Parents and children jolly along

5th October 2007 at 01:00
THE BROWN harled Victorian building of Hobkirk Primary, built originally as a church school to serve a farming community, lies half a mile outside the village of Bonchester Bridge in the Hawick countryside.

There are only 34 pupils and two classes: P1-3 and P4-7, plus a nursery. The headteacher, Christine Hill, shares the teaching of the older class with another teacher. She also shares her headship with Burgh Primary in Galashiels, where she is acting head.

Mrs Hill is one of three heads in Scottish Borders' parental strategy group which looks at how schools can engage parents in a more meaningful way. She also led a Partnership with Parents group in the Hawick cluster, which led to the idea of leaflets to help them support their children's learning at home.

"We looked at different formats," says Mrs Hill. "We wanted to make the leaflets as simple as possible something that can be stuck on a fridge. We limited it to six key items on a page. We've tried to make them easy to read and remove the educational jargon."

The group decided on a single sheet of A4, folded in two into a booklet of four pages. The school has produced a series of leaflets for parents to help their children with reading, writing, listening and talking at all levels, from A to E.

"They also enable them to assist the children with their personal learning plans and targets. Inside are games and activities they can play to reinforce their learning. Leaflets go home each block, depending on a target in the child's learning plan.

"We've tried to make Jolly Phonics fun," says Mrs Hill. "It's a good opportunity for parents to interact with their children and enhance their learning. They are looking to us to offer the advice and guidance as to what they can do at home. We're just offering six fun things to do at home. We don't want it to be a chore."

In its inspection in September 2005, HMIE identified one of Hobkirk's key strengths as "well- developed partnerships with parents and the local community", alongside leadership of the headteacher, high attainment in English language and maths and confident pupils with a positive attitude to learning. Partnership with parents and the community was among nine "very goods" in the report.

Fiona Duff, the chair of the parent council, has three children at the school, in P7, P6 and P1 She says: "Mrs Hill's got us quite involved. I want to know what my kids are doing at school. The information comes home. Even before they start P1, a P1 teacher came into the nursery and told us about the Jolly Phonics system they'd be learning. You can approach the teachers any time about any question. Parents have a good relationship with the school."

Leaflets for different levels and different aims (reading for information; reading for enjoyment; listening and talking; imaginative writing; personal writing; and functional writing news articles, reports, letters and instructions) suggest activities such as talking about characters and storylines in television programmes, designing a newspaper about family events, playing "Consequences" and talking about pictures.

The school also uses maths leaflets that were compiled by another cluster. One Level A leaflet suggests collecting sticky shapes or dried beans and playing a clapping game in which the winner makes a pattern with the shapes or beans. At Level E, one suggests planning with the child exactly how to divide up and spend pound;1 million, down to the last penny.

Lorna Penman has two children at the school, Matthew in P5 and Lochlann in P1. The family moved back to the Borders from Livingston two years ago. "We've noticed such a difference," she says. "Matthew was coming home and we didn't have a clue what he was learning in Livingston. It's good to know what they're doing at school." It's a sentiment backed by Matthew.

Mrs Hill believes engaging parents in a positive way is vital. "Parents see they have a very important role in their children's education. They have their children a lot longer than we do."

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