoyed being the experts for once. They often had the upper hand in technology. Maxine Milner, 11, at another pilot school, Chorlton Park, said: "I was surprised that none of our parents knew about computers and were acting like babies."

Both PRIDE schemes have been joint projects of the Partnership with Parents, the city's health promotion team which designed most of the activities, police and other groups. The pound;70,000 cost was met by the Department for Education and Employment and the city council.

Another 10 primaries were given three state-of-the-art laptop computers for a week to see if PRIDE worked with the kind of IT most schools are now buying. Although less structured, it also brought positive feedback.

Or in the words of one pupil's written testimony at St John's CE:"When the computers went, it was like someone died."

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