Dial T for tutor

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Tony Jones is something of a saviour. Every weekday evening and Saturday mornings, the librarian at Gladesmore Community School in Haringey, north London, can be reached by phone to help parents help their children with homework - or to help the kids directly.

Homework Hotline is in only its third week, but the scheme is already proving to be popular enough to compel Tony to buy a mobile phone to help him cope with the demand. "The phone never stopped ringing last Friday. William the Conqueror appears to be a big man at the moment." So far, he receives on average 14 calls a week.

The hotline was the brainchild of headteacher Helen Marmot, who suggested that Tony make his ad hoc work with parents official. Particularly enterprising parents have always made use of the librarian's wide knowledge and information skills - Ms Marmot asked that Tony formalise the arrangement by sending a letter out offering his help and support to all families. It's a particularly important service in a school where between 15 and 20 home languages are spoken and where many of the pupils are the children of asylum-seekers. And it is all the more so when children receive homework, as part of school policy, every week night.

"If an 11-year-old has to do homework involving spreadsheets, how will a parent from Kurdistan or Somalia be able to help, or even know what a spreadsheet is?" Where language problems present a stumbling block, Tony turns to the school's language specialists for help.

Still in the experimental stages, the hotline so far is attracting half its calls from the children themselves with most coming between 5 and 6pm. Some calls have been from parents wanting an interpretation of what their child has written in their homework diary.

The hotline is just one aspect of a wider programme that the school has developed to raise achievement. Tony Jones also runs Saturday sessions, at which he helps pupils learn research skills, how to use the library, access databases and the like. "A lot of school libraries are not used properly, " he says. "Here, it is integrated into the school. When I get calls on the hotline, it reassures kids on the phone that they can come into the library at lunchtime, or after school, or on Saturdays, to be shown how to find the information out for themselves."

Have there been any sticky questions so far? "There were a couple of nasty ones last week. Pupils were looking for statistics on teenage pregnancies. But instead of me searching them out and then reading them to the pupils over the phone, I assured them that the information is here. I had them come in so that I could help them access it, so they'll know how to do it for themselves next time. Once they've come in once, they'll come back again and again."

Reassuringly, this man is not an unqualified Brain of Britain. When I ask him if there's anything he doesn't know, he concedes that there is a bit of gap. "I'm OK as long as they don't ask me about maths."

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