PEEL HALL primary school in Wythenshawe, Manchester, is one of a handful of schools involved in the Inspire scheme, subtitled "community partnerships for learning" and dedicated to the proposition that science is fun. So on Tuesdays at 3.15pm, as most pupils are leaving the 1950s building and walking home to the surrounding estate, between 10 and 15 children and nearly as many parents reconvene for Science Club. Head of science Debbie Tate says she does not overtly teach anyone during club time. "I'm here for questions," she says. But the effort is so focused and engaging that it almost looks like a hobby club.
The idea grew from a seed sown in south London by teacher Jen Smyth, who started a similar club with millennium fellowship money. She saw community involvement as crucial. The Royal Mail Action Trust contributed cameras, films, a dark room, money, and enthusiasm. Other volunteers included the schoolkeeper, who worked on environmental projects.
Mrs Smyth speaks of the growing interest of the non-specialists. "The schoolkeeper was reluctant at first and became more and more keen," she says.
"I envisaged that the club could provide an alternative route for parents who found difficulty in entering the life of the school - and for those who found the idea of helping their child with science concepts a difficult one."
Peel Hall headteacher Jane Oldham is delighted: "We're always looking to work with parents and scence is a core subject. The point of having it is parental involvement."
"Some parents come every week," Debbie Tate says. "It's really a drop-in session."
There are 30 activities for juniors, which can be adapted for smaller children. These have included wheels, balloon buggies, kaleidoscopes, kites and parachutes. Activity sheets to take home suggest further ideas and all of them enhance classroom work.
"If the thing the children are making doesn't work, they enjoy doing something to make it work," says one parent.
Club member Kirsty Ashton's mum recalls that in the parachute experiments "some floated and some sank down. The children used hankies, carriers, tissue paper - they found which material worked."
After Jen Smyth took up a lectureship at the University of North London new interest came from Professor Bill Harrison at the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University, who has worked on the materials, and from Steve Smyth of Shell Education Service, which has provided funding and tutors.
Professor Harrison is interested in spreading the scheme across the country. Currently Education Action Zones are being targeted and work that began in Manchester is to develop in Newham, Ellesmere Port and Southwark.
The Inspire Project, the Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Howard Street, Sheffield S1 1WB. Tel: 0114 225 4870