CHILDREN FROM a deprived part of Rochdale in Greater Manchester have been encouraged to take an interest in maths using a new scheme showing the subject's relevance at work in a local factory, writes Allen Edwards.
Queen Elizabeth School in Middleton has been studying the importance of numeracy for workers at Robert MacBridge, a plant that makes cleaning materials and toiletries, where many of the children have friends or family working. The scheme has been backed by the Basic Skills Agency.
The school's catchment area includes a large, post-war housing estate, where unemployment is high; in one ward, 29 per cent of men are out of work. Around 50 per cent of 11-year-olds at the school reach level 3 or below in maths in their standard assessment tests.
The link with MacBridge played an important part in a year of maths at the school that aimed to raise achievement among its 850 11 to 16-year-olds. Pupils in each year visited the factory to study different aspects of manufacturing. Then they had to make presentations to their tutor groups to explain what they had learned. During personal and social education lessons, tutor groups also worked on aspects of the way maths was used at MacBridge. They studied how volume was measured, in particular the importance of such measurements in a bottling plant. And they studied a survey about the environment.
Other initiatives the school has started include using more mental arithmetic and adopting a whole-school approach in which children are shown the relevance of maths in every subject. The school ran the scheme last year after being awarded a Pounds 12,000 local initiative grant by the skills agency. The extra money also paid for in-service training in the latest maths teaching techniques and for a range of new equipment.
Many children at the school had trouble understanding concepts such as volume, estimating size and angles, says Mazine Frogatt, a deputy headteacher. Some pupils came to school without a watch because time did not matter at home when parents were long-term unemployed.
"The partnership with MacBridge has had more spin-offs than we could ever have anticipated," says Ms Frogatt. "We are not talking about understanding complicated maths but basic numeracy. A lot of youngsters are quite streetwise but at the same time have quitenarrow horizons.
"Many had never been to a factory before they went to MacBridge. Once they had been, they could see the importance of using maths to solve practical problems - like what was the best pattern of boxes to use to stack as many as possible on a pallet. The project has also brought about a cultural change that has made students moreconfident."
The school is continuing to develop its relationship with the manufacturer. Eleven-year-olds in their first year will learn about the firm; managers at MacBridge are offering management training to teaching staff; and the school is opening its in-service courses - which range from word processing to awareness of special needs - to the company.
Malcolm Allan, director of personnel at MacBridge, said the company was committed to working with schools, not because it expected a major immediate gain but because it hoped a better understanding between industry and education would benefit both in the long term.
Mr Allan, who has a maths degree, said managers were enthusiastic about the scheme and enjoyed explaining the way the business worked.