Parents wooed by retail therapy

6th May 2005 at 01:00
One primary head has an unusual way of involving families in the life of her school, reports Graeme Paton

Most headteachers try to get a parent's attention by sending pupils home with a letter or arranging an after-school meeting. But not Jane-Belinda Brown.

When the head of Douglas primary in Nottingham wanted to whip up parental interest in school life, she took them shopping.

Almost 50 parents joined her and three teachers on a trip to Leicester, where they spent the day wandering around clothes shops, food halls and cafes. The outing was organised to break down the barriers between staff and parents, persuading them to play a more active role in their children's education.

"It is all about mutual respect," said Ms Brown. "If we can show a bit more interest in our parents, our parents will show a bit more interest in us.

"We wanted to get involved with them on a different level, so we went shopping. The results were amazing. Over a cup of coffee and a few racks of clothes we got to know more about some of our parents than we ever could from a school meeting."

Underachievement in inner-city areas such as Nottingham, one of the worst-performing local authorities in the country, has long been put down to parents' lack of interest .

In a speech earlier this year, Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said parents had to accept greater responsibility for their children's education. She cited research, carried out for the Government two years ago, which showed that parental input had a greater impact on primary pupils' achievements than the quality of their school.

At Douglas, which has traditionally been ranked slightly below average in key stage 2 results, more than three-quarters of the 135 pupils speak English as a second language, with the majority coming from the local Muslim community.

The Muslim Council of Britain has said disillusionment is often compounded in such areas because the state system fails to meet the children's needs, such as providing prayer facilities.

Ms Brown said the Leicester shopping trip, funded by a local education action zone, was organised because school staff wanted to wear authentic dress to celebrate Eid, the Muslim holiday, and arranged for 45 parents to show them how.

Some lessons doubled up to allow teachers, including the head, to be away from the school for the day.

Azra Hussain, who has two children aged seven and five at the school, said:

"It was such a relaxed atmosphere, you almost forgot these were my children's teachers. I've certainly learned to be more open with them since."

Parents' zeal for school life has been harnessed, even though Douglas was recently placed on a list of primaries facing closure, in an attempt to cut surplus places across the city.

The school has already capitalised on the voluntary spirit. Parents recently accompanied pupils on a day out to York and attended a pre-trip training session. Now parents-only outings are being planned to local landmarks in the hope, say staff, that they will take their children there at weekends.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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