Estate that fought back

18th September 1998 at 01:00
THE Priory Estate in Dudley, West Midlands, has a reputation as one of the toughest in the area. Nobody wants to live there.

One parent said the reaction to her address was akin to racial discrimination. Mike Millman, head of Priory primary, says its reputation is unfair and the community's efforts to turn itself around should be recognised.

More than a third of his pupils have special needs and 44 per cent receive free school meals. Unemployment is 23 per cent, of which 80 per cent is long-term. Research discovered that 74.8 per cent of adults had no interest in learning new skills or training.

The Priory Partnership Project was initiated to raise pupil achievement through the involvement of parents and the community. The school is now linked to Bilston Community College and Dudley Adult Education and Community Services and is franchised to run courses in a community room within the school.

During the day parents can take courses such as computer skills, hairdressing, driving and numeracy in cooking. Lifelong learning courses are free.

In the evenings there are adult education classes, including yoga and line dancing. Priory found new methods to encourage parents. Taster courses were offered and fees were payable weekly.

Parents help pupils and have their own projects. One group of mothers is writing a history of the school. This year Access to Lifelong Learning certificates were awarded to 276 residents. Four parents were nominated Outstanding Adult Learners. Three parents were accepted by universities and others have enrolled on FE courses including City and Guilds and nursery nurse training.

The project has been financed through the Further Education Funding Council and grants from Dudley Training and Enterprise Council. Mr Millman said:

"If social exclusion is to be tackled, there needs to be more than ad hoc funding. We leap from year to year, but the courses on offer must be on-going so parents can learn about them and know they will continue."

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