Open door lets rewards pour in

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Headteacher John Fisher welcomes grown-up visitors to his office - staff and parents alike - with a cup of tea and a chat, while younger guests get to play with the yellow plastic teapot or have a go on the wooden rocking horse.

This is indicative of the friendly atmosphere at Rush Common School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a 460-pupil primary set in a pleasant Sixties estate on the outskirts of the town, where parents are made welcome and their opinions count.

The school association was set up in 1991 in an attempt to demo-cratise the running of the school and replaced what Mr Fisher admits was a "cliquey" parent-teacher body. "With 17 classes, the school was so big that parents tended to feel a bit isolated," he says. "I wanted to give them a sense of ownership. My first words to new parents are 'if you bring your children here then you must share responsibility for their education'."

Now every class has at least one and as many as half-a-dozen parent representatives who meet regularly with teachers to plan classroom activities and discuss the progress of their children at weekly "surgeries". A parallel social committee organises outings, discos, quizzes and treasure hunts - proceeds have helped to pay for computers and seat belts for the school minibus among other things.

Parents are encouraged to get involved in all aspects of school life and are welcome to come into the school at any time, to talk to teachers or help out in class. John Fisher admits that starting a policy of such openness carried risks but it has more often reaped rewards.

"You have got to be brave to open the school up to public scrutiny. But one of the big advantages is that the parents see what you are up against in terms of the breadth of ability and how hard the teachers work and they want to help even more. So far the reactions have been surprisingly positive."

Certainly Lorraine O'Shea and Nicola Beauchamp, mothers with two children each at the school, have nothing but praise for the progressive outlook of the head.

Lorraine, a former teacher, says the ethos of Rush Common is like a breath of fresh air after the more stifling regimes of her own experience. She has been involved in redesigning the school's prospectus and deciding what PE equipment to buy for early-years classes. "It's nice to feel that they can ask us to do that. We have that trust from the teachers and we trust them in return. "

Nicola, whose son Thomas is in his final year, values the special attention paid to pupils about to move up to secondary school.

Gill Thomas, teacher and home-school links coordinator at Rush Common, says the parents are so enthusiastic about the scheme that it virtually runs itself.

"Initially it was quite hard to get off the ground because it was so different. But once the parents could see what was happening in school they became very involved with their children's education.

"Some parents found it difficult to come into school because of their school experience but we have got a friendly atmosphere and more and more of them do come in. We are part of a team."

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